Does the New Year bring a fresh urge for you to visit an exciting new destination? The world is a huge place and there is so much for you to see and do! Once you have an idea of where you want to go, it’s time to plan, plan and plan some more!

The planning part can be almost as exciting as the actual trip but it can also be overwhelming and slightly daunting … especially if this is a solo trip! (Even more so if it is your first solo trip!) If the planning side does become a bit much for you, you have the great option of joining an organized tour … bear with me here, organized does not always equal boring!
With all the tour options available to you though, even this can be a bit scary … how the hell do you know that you are choosing the right tour company when they all look so good?! And they all do pretty much the same things right?

Well – it’s a great question! And a very important one too! So we put together a mini checklist of things that we think you should consider while you’re comparing your options:

It’s important to choose a reliable company:

You want to know that you are choosing a company who will not only do what they say they’ll do, but do it well! How long have they been running their tours? Do they know the area that you want to travel to well? Do they have a back-up plan for any unforeseen situations that may happen?

Choose a company that knows the area you want to travel to!

Your dream tour guide will have travelled the area that you want to visit, (like our very own Karin and Dirk who travelled Vietnam extensively before we got our Ultimate Vietnam tour ready to go). They’ll know all the best spots that you might not come across without that insider knowledge – the spots that will make the trip really authentic for you! They won’t just take you on the usual backpacker trail … the idea is that you come away with different stories of new experiences that not everyone will have had while on their travels!

Find a company that travels responsibly:

The company you should choose should aim to travel in a way that minimizes any negative effect on local communities, the environment etc. For example, if you plan to travel in Thailand, we feel, personally, that you should stay away from any tour that promotes the riding of elephants. There’s a great post here on why you should consider skipping this ‘experience’ and there are great alternatives available that provide much more valuable memories!

Choose a company that is completely transparent:

There’s nothing worse than buying something or signing up to something only to find that you aren’t actually getting what you thought you paid for! When you book your trip, you need to be absolutely 100% clear what is included and what isn’t … meals, trips, accommodation etc. If the company you choose has lots of hidden extras, you could end up very disappointed – and skint!

What do other people say?

These days, there are many ways to find out what other people think of their first hand experiences with that particular company, social media being one! Check out the reviews on Facebook / Twitter / Google+ etc. There is no better way to find out what you should expect than straight from the horses mouth (so to speak)! Obviously, you need to be smart about this, some reviews do need to be taken with a pinch of salt … but it is easy to spot the genuine ones most of the time! If there are bad reviews, how many compared to the good ones? What do they say and how has the company responded to them? This will tell you a lot about how the company operates!

Facebook reviews screen shot

Where ever you go, whoever you choose to go with, it is sure to be an unforgettable experience! If you do have any questions before you make your final decision, our Crew are always available for you to speak to, just send us an email with any questions and we’ll come right back to you!

There’s certainly something magical about the idea of riding elephants in Thailand, and who doesn’t want to say: “I went to Thailand and rode an elephant” and post some cool photos on Facebook to show your friends? Unfortunately though, the truth is, riding elephants is not cool, and here’s why…

For thousands of years, elephants have been an important part of Thai culture. Due to their size, strength and powerful trunks, elephants were highly revered as a creature for work and warfare. However, in 1989, the tradition of using elephants in industry ended, mainly due bans imposed on the logging industry. This created huge problems for the elephant handlers and owners (mahouts) who had to find a way to pay for the care and upkeep of their elephants, who require up to 200 kilograms of food a day.

Many mahouts found their only option was to earn money from tourists, through elephant trekking, rides or entertainment. The tourism industry was a viable alternative but it came with bad consequences, with the risk of exploitation when animals and commercialisation meet.

We won’t go into detail, but the sad truth is, we will never support elephant camps in Thailand that provide ‘entertainment’ such as elephant painting or training elephants to dance / sit / stand on two legs. Don’t believe everything you hear – these elephants are mistreated and and their ‘training’ is abusive. Take a look at photos online – the line of scars across the elephant’s foreheads are not there by accident, and may have something to do with the metal spikes the handlers are holding.

We’re happy to say we do support a small selection of Thai elephant sanctuaries who are dedicated to providing elephants with the highest quality-of-life possible. If you’re keen to experience elephants up close, in this kind of environment, check out our 4 day / 3 night Chiang Mai Elephant Experience.

Thanks for your understanding!

– The Crew at Ultimate Thailand