• Alexandra Sieh / Colorado Daily

    The dock where it all began, on my way to Halong Bay, Vietnam. I paced this walkway for hours, not aware my trip was about to horribly wrong.

  • Alexandra Sieh / Colorado Daily

    Incredibly, I tried a tour again in Vietnam. This time, it didn't disappoint, leading us to a far different boating experience, this time along the Mekong Delta.

  • Sieh



Bugs buzzing overhead, I seethed, sitting on a filthy mattress in some dingy hotel on an island I wasn’t even sure the name of.

So much for our glamorous tour of Halong Bay.

Two years ago, my coworker and I went to northern Vietnam for our first real vacation in Asia. The trip had been phenomenal, riding through the mountains, walking bustling city streets. One part seemed trickier — we needed a boat — so we opted for a group tour. (I’d always felt tours were too, well, touristy, but there were few other choices. Tour it was.)

Two hours later, we — along with 10 other disgruntled passengers — were told our boat was broken. Via another, far crappier boat, we docked for a quick cave tour.

Then we were told there was no boat to sleep on that night. Our current vessel wasn’t equipped for that. Instead, we were dropped off on the aforementioned island of lackluster accommodations — nothing at all what we’d (over)paid for. The next day, we griped our way back to the main dock, where we were stuffed onto an overbooked bus that took ages to return to Hanoi.

“That’s it,” I vowed. Never again would I be swindled or tricked. Tours were nothing but trouble.

Two years later, in Xi’an, Manfriend and I risked a tour to go see the Terra Cotta warriors. Our guide was fantastic, offering great insights as we stared at an awe-inspiring part of China’s history.

“Maybe tours aren’t so bad,” I mused over dinner that night. “All depends on the tour, I guess,” he replied.

A month later, we tried again, this time in Southeast Asia, a place well-known for just the sort of con I fell for in 2016.

Midway through the tour, I was laughing hysterically as I and an older woman struggled to pedal along the dusty roads. She and I teetered along, just two of 12 or so folks on a trip around Siem Reap’s countryside. I even dared another boat ride, this time to see Cambodia’s floating villages. We left with new friends and a lot of great memories.

A few days later, we were out on a 23-kilometer cycling tour, stopping at temples and local farms for brief history lessons. A week later, (once my ass had recovered), it was out to Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. We followed guides on adventures it would have been hard to recreate on our own. I’d never have imagined doing some of it, yet those day trips were some of my best experiences.

“So, what, you’re a tour fanatic now?” Manfriend teased as I scrolled through TripAdvisor one evening. As uncool as they first seemed, I guess I was. There was plenty to learn from people who were a hell of a lot better at planning than I am.

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