First and foremost I would like to say that this is not a reflection on our tour guide who did wonderfully well and performed well beyond his duties. Nor does this have to do with the Cambodian leg of the tour. In general a good time was had and I met some really nice people. But that does not take away from the fact that as clients our group was treated with contempt by the local Vietnamese head office.
Upon arrival, we were told that there were twenty one people on the tour and for ‘our comfort’ we were divided into two groups – a group of fourteen doing only Vietnam and our group of seven, who would go onto Cambodia. This was the first of many lies we were told as I have been on tours with more than twice this number with no issues whatsoever. The reasons for this lie would be clear to me later on.
Whilst the creation of the two groups wasn’t a big deal the reasons for this action would soon become clear to us as the tour progressed. There was a noticeable and concerted effort by the guides to separate the two groups even though we were going to the same destinations and day by day we would notice that the larger group would always get to go first and receive preferential treatment like better rooms etc. Our patience reached an end in Hoi An, where were given a sub-standard replacement for our promised accommodation. Here is what the On the Go website told us about the Hoi An hotel:
Vinh Hung Riverside Resort offers luxury and gracious hospitality in a traditional Vietnamese environment right on the banks of the Thu Bon river with top notch facilities.
Our Rating : Deluxe — Local Rating: 5 Star Hotel (this was later changed to 4 subsequent to my complaint)
This hotel was also only minutes walk into the main part of Hoi An. What were given was a 3 star (at best) hotel, at least 40 minutes’ walk into town. There were definitely no ‘top notch facilities’ and the breakfast and service was appalling. When we made enough of a noise our guide had to finally contact head office, at which point he was instructed to feed us lies suggesting that the other group had booked before us (how is this even possible); it was high season so the other hotel didn’t take bookings (complete nonsense) and that both hotels were on par with each other. I would challenge anyone to stay at both hotels and tell me that these were anywhere close to being on par. Some of us did some checking around and there were at least two other 5 star hotels we could have been put up in.
Arriving in Can Tho we were again told we weren’t staying at the advertised hotel. Again, this is what their website said:
Victoria Hotel Can Tho – Can Tho
The Mekong Delta’s only luxury hotel, this attractive, colonial-style resort is tastefully decorated with well-appointed rooms and a wide range of facilities including a spa, tennis courts, open-air bar, restaurant and a gym. The hotel also offers sunrise and sunset cruises to the floating markets aboard the Lady Hau junk.
Our Rating : Superior — Local Rating: 4 Star Hotel
Once again were given some sub-standard, poorly serviced hotel of very little character. No facilities, no cruises. Nothing at all.
On day 9 of the tour we were supposed to make a very early start to experience the hustle and bustle of the Cai Rang markets. Suddenly we were told we were leaving later because it’s very hard to move with that many people. Yet another lie. The other group visited the markets at the scheduled early start and guess what? They had double our numbers and they had no problem ‘moving around’. The only reason we missed out on the experience is that the two groups had to be separated at any costs, lest we found out how different our experiences were. Visiting the markets at the later hour also meant that instead of hiring several small boats On The Go could save more money by hiring one large one. We travelled halfway around the world and missed out all because On The Go wanted to hide the fact that they were short-changing us.
The lengths that the Vietnamese head office went to separate both groups was unbelievable. On the optional My Son visit our entire group wanted to go and there were only two from the other group. Common sense suggested that the two join us on the trip. But no, they had their own guide and transport.
Even the tour buses weren’t on parity. The other group of around fourteen people (in the end) had a massive, plush coach while we carted around in a mini bus of questionable comfort and space. Adding insult to this experience was that the limited space was further reduced by the fact that there was no room in the luggage hold and most of our luggage were in the bus with us. This is NOT ACCEPTABLE on any level.
I accept that in some extreme cases changes need to be made but at no point during our time in Vietnam did we feel that we were being compensated for the poorer accommodation by being given better treatment in other areas. In fact we felt that we were at all times being given the short end of the stick. In my opinion the one and only reason for the two groups was that On The Go had blocked out insufficient rooms at the Vinh Hung Riverside Resort and the Victoria hotel and then greedily proceeded to overbook the tours. Sadly it was our group which unfairly suffered. A group, might I add, who paid for a longer tour and hence put more money through them.
I hold the person at the Vietnam head office solely responsible. When we complained about our treatment not only were we lied to but not a single word of apology was even offered. In a country where I experienced the most amazing hospitality from the local people, those responsible need to hang their heads in shame and be removed from employment altogether. As a company On The Go need to rectify their practices and take responsibility for the way their individual head offices behave.
To their credit, On the Go (Australia) apologised when I complained but as usual, refused to accept blame. They did offer monetary compensation which in my view was inadequate but I accepted in the interest of moving on.
I will continue to use On the Go tours but never again through Indochina as I do not expect them to change the way they operate in that region. One suspects that less attentive clients are still being short changed in this manner.