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 ".
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