The flight from San Francisco to Seoul went well followed by a good hotel and a good guide in Seoul. The bus tour was most interesting even though we had to skip some area due to the N. Koreans recently laying land mines (so we were told) and some pretty heavy rain. A bit of a surprise came when the tour bus stopped somewhere in Seoul and we were told that the tour ends here and that there are bus and subway connections nearby. The guide did not recognize our hotel or how to get there by bus or subway. Fortunately a women in a kiosk near by spoke English and knew about our hotel and said that for less than $10 we could get there by taxi. The guide and the women stopped a taxi and evidently explained where we wanted to go since we got to our hotel for less than $10 by that taxi. A "heads up" on getting back to our hotel would have been helpful.
The flight to Mongolia went well and since we were a little early in getting to UB we were not concerned that there was no one with our name sign waiting for us. I changed money and we waited. Eventually another guide (guide 1) asked us who we were waiting for. I explained we were with this travel agency and were waiting for a representative. Guide 1 then called some of the contact numbers we had but there was no response (it was Sunday). Shortly another guide (guide 2) joined us and asked at which hotel we were to stay. He called the hotel but they said they never heard of us and of course we had no hotel vouchers to show. At this point both guides 1 and 2 said that they never heard of our travel agency and they suggested that we may have been duped by a "fly by night" operator! I stuck up for you and said that I had confidence in the company. Guide 1 repeatedly called various contact numbers and eventually reached a driver, who spoke almost no English, for the tour company who eventually arrived at the airport and did get us booked into our hotel. Later both a manager for tour company and our guide called us and explained that they had been given the wrong time for our plane to arrive in UB and apologized for the mix-up. They were expecting us several hours later. I tried to give guide 1 a nice tip for all his persistent calling but he declined it-however he had told us that he was going to his son's 6th birthday party later and so I convinced him the tip was for his son's birthday present (which he then took!).Our Mongolia guide was very good. We got to see an "Independence day" ceremony (and the installation of the new Mongolian president) in the main town square and also the 2 hours opening ceremonies of the Naadam festival along with parts of all the activities: wrestling, archery, horse racing, and anklebone shooting.The side trips from UB and the stays in Gers in the Gobi were most interesting and enjoyable. The guide showed us a partially buried dinosaur bone (he claimed to have found it some time ago on one of his hiking trips) in the Flaming Cliffs area (Beverly's parents lived for many years in Beloit, WI, the home town of R. Chapman Andrews). We did do some searching for wild big horn sheep, but saw none. We did see herds of sheep, goats, horses, camels, cattle and Yaks in the Gobi and elsewhere.The flight to Tokyo went well including getting the JR reservations at Tokyo station. All the areas we visited in Japan were interesting and we learned much Japanese history. We particularly enjoyed the "wild river boat ride" and the stays in the Ryokans. The stay in Shirakawago was especially interesting with over sized Japanese breakfast and dinner. At breakfast we were also treated to a "hat" dance and got to play along with percussion instruments. It was a bit difficult keeping all the different temples and shrines straight but we did our best.A bit of a problem came up when we got to Odawara Station from Miayjima. We were told that a shuttle from the hotel had to be booked in advance and that a taxi would cost around $75 if one could be found. Eventually we learned about the Mountain Train which we took to Gora station for less than $20. We then got the hotel to send a car for us even though it was past the usual shuttle time to Gora Station. So we finally got to the hotel from Miayjima but too late for the hotel's "Early evening free drinks hour" . (the hotel put some hefty prices on some of their drinks: I noticed a "grocery store" bottle of Robt. Mondavi at $140). It would have been useful if we had known about the possibility of the Mountain Train etc. Our Hakone guide was very helpful and even though it was rainy and foggy much of the time (we did get to see the mountains occasionally from our mountain view room but we never did get to see Mt. Fuji at all) we did get to see the outdoor museum, the volcano, and to take a nice cruise on the lake.In conclusion we would say that we found all the guides to be very good. They took good care of us and catered to our wishes and often used taxis when we got fatigued.We feel that the high points of the tour were:1. N. Korea visit via the JSA at Panmunjom.2. Naadam festival activities.3. Gers/Gobi experience.4 Shirakawago/Ryokan stays.5. Hozugawa river boat ride.6. Hiroshima (Hypo-center/A bomb memorial).The minor sticking points of the trip were:1. Getting back to our hotel after DMZ/JSA tour.2. Finding transportation from Odawara to the hotel.The low point of the tour:Being told in Mongolia that we may have been duped by a "fly by night" tour operator.If you have any particular questions for us just let us know.Marvin/Beverly Mielke
The trip was fine as is.
TRAVEL COMPANY COMMENTS:
Thank you so much for your five star review. It was very nice working with you on this trip and I’m so glad that overall you had a great time on your trip (and it’s great that we’re working on your next adventure already!). We appreciate the details that you’ve shared regarding your favorite parts of the trip as well as where there were any issues. All the details are so very important to us and we want to address anywhere that there was an issue as well. In regards to the tour of the DMZ, this is a government run tour as it is involving the DMZ area. We’re so glad that you enjoyed the tour here. Unfortunately they did not inform us that they were not also including the drop offs at the hotel. I can certainly understand that this would be a stressful situation and I’m so glad that there was a woman that helped you to get back to the hotel. In regards to your arrival into Mongolia, we are so sorry that the guide was not there waiting for you and the stress that was involved with this. We know this is so important, and we take this incredibly seriously. The person that was responsible for organizing this and for answering your call is now no longer working for the local company in Mongolia. The local company was also very apologetic about this. As an apology, they are sending you a present from Mongolia as well. I believe you’ve said that you have received this now. We’re glad that you had a great time with your guide in country, and that you were able to experience the Gobi and see some of the local animals. That is great that you enjoyed the Hozugawa boat ride, the ryokans, and the unique stay in Shirakawago. In regards to your arrival in Odawara, I’m sorry that we didn’t provide you with the option to take the local trian. Since it does require a bit more effort which can be tricky with luggage we’ve found that our clients were just opting to take the taxis and so we no longer included the information about the train. Your feedback is very helpful, and we’ll provide this option again to our clients. Best regards
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