Turns out that "they" were wrong. The root of all evil isn't money it's Phan Van Dan (a.k.a Jean-Claude) our ex-guide.
When Anh Tuan arrived at Mr. Bao's house we had a chance to sit down and chat with him. It turns out that this was the first (and last) tour that Dan worked for Voyage Vietnam. He had good recommendations and our trip was planned to have multiple guides (including Anh and his wife), so he could be observed. Unfortunately, there were eight people who cancelled last minute so Anh Tuan unselfishly allowed Dan to guide our tour. Especially because of the lunar new year celebration and that he had already promised Dan work. I think that he now regrets that decision.
Anh told us that is six years of running Voyage Vietnam he has never had a guide abandon clients. During our chat Anh Tuan revealed conversations he had with Dan along the route and told us that Dan should have replaced Ryan's bike at the first sign of trouble, especially because we were still close to Hanoi. He also advised Dan several times to discuss the plan for the trip with us and to give us options on how to proceed. He easily outlined a route revision for the second day that would have eliminated our huge 240 km day with night riding. Instead of discussing and communicating, Dan made incredibly poor unilateral decisions.
We also learned that Dan completely fleeced us on the boat ride. He charged us four times what we should have paid. Anh was incredibly disturbed, and in a bit of shock as we sat and talked. Anh shared his story with us: how he grew up very poor in a village, has always given back to the community with home stays and donations, and how his tour company was originslly financed ($140k) by a swiss client who has been completely repaid. He outlined his philosophy and his vision which was one of the most customer focused and refreshing interactions I have ever had with a tour company oversees. Over the next few days, Anh showed us that he practices what he preaches. The remainder of the tour was completely different, and if we hadn't been so exhausted it would have been a lot more fun. Meeting with Anh confirmed that Dan was the true root of our problems.