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“Excellant guide, poor office back up.”

Ethnic Travel - Day Tours
Rockhampton, Australia
Level Contributor
70 reviews
11 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 52 helpful votes
“Excellant guide, poor office back up.”
Reviewed April 14, 2013

I think with Ethnic Travel ( as someone else said ) you need to be able "to go with the flow " and it helps to be flexible and not expect the timetable to be ridgedly adhered to.
We did the 7 day Taste of North Vietnam tour ( with the addition of Halong Bay ), and overall we really enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone, remembering the above statement.
The scenery everywhere was spectacular and at this time of year the rice paddies green.
Other than the Halong Bay area and a couple of short stops in Ninh Binh we did not see any other tourists that were not with Ethnic Travel.
That being said our rural part of the tour was supposed to be private but we often found ourselves in a small group of 5 or 6 plus guides when a couple of the tours met up.
However we are glad that happened as we met some really lovely people we will keep in contact with.
Our guide "Moon" was the best guide we have ever had in all our travels, so friendly, happy, and knowledgeable about the different areas we were in, what the crops were, when they would be harvested etc.
The food on the boats ( we did Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay ) was outstanding and the meals at the homestays were good and plentiful, however we were looking forward to some western food by the time we got back to Hanoi, also coffee was available but not enough.
As others have mentioned about the homestay you are not with the host family, other than to be introduced and to share a green tea or rice wine with, we didn't mind this, ( they didn't speak English. )
Only 2 of our nights were spent with a mattress on the floor and outside bathrooms ( still clean and comfortable ) the other nights we had our own room with ensuite, in purpose built annexes to the family home.
My only complaint about Ethnic Travel is with the office, they reversed our itinerary with out telling us, so we spent 2 hours (stressed out ) on a mini bus going in the opposite direction to our planned tour with a driver who couldn't speak English, he eventually got the office to speak to me on his phone, when it was explained we were quite happy for the change just wish they had told us earlier !!
The office was also constantly phoning the guide and changing the days plans to fit in with other groups and cars, we still did everything that was planned, just not in the order it was planned.
So you really do need to be flexible.
Travelling to the different areas took a lot longer than we had thought it would, mainly due to either traffic or terrible roads ( Mai Chau ) .The cars were new either mini vans or large A/c wagons similar to a Toyota Prado, however a couple of times a small taxi was used, when I'm guessing the office slipped up.
My favourite times were, walking and cycling in very quite areas of Ninh Binh, walking around the rice terraces of Mai Chau, and swimming and kayaking at the Black river. ( all without seeing another tourist not in our small group., or hardly anyone else for that matter. )
So would I book with Ethnic Travel again, Yes , but this time I would be more prepared "to go with the flow ".

Visited April 2013
Helpful?
1 Thank Moombee
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Date | Rating
  • Dutch first
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  • Any
English first
2 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 8 helpful votes
“Mixed feedback”
Reviewed April 14, 2013 via mobile

We went at their office as the rating in Lonely Planet and Guide du Routard were both good. The first impresion was good as they took more time than others to describe their offer. We signed for a 7 days tour: Ha Long Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay, Ninh Binh, Mai Chau.
After this, our feelings about this trip is :

Positive: young but good guides, friendly and helpful. Cosy lodges and nice homestay ( rustical comfort but very kind owners). Drivers were also driving safely.
Nice boats in both bays.

Negative: first, it seems that they are a bit more expensive than the others. Then, it's clear that the strategy is to take as many customers as possible, resulting in a very chaotic organization, with guides waiting permanently for decisions from the direction per telephon. Exemple: the 5th day was a national parc planned. After a spontaneous walk threw the rice fields in the morning and 1 hour waiting for the bus, we had 1 hour to see some monkeys of the parc... The national parc would have a whole day desserved.... Sorry, no more time. And then 5.5 hours driving (3 announced)...

Conclusion: exept one day, everything was quite ok and it will remain for us as a good experience to start our trip in Vietnam

Visited April 2013
Helpful?
4 Thank Six-Cube-on-the-road
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Washington DC, District of Columbia
Level Contributor
5 reviews
“Extremely helpful manager”
Reviewed April 11, 2013

Just returned from a 2 night/3 day Halong & Bai Tu Long Bay tour with Ethnic Travel. Contrary to the recent experiences other posters seem to have had, our group had a really good time!

Our tour got off to a bit of a slow start when the bus was almost an hour late to pick us up. Frustrating, but was made better when they promised to refund us $10 for our waiting time at the end of the trip. As a budget traveler (who only splurged for this trip because I wanted to be sure I got what I was promised) that was good enough for me and I was happy to have saved a little money for my troubles.

Our first boat in Halong was very nice, with hot showers and comfortable beds. The weather was dreary but the ride out to the floating village was very cool and the food was delicious. The group we went with all got along very well, and we had a great time despite the weather.

Day 2 went as promised with a morning kayak, a 90 minute drive to BTL Bay, and a yummy lunch on our new boat. We were joined by 4 new travelers, which made our total 15 people (we were promised no more than 13). I didn't mind, though, as I didn't feel crowded and the new additions to our group were very friendly.

The homestay was nice, although more like a guesthouse. There was no hot water, but it was understandable as the village only has power ~5 hours a day! They did overbook the homestay and had to ask people to share beds. They seemed pretty determined to get it all sorted out, though, and in the end I think everyone was satisfied.

The last day we rode bikes to the beach before having lunch and heading back. We all were pretty happy with the tour as a whole. Our tour guide was very sweet and friendly, and her English was very good. She helped to smooth over/explain any confusion or problems.

The most defining event, though, and the reason that I feel compelled to write a review, is that there was a leak in our room and our camera got wet and was damaged. We talked to our guide as soon as it happened and she assured us they would take care of it at the office when we returned. Sure enough (after having been paid our promised $10) a staff member walked us to the camera shop and helped us explain the problem to the worker. It was only $25 to fix, so they agreed to cover the cost. It was annoying to us that we had to stay in Hanoi an extra day while we waited to have it fixed, but we were glad they were taking care of it for us.

The next day we found out the damage was worse than expected, and it would cost significantly more to fix. It took a bit of haggling with the staff members to figure out who should pay, but ultimately the manager decided that it was a problem with the boat that caused the damage and so they would pay the entire cost of fixing it. We were so relieved as this would have made a huge dent in our travel funds and been a total pain if they hadn't stepped in and taken care of it. Very, very good customer service, and very unlikely to have happened if we had gone with a budget tour.

In the end, we paid the slightly higher prices because we wanted some sort of assurance that we would be looked after during our tour. Not everything went 100% perfectly, but the staff was VERY determined to make sure we had a good time and left happy, and made reparations for every mistake. Thus, I definitely feel spending the extra $ was worth it!

Visited April 2013
Helpful?
Thank EK483
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
London
Level Contributor
14 reviews
4 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 15 helpful votes
“What you see is NOT what you get!”
Reviewed April 7, 2013 via mobile

Our experience with Ethnic Travel started off so well... We sat in their office with cups of tea going through our trip, the 3 day / 2 night Halong and Bai Tu Bay cruise. At $169 pp it was a bit pricey but as it was the end of our holiday, we wanted to ensure it would be enjoyable.

The first night would be spent on the boat in Halong Bay, the second at a homestay on Quan Lan island in Bai Tu Bay. We were shown photos of each boat we would sail on, along with photos of the homestay. There was no hard sell, we asked lots of questions and got a good vibe. They even reimbursed the $3 charge the cash machine charged us.

On arrival at Halong Port we were informed that strong winds were forecast and the government had banned all boats from staying overnight. We would have 4 hours in the bay, then come back to Halong where we would be accommodated in a hotel. We were disappointed but obviously this is beyond any company's control and with a history of boats sinking in the bay, the government is understandably cautious.

But instead of making the most of what little time we now had, we had to wait an hour for our tour guide to turn up. As Bai Tu isn't affected by the same weather systems, we wondered if we could go there first and then come back to Halong the next day. However when the tour guide arrived he was with four other customers who had just come from Bai Tu to join us, thus making any change in our schedule impossible.

We boarded the boat and sailed around Halong. For the majority of this time, the "guide" was on the phone to the office, or avoiding us. He couldn't manage the situation or answer any of our questions. His English was not "excellent" as Ethnic Travel Promise.

Fortunately, the contingency accommodation for the night turned out to be a lovely place with a pool and great food. If they'd told us this from the start there wouldn't have been such a negative atmosphere.

The next morning we drove to meet the Bai Tu Long Bay boat with renewed confidence in Ethnic Travel. According to the photos shown, today we would sail in their junk boat. What we actually got was a basic local boat. There were no seats on deck, just old tyres, broken decking and nails sticking up. Inside there were hard wooden benches. It made for a very uncomfortable five hour journey!!

Docking in Quan Lan we had to cross two dredger boats and scale a precariously balanced plank, with our luggage, to get to land. There was a crowd of locals waiting to get on the boat we had just came off too. Clearly a cheap local ferry.

Arriving at the "homestay" there seemed to be some confusion. It was not the homestay we had been shown photos of either. It transpired this was because the real homestay was full with another Ethnic Travel tour and we had been bumped to a house 100 yards away. This house had no facilities and no communal area. We went to the homestay for dinner where the other tour group told us they had a guide that spoke good English and they had a comfortable boat. We asked our guide to ensure that the manager would be in the office when we returned to Hanoi so that we could complain about the second rate accommodation and boat.

Next day, we returned to the port on another boat, but still not the advertised junk. On route to Hanoi we again asked the guide to ensure the manager would be in the office as our group wished to make a complaint.

Of course the manager was not in the office. However after very little complaining from us, Ethnic Travel offered our group a 50% refund which we accepted. Leaving the office, we met another couple who were unhappy with their Halong experience - the Junk boat had been overbooked and there were not enough beds. They also received a refund.

If you book this tour with Ethnic do not expect what you see is what you get. The reason it's getting a Poor and not a Terrible rating is purely down to the contingency accommodation, the nice group we had and the fact we got a refund!

Visited April 2013
Helpful?
10 Thank fflamingo
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Sydney, Australia
Level Contributor
76 reviews
18 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 87 helpful votes
“Not as 'authentic' as you would hope for”
Reviewed April 3, 2013

There are some great reasons to book with Ethnic Travel. You will get small groups, it's easy to book with them and the places they go to are simply gorgeous. Bai Tu Long Bay was amazing. Not once did we see other tourists around. It was wonderful!

However, when we booked two separate tours (Ninh Binh & Bai Tu Long Bay(2 days)) there were some disappointments that I can't get past:

1. We paid extra for what we were told were private tours for both - which as it turned out after we were confused when other people joined our tour that a 'private tour' was no more than 8 people. That's not private, that's called a 'small group'!

2. For our Bai Tu Long Bay trip, not only did we have to accept that a 'private tour' is not really private, we were also told on our way there (they rang our guide so they could talk to us over the phone) that we will no longer have 8 people in the tour it will now be 13. They did say they will refund the extra we paid for the 'private tour' though. And lucky the group we were with ended up to be great guys.

3. Bai Tu Long Bay 'homestay'. I am not disappointed that the place ended up being a guest house, which I have seen as a complaint in other reviews. The disappointment was the lack of interaction with the family which would have been fantastic had they eaten with us. Instead we ate at one table, they ate at another. For breakfast, they served us crepes, and they had some local dish which smelt amazing!

4. Bai Tu Long Bay guide. Our english speaking guide spoke very little english and when he did he was so hard to understand!

5. Communication about changes to the tours were lacking. Things changed constantly and you are just told but without explanation. I was constantly on edge wondering what changes could be in store for us! I found it hard to relax. I think the secret here is to just go with the flow.

Overall, it was a good experience, the bike rides (though some bikes were faulty and kept breaking down!) was great, and the food was sufficient. However, if you are booking to think you will get an authentic local Vietnamese experience and feel less a tourist, then you'll be disappointed. At the end of the day, it's still a tourist's tour, especially Ninh Binh.

Visited March 2013
Helpful?
4 Thank J0hannaA
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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