Saturday, December 17, 2016

Thailand: Booking and Planning

Back in January, almost a full year ago, on a whim, I bought a Groupon tour of Thailand. What was I thinking? Who buys their travel on Groupon, especially on something as big as a trip to Thailand? This wasn't like booking a hotel room for a night, this was a full-fledged 12 day tour. Like I said, what was I thinking?

The tour was through Affordable Asia, and was their 12 day itinerary including Bangkok, River Kwai, Ayuthaya, Pattaya, Bangkok, and Chiang Mai.

In the months that followed, I did as much research as I could on our destinations, our itinerary, and Affordable Asia. While I found a lot of great information about the places we would visit, I couldn't find many reviews of Affordable Asia. So, here I am to add mine to the internet for the next adventure-seeker who considers an Affordable Asia vacation. 

Short version: It was fantastic. If you're on the fence, go for it. Especially if it's your first trip to Asia, I think it's a great way to get a perfect introduction.  

And below, and in the posts that I think will follow in the next few days, is a much longer version of my memories and photos and thoughts on our tour. I hope you enjoy traveling with me and I hope that this info is helpful to someone considering this or a similar tour.

First let me say that when you get to Thailand, it's not actually Affordable Asia running your tour. Our guides, for example, were through "Perfect Tours." I can't really tell you what the division is between the two companies, who was responsible for which part of the tour, etc. I'd guess that if you went on an Affordable Asia tour in another country (they have tours in Japan and China, for example), your tour would be through another company. Therefore, I can't speak to the quality of the tours in every country, but at this point I would trust that Affordable Asia is dealing with responsible and proficient tour companies.  

Throughout the process, our communication with Affordable Asia was good. For example, I knew I wanted to book our tour for trip for the week around Thanksgiving. I also figured that we wanted to leave out of San Francisco. (The other choice was Los Angeles.) When I bought the Groupon, that week was available. When I had the Groupon and took the code into Affordable Asia to book, that week was gone. I immediately had regrets. Did I just fall for a $3,000 scam? I emailed Groupon, worried. Groupon responded that I should call Affordable Asia directly to see if we could work it out before going any further. I called Affordable Asia and told the woman what happened. She said "Oh, I see what the problem is... try it now." And, instantly, the problem was fixed. And my faith in Affordable Asia was already growing.

Leading up to our vacation, I checked more often. There were a number of optional tours to choose from, but I decided I wanted to do some more research before booking any of them. As it was, our schedule was pretty full without any optional tours. 

One of the things that I did see pop up on our reservation website, in addition to the optional tours, was an optional hotel upgrade. For $189 a person, we could upgrade to a corner suite at the Amari Watergate, where we were staying for 3 nights.  At first I wasn't sure. But then we read that the suite came with access to an executive lounge which had a happy hour every night... and a 24-hour butler... and we were sold.  

Complementary drinks in the executive lounge at the Amari Watergate - Bankok.

Most of the optional tours could be booked while we were in Thailand (for a slightly higher price), but I figured booking a hotel needed a little pre-planning if we wanted our room to be guaranteed.  So, we booked that. 

The other thing that we booked was a day trip to "Chiang Rai and Golden Triangle and Don Sao Island of Laos." I read the description of that side trip, along with the fact that it came with a boat ride into Laos, and I was sold. 

What I can say, if you're unsure about whether to book the optional tours, is that there is definitely an opportunity to book each of them while you're in Thailand. And, on average, the difference is about $10 more. But it's not like any of the optional tours sold out or filled up, and our guide always asked us if we wanted to join the optional experiences as they came up. 

As far as packing, I'd say that these were the most helpful and indispensable items we picked up before we left: packing cubes, power converters, and power strips with USB outlets and converters.

I was not compensated in any way for my review of Affordable Asia, but my shopping links provide Amazon referrals for which I receive a small compensation at no extra cost to you.  

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