After a volunteer stint teaching English in Thailand, I decided that I wanted to explore South East Asia, China, and Hong Kong to the fullest, really getting to know the places, culture, and people and having an active trip. As I was traveling solo and wanted some company I chose to use a tour operator and created my own tour using two different tour companies, Gap Adventures and Intrepid Travel and was beyond impressed with both operators.
When looking at Gap Adventures website, I was unable to find the exact tour that I had participated in, however, the Roam Laos and Thailand and the Bangkok to Hanoi trips were very similar to the one I did.
What’s great about GAP is you are able to choose the type of trip you want, whether it be an active trip with a lot of physical activity, a volunteer trip, family style, a trip discovering coastlines with biologists, an adventure trekking through regions from the Discovery Channel and more.
My tour guide on the trip, Jaep, became almost like a sister to the group. She was fun, she taught us a lot about the culture, and took us to interesting cultural places and events, such as temples, nighttime prayer with the monks, to get our fortunes read at a Buddhist temple, to feed the monks at dawn during an Alms Giving ritual, a cooking class, tubing in Luang Prabang (super touristy but super fun!) the Tiger Kingdom to literally play with tigers, favorite nightlife spots and restaurants of the locals, and more.
While the tour sticks to the itinerary, they also go out of their way to show you off the beaten path places and rituals that you most likely would not have seen on your own.
Like Gap, Intrepid allows you to choose your trip based on style and activities. For this section of the trip (Vietnam/China/Hong Kong) I wanted active over comfort. I chose the Hanoi to Hong Kong trip which allowed me to fully experience the places I visited from a very natural point of view.
Some of the hotels and guesthouses we stayed in were family-run accommodations in rural, isolated villages where we got the chance to participate in cultural dances and just hanging out with locals at their homes drinking team or eating home cooked meals, playing games with villagers in their meeting spaces, visiting minority villages, practicing English with students, singing kareoke at people’s homes, and more.
We also stayed in some more “big business” type hotels in bigger cities and got to experience the regions from that perspective too. For me, however, the best parts of this trip were the days when we got to hike from town to town, through rice terraces (the Long Ji rice terraces are amazing) and forests, as well as swimming in Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and visiting some of the caves filled with stalagmites.
Once again, experiences like these are hard to find on your own but when you are traveling with a local tour guide at all times, it makes it easier to get the opportunities to have these personal encounters with locals and the natural land.