Traveling Vietnam: Private Tour, Join-in Tour or DIY?
No matter how you travel in Vietnam, you’re practically guaranteed an epic journey.
The country’s amazing diversity is a bonus, making it can feel like multiple trips in one, thanks to Vietnam’s differences in cuisines (Northern, Southern and Central Vietnamese regions each have their own flavor profiles and specialty dishes), the diversity of its people (Vietnam is made up of 54 ethnic groups) and landscapes (thousands of kilometers of beaches, along with highlands, wetlands, and endless emerald fields of rice).
When it comes to planning a trip to Vietnam, an important consideration is whether to DIY (do-it-yourself aka independent travel) or to book a Vietnam tour package – and if so, whether a join-in tour or a private one.
DIY / Independent Travel
DIY is the most budget-friendly way to travel.
Pros: Independent travel in Vietnam is much easier now compared to 10 years ago. Simply having more international tourists visiting the country means that there are now more options (including a number of new budget airlines) catering to travelers.
Before, a lack of English meant you’d often need to rely on your hotel or a local friend to book train tickets and other services for you, but increasingly, English is becoming the lingua franca. You can also travel at your own pace, opting to add a day or two in an especially interesting destination. DIY is, of course, also the most budget-friendly way to travel.
Cons: Vietnam’s richness in culture, cuisines and history is one of its top selling points. A thousand years of Chinese rule and a hundred years of French colonialism have contributed to a unique history, meaning that while there are some similarities between Vietnam and neighboring countries (including China and Cambodia), there is still a lot to learn beneath the surface.
Most of Vietnam’s bewildering variety of dishes also come with their own story, either in how it originated or what ingredients go into it. Without any context, you’d likely miss a lot of the backstory behind what you’re seeing and eating. You can get around this issue with a lot of pre-trip research, but the trade-off is the large amount of time you’d need to invest.
Also, because guidebooks can go years before being updated and websites, blogs and other online resources can provide conflicting information, it’s often difficult to get accurate, up-to-date information, especially for a country like Vietnam which is developing incredibly quickly.
Pros: Join-in tours where you’re grouped together with others relieve you of a lot of the stress in planning. Itineraries are already mapped out (often to the minute), and you’re accompanied by a guide most, if not all, of the time. There’s also a “safety in numbers” aspect where you’re always together with other travelers, and some people like that sense of familiarity.
Vietnam has quite a few travel agencies, both private and government-owned, so you can actually do a combination of DIY (perhaps in the bigger cities where you’re like to encounter more English speakers and where the sites are better documented) and then a join-in tour for destinations where you’re not as a confident on your own.
Cons: While joining a tour means there’s a lot less hassle, you’ll be bound by the tour’s itinerary with little room for deviation. If you don’t find a particular stop interesting, there’s not much you can do other than wait for the group to leave.
Some tours also have built-in money makers, eg. stopping at a shop where tour guides get commissions or upselling you on extras along the way. There’s also the possibility that you might not get on well with your travel mates and other factors over which you really have no control.
Pros: Private tours are the best of both worlds. You retain much of the flexibility of traveling independently by adding or excluding destinations and activities while still benefiting from the experience of a tour guide.
A great tour guide can really take your trip to the next level, especially if you can find a guide who shares the same passions and interests as you, perhaps around history, culture or food.
It’s best to sit down with your guide early on in the trip to let him or her know exactly what you’re interested in so that s/he can tailor the tour to you. It’s often those personal touches which make a trip truly memorable.
Dedicated tour guides derive genuine satisfaction from seeing you enjoy your trip. Many of them also spend their free time researching new places (making them often more helpful than guide books which can be out-of-date the moment they’re published) and learning more about the destinations.
A private tour also frees up your time. If a stop isn’t as interesting as you thought it would be, it’s easy to cut it short and move on. Private tours also allow you more opportunities to genuinely connect to the people of Vietnam.
It’s hard for a shy local to be themselves or even engage at all when faced with an intimidating group of foreigners, but on your own, perhaps with just your tour guide as a translator, you’re more likely to make real connections.
Cons: Private tours can lack a certain social element. Instead of having dinner with 20 or so fellow travelers, it’s just you and your family and friends, so you’ll need to make sure you get along with your group!
However, probably what prevents most people from booking Vietnam private tours or Vietnam luxury tours, despite their obvious advantages, is being afraid of how much more they will cost.
However, a private tour with Victoria Voyages can be surprisingly reasonable. Private tours start at just USD 559 for 4 days / 3 nights in the Mekong Delta or USD 599 for 5 days / 4 nights in Northern Vietnam, including boutique hotel stays, meals, cruises, excursions, transfers, and of course, your own private guide.
Because Victoria Voyages make use of mostly in-house travel providers (hotels, cruise ships, trains, etc. all owned and operated by the same company), you’re not paying much more than you would by cobbling the trip together yourself.
Victoria Voyages guides are hand-picked for their local insight, friendly and helpful personality, and genuine connection to the destinations they cover, ensuring they’re as passionate about sharing the very best of Vietnam with you as you are about wanting to get the most out of your Southeast Asian holiday.
See more of our curated itineraries here with loads of optional extensions to add activities like scenic seaplane flights and street food tours or tack on a few extra days in a new destination like imperial Hue or a beach break in Phan Thiet.
Contact us now for a free, no-obligation consultation.