Dear Nellie Bly,
My husband and I are planning a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia in January, our first trip to Asia. While we are excited, we do have a question. Neither of us speaks an Asian language, and we have read that many Vietnamese shopkeepers badger and take advantage of tourists. We like to travel independently, but wonder if it is better to work with a tour company this time.
Anxious about Asia
Congratulations on picking Cambodia and Vietnam; these are beautiful and fascinating destinations! Vietnamese shopkeepers can seem aggressive. I understand that you like to travel independently, but it is good to mix it up occasionally and travel with a tour company, especially one that organizes ethical travel. Going with a tour guide assures you that you will see the important sites, eat good food, avoid dangerous areas, have someone communicate on your behalf, and help you bridge cultural differences. Guides are your subject matter experts providing important background information and helping you to see aspects of the country that you might miss traveling on your own.
When choosing a tour company, look for the following:
- The reputation of its business practices
- The environmental impact of its tours
- If animals are involved, ethical treatment of animals
- Whether it can customize its tours to meet your particular interests and budget
- Whether its tours can take you to women-owned enterprises and women artisans
Be aware that cultural tourism can exploit indigenous peoples–often indigenous women–by making them things you look at, like objects in a museum or animals in a zoo. Not only can it be exploitative, it is super awkward. If you are interested in learning about the culture, ask the company how it does it.
If you are traveling on a budget–and who isn’t?—ask specifically what is included in the tour price and what the out-of-pocket costs are. If you like a particular tour, but it is too expensive, ask if there are any ways of reducing the price. Sometimes, the company has alternative arrangements for lodging, food, transportation, and itineraries. Ask about tipping practices at restaurants, activities, and sites; along with guidelines for tipping your guides.
Tourism Concern, a UK-based ethical travel organization, lists ethical travel companies. One of their partners, Experience Travel, has a tour called, Cambodia to Vietnam via the Mekong. They describe it as highlights of Cambodia and Vietnam, traveling over land and water. What caught my imagination is one part of the trip is travel on a vintage vespa. How cool is that? This company can help you, if you like, get a better understanding of the culture. With that said, however, there are many travel companies that organize trips to Vietnam and Cambodia. Choose the one that best fits your needs and your budget.
Have a safe and fun holiday!
Cover Photo description: Cambodian Cultural Village Photo attribution: Narin BI courtesy of Wikimedia Commons