These are some bad experiences you will hear from random travellers about their Halong Bay Junk Boat Tour that was booked in Hanoi, online or at the docks:
- Boat was literally a junk that was ready to fall apart or sink
- Did not get all the tour services they paid for upfront
- Was not enough food on the boat for everyone
- Boat does not look like it did in the brochure photos
- Told to pay extra for services like kayaking when they thought it was included
- Charged extra dong for having outside drinks onboard
- Not enough sun loungers for everyone or even no top deck at all to hang out on
- Not told in advance they would have to pay for their drinks (which are highly inflated)
- Things don’t seem very cleanly
- Room was very uncomfortable
- Had to share a room with someone when they booked private
- Tour was overbooked and got moved to a different group or even a different tour operator all together
- Choked on carbon exhaust fumes all night
- VIP bus ride was not so VIP
- Can’t contact their booking tour operator to complain and/or they didn’t offer any refunds when they got back
- etc etc etc. Basically anything you can imagine to go wrong does go wrong
So how does a budget backpacker avoid all these extremely common problems and book themselves a perfect tour to Halong Bay?
Well, it’s probably impossible to avoid every single problem unless you pay upwards of $200 a person for your tour. However, we paid about $30 a person and our junk experience was almost perfect. Our bus ride to and from our hotel was uncomfortable and it included lunch at a small restaurant that reused their one time use wood chopsticks. (which we complained and they brought us sealed packaged ones very secretly so the other tables didn’t see)
Yes, you can get your tour for much cheaper than $30 but this will just increase your chances of a bad experience to an almost guarantee. So what is the secret?
Pay a bit more and book through your hotel/hostel.
Your hotel or hostel has already invested their time to making you happy. They have to deal with you everyday of your stay. They want your business and they want your repeat business when you get back from the tour. They also want you to give them good reviews by word of mouth and on the internet. You will get picked up at your hotel and the key part of all of this… you will get dropped off at your hotel. It’s impossible for them to avoid any complaints you might have when you get back. So, because of this hotels tend to work with tour operators they trust and believe in their product.
Yes, you will pay less if you book through a random tour operator on the street but you have no idea on the quality of their tours. Of course they will tell you they offer the best tours and show you amazing photos and tell you the guy down the street is a scam artist. Anything to make the sale!
All the tour operator shops look the same, display the same photos, and even all have similar names. You will see the word “TOURS” everywhere and signage is displayed in the same colours as their competitors. With the chaos of the old quarter streets that all look the same to begin with, it becomes quite difficult to know your way around. Had a bad experience with a random tour operator? How are you going to get the word of mouth out when you don’t really know their company name, and your directions are pretty sketchy. “It was down the street with the all the scarfs for sale, then take a right and it was the 4th tour operator on the left” Great…
It’s easy to complain and get some compensation if you booked through your hotel. Didn’t book with the hotel? Are you now going to bother walking back through the chaos to go complain with who you booked with? Some might, and if you do what is this operator going to do? They will argue with you about what they said originally and the conversation will go no where.
These same issues also apply to online bookings, or booking with someone at the actual dock for the junks. Once you pay the transaction is done. They don’t care to please you after that.
Scott and I have done this trick before in our travels with great success. Any tour we’ve booked with a hotel has been a blast and if there was any problems we informed them during or when we got back and they have always seemed quite concerned and have offered us some money back.
Tips to remember when you do book a tour with your hotel:
- Make sure you fully understand what is included and is not included with your tour
- Go over your tours itinerary so your not left in the dark on what to expect the day of
- Understand the quality to expect of your transportation, food, and accommodation
- Know what you need to bring
- If any services are not up to par do they offer any sort of compensation?
- Bring your hotels business card with you so you can contact them immediately if you experience problems
- Always ask any and all the questions you have before you pay
- And most important: While on your tour speak up to the tour guides if you have any problems, if they aren’t very helpful tell them you will contact your hotel about it. This usually makes them smarten up as they don’t want to loose their contract with the hotel.