I just received an email from one of our fine competitors. (No names here, to protect the innocent.) In it, they describe their 18 day tour of Indochina, and tout the leisurely nature of the exploration.

Since Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos are some of my all-time favorite places on earth, I clicked on their program to relive some of my favorite experiences there. What I found caused me to raise an eyebrow or two, and is why I am tapping away at my keyboard writing this blog.

I’m going to share a few excerpts of what I found that are worth considering when looking for the best value in a tour:

• Does the program classify travel to/from the region as a tour day? The program I just read is listed as 18 days. Except that day 1 is in flight (air not included). Day 2 is an overnight in an Asian gateway city (also not included). Day 3 you finally meet the guide for an afternoon tour around Hanoi (dinner not included). Be careful when you compare itineraries. Many companies show you a longer program so that it appears as if you are receiving more tour for the money. Often, they install a day or two of independent travel before you link up with the tour, and which is not included in the program pricing. At Classic Journeys you will never see that. What you see in our programs is truly part of your guided program in country.

Vietnam guide

• How many meals are included? Our fine competitor’s program includes breakfast daily, 1 lunch and 1 dinner—for the whole tour. Classic Journeys’ Indochina program includes all breakfasts, all lunches and all dinners. And these are not just lunches and dinners at any old tourist restaurant. Ours include the best of Asian and European cuisine. Restaurants of note that we enjoy along the way include Wild Rice, the best Vietnamese restaurant in Hanoi; La Camargue, the finest French restaurant in Saigon; the Press Club, the “it” place for foreign correspondents during the war and still the place for fine dining in Hanoi; and the acclaimed dining room at Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Siem Reap. What is the value of 9 additional lunches and 9 additional dinners over the course of a 10 day tour? Only you know how much you spend for a very nice lunch or dinner, but I’d think most of us would say that it could easily add up to close to another $1000 of unexpected expenditures over the course of the week and a half.

• What’s the pacing of the program? Halong Bay is universally considered Vietnam’s 8th wonder of the world. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And it takes three hours of nice countryside driving to reach it from Hanoi. Our competitor’s program provides you one day to drive there, take a quickie cruise, and drive back to Hanoi that afternoon. Since that scenario requires six hours of driving in one day, I can’t imagine how much time you have on the water. It can’t be much. And since Halong Bay is enormous, you can’t possibly reach any of the most interesting and spectacular areas before its time to turn around on your day cruise and head back to port for your return drive to Hanoi. At Classic Journeys, we spend a (truly) leisurely overnight on Halong Bay on a luxury junk. We arrive before lunch, spend the entire afternoon, night and next morning on the bay before returning to Hanoi. The opportunity to kayak, swim, fish, explore fantastical caves, participate in a cooking instruction, take a spa treatment, or just wake early and listen to eagles sweep over the spectacular hills is unimaginable…and impossible unless you are spending the night on the bay. You will with Classic Journeys.

Woman on Junk boat overlooking Halong Bay

I could go on, but you get my point. Note that I am not suggesting that Classic Journeys is the only company that can provide you the best tour in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. But it is meant as a caution: buyer beware.

Be inquisitive when you are looking at programs. Compare what is really included, and the time allocated to visits, overnights and activities. And if you have questions about our programs, I invite you to call us personally to discuss your wish list for your own journey to Indochina or any of the other 70 regions in 33 countries on 5 continents where Classic Journeys operates award-winning programs.

You can reach a Classic Journeys guest services coordinator at 800-200-3887 or blog@classicjourneys.com.