This post – The Dragon Trip Review – is in collaboration with The Dragon Trip. This piece of content is produced in exchange for, and based on my experience in joining one of their tours.
The Dragon Trip Review
I spent May touring the well-trodden backpacker route across South East Asia with The Dragon Trip. We visited Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia across 31 Day.
Before joining the tour I had my apprehensions. In fact, when I was initially invited my gut instinct was to decline. I’m an experienced traveller, very independent and I like doing things my own way. On second thought, I realised this was exactly why I should go; to embrace a new challenge, to meet new people and to – for once – allow someone else to take the reigns.
What I learnt on the Dragon Trip is that tours are not all about hand-holding. Yes, everything is organised for you which makes life very easy, but the real benefit is having a large group of people with different interests and opinions to share the experience with.
There were things I loved about The Dragon Trip and things I really, really didn’t. My feelings fluctuated as the weeks went on, often dictated by the extreme tiredness that hit at points. Whilst it wasn’t perfect, amongst the highs and lows friendships formed and I think – alongside the incredible travel experiences – this is one of the greatest takeaways from joining a group tour. Read on for my The Dragon Trip Review!
Things I Loved:
Not having to think about anything; where I was going to sleep or how I’d get from A-B. Taking part in activities I may not have arranged myself, with a highlight being the Chiang Mai cooking class. Being encouraged to visit incredibly important sites such as the Vietnam Tunnels and Cambodian Killing Fields; I may have overlooked their significance in my own. Never feeling lonely. Making friends and sharing new experiences with others. The insight of the country-specific guides.
Things I Didn’t Love:
Having to wake up at a designated time (at one point, I saw 4am four times in a week and I felt savage). A lot of time spent on buses. Not being in control of how much time was given to each city or destination; sometimes they got it right, like in Chiang Mai. Other times they didn’t, like in Laos. The quality of the local guides was variable.
On the whole, accommodation was really good. This is very much a backpacker trip and all accommodation is hostel based. I’d say it’s definitely worth considering the upgrade to a private room if you like your own space and don’t fancy having your sleep quality dictated by a dorm full of potentially loud, drunk people!
A couple of places in particular were brilliant, notably Lub D in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and a few were disastrous, like the awful ‘no windows, smells like dead people’ place we stayed on the Thai border.
Overall accommodation was a positive experience, choices were usually well located and had a nice atmosphere. Lots of places had free beer hours and when breakfast was included it was a perk.
Largely, you feed yourself on The Dragon Trip which personally I’m a big fan of. For me, delving into the street food in Asia is a real joy (read my big Vietnam street food guide here!) and I’d have been sad to have had every meal arranged.
Occasionally a group meal is arranged by the guide (you still pay your way, they just take you to a restaurant) which is a nice experience but could be a whole lot better if they used the opportunity to introduce a hidden gem! I found the suggestions always played it very safe with westernised, pricier restaurants that locals definitely wouldn’t eat at.
At points meals are included which is always a nice bonus, if not mind-blowing food. If you’re a real foodie like me, don’t worry, you’ll have lots of chance to explore. If you’re less bothered that’s fine too because on the whole there were lots of western options available.
I’m just going to put it out there, I’m very much opposed to organised fun. This is where The Dragon Trip really suited me because, although there are lots of arranged activities, lots are optional too.
There was never any upselling or pressure to get involved. You knew what was included and what wasn’t and it was entirely up to you if you wanted to do everything or nothing.
Organised highlights included the Chiang Mai elephant sanctuary visit, Ha Long Bay in Vietnam and Angkor Wat at sunrise in Cambodia.
I opted to join the Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai which was one of my highlights of the whole trip. I also followed suggestions to visit all of the major historical, cultural sites like the Vietnam War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City (incredible and incredibly heartbreaking).
Generally there was also enough free time – or activities to opt out of – to enjoy exploring on your own accord. In doing so I discovered some gems in Chiang Mai (all here), ate my way around Vietnam and some of us even arranged our own cycle beer tour of Siem Reap, Cambodia.
In all honesty, when The Dragon Trip ended I never wanted to see another coach again in my life. I appreciated the economical, eco-friendly choices which were also in keeping with creating a backpacker experience, but at times it was total overkill with seemingly day’s whiling away through a bus window. By the end, half the group chose to purchase a flight back to Bangkok from Siem Reap rather than sit on another coach all day.
I’d say this was probably my low point of the trip; it’s hard to feel too enthusiastic when you’re knackered and uncomfortable. However, we’d then arrive in another amazing city and all would be forgiven!
There are a couple of short flights too and I have The Dragon Trip to thank for introducing me to the joy that is the Thai sleeper trains; we took one from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and I loved it!
As part of The Dragon Trip we also took the slow boat from Thailand to Laos. An experience I’d never have opted to do myself, but I’m glad I’ve done nonetheless. Read my full thought on that here!
The 31 Day South East Asia tour costs £1,499 (or £1,349 with my discount code – see below) which I think is incredibly reasonable for all accommodation, transport and some activities and meals.
You’ll need to make your own way to and from Bangkok and arrange your first and last night there.
The cost of the additional activities en route vary but are clearly laid out on the itinerary beforehand. Some are quite pricey, but fundamentally it’s optional.
You’re in south east Asia, your food and beer money will stretch as far as you’d like it to. Muck in with the locals and eat for £1.50 a meal!
I never felt as though The Dragon Trip were just in it to profit. There was never any pressure to join activities and everything felt very fair.
Could you do a bit cheaper yourself? Yes, but then there’s a hassle factor too.
Who is it best suited to?
The Dragon Trip welcomes trippers aged between 18-35. I can only speak for my particular tour as I know others will vary and other destinations may attract a different crowd.
A 31 Day South East Asia tour is very gap yaaah-centric and largely, this is the crowd it drew. Many had booked through a popular gap year planning agent and as such the average age was pretty low. Is that a problem? No, not at all, but I’m not sure all of my friends in their late twenties/thirties would have felt they fitted in.
I recommend this particular tour to first time travellers, gap year students and university students mainly. However, that doesn’t mean if you’re 25 and fancy getting on the backpacker groove you won’t have a blast too.
My particular tour was very large at 16 people, the one before had been a group of 8. This is something you could definitely chat to The Dragon Trip about as I imagine they could advise on which are the most popular dates and what booking numbers are looking like.
The group I was with were very boozy which had its pros and cons; it was a fun, confident and vibrant group. There were definitely a few dramatic nights out and a bit of a ‘what happens on tour…’ vibe. However, the group before were described as very chilled and tight knit so it really does depend!
If you’re looking for a great introduction to travelling, don’t want to go solo and are looking to do so on a budget then this is the trip for you. I guarantee you’ll see some incredible places and do some incredible things. Is it perfect? No. However the nature of backpacking is that it can often be a bit of a slog and usually it makes for the best stories! Hopefully this The Dragon Trip review gives you a well-rounded understanding of what it’s all about!
You can book the 31 Day SE Asia Tour here and see all the other destinations here.
The Dragon Trip Discount Code: Use ‘bethsandland/TDT19′at checkout for 10% off any trip*!
*This is an affiliate link; you save 10% and I earn 10%.
This looks amazing Beth!