Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Pass on Vietnam

Alright, I'm a bit behind on any blogging, so a bit of catching up: Vietnam. I only spent five days in Vietnam, all in the North and without even getting a chance to see Hanoi (except for a bus station, which I'd describe as hectic), so perhaps I don't have the most complete perspective, but so far my take away from it is: don't bother going there! I understand perfectly well that, even as unpemployed backpackers, the tourists in South East Asia are phenominally rich compared to most of the locals, but I'm not about to understand getting ripped off quite as much as the Vietnamese have been trying to do!
- First there was the rather rude introduction at the border: no bus, a mini-bus to the next town, 40kn away, for $15 each (we could've had a deal for only $10... each), then the little mini-van that could take us most of the way to Hanoi for about a dollar a km - that would be $300! And finally, our truck driver, who either expected to get $25 from each of us for a ride in the open back of the truck, or just decided to ask for money upon arrival than we had agreed on initially...
- then, in Halong Bay, I arranged for an overnight boat cruise on the bay. Cost: $55, a bit expensive, but fine. On the boat, I learned that some people had paid as little as $45, and one guys was charged $200 (for two nights)! Not to mention the food/service/accomodation on the boat weren't exactly top notch - there were more along the lines of save every penny you possibly can.
- and finally back in Halong City, I had a ferry try to charge me 50% more than the girl had quoted me over the phone (and had just charged a local woman right as I was waiting in line behind her). The explanation was 'our prices had changed'... At that point, I decided she deserved neither $15, nor $25 (for the 3 hour boat ride), so a motorcycle ride to the bus station, where (naturally) my driver was absolutely outraged that the money I was giving him was only what we had agreed upon ahead of time...
Between all this, the people not being particularly friendly, and the never-ending barrage of 'massage boom-boom, sir?' on the street didn't give me all that positive of an impression of the country. In fact, I think the two nicest locals I met here were two Chinese businessmen on my bus to the Chinese border, who were very friendly, spoke a fair bit of English, and expressed being pleased to leave Vietnam behind after a week there! Or maybe, it was all just a hangover from Laos, which had the nicest, friendliest people I've met anywhere on the trip so far, and the prices were the lowest I've seen! Most of the other travelers I'd spoken to do tend to enjoy visiting Vietnam... of course, everyone does like the Southern parts best.

So, actually being back home in the US for a brief week-long break from traveling, and having finished waltzing through all of SE Asia, it seems an appropriate time for another list (we all love lists!): the countries I've been to so far, in order from my most to least favorite (score in parenthesis is achieved via a complex, albeit arbirtrary formula, and are really only there to indicate how relatively close the countries are):

#1. Thailand (95 pts) - perfect combination of friendly people, amazing sites, best food, and a countrly sufficiently advanced that getting around is cheap, easy and comfortable. Plus an unbeatable combination of beaches and great dive sites; hills, mountains, and a bamboo jungle in the North; and beautiful, fascinating, and yet always different, culture everywhere! Most memorable site/experience: elephant riding in Chiang Mai (in spite of being overly touristy)

#2. Laos (93) - surprisingly close, considering how much fun Thailand was, but the friendliest, more relaxing country in the region. If it had the full variety of sites that Thailand has it would take over as #1, but as it is, I'll leave as a close #2. Most memorable site/experience: tubing in Vang Vieng.

#3. Indonesia (85) - maybe it was just surprising because I knew next to nothing about it going in ans wasn't even planning on going originally, but the amazing variety, the helpful people, and the relative lack of tourists gets Indonesia high on the list. Bali has gorgeous beaches (with perfect surf breaks), Yogyakarta's temples rival any you'd see any place else in the region, and Java, Sumatra, and others I only got to read about have some amazing mountains, gorges, and smoking volcanic craters. Oh, and there's also an equator monument... Most memorable site/experience: the smoking Bromo volcano (and the surrounding Cemoro Lawang village)

#4. Cambodia (80)- 1 day in Cambodia. But I went to see Angkor Wat on that day. And Angkor Wat is, without competition, the most amazing [man-made] structure I've seen so far. The Taj Mahal is the only one that can even be in the conversation, and yet it doesn't come all that close! Most memorable site/experience: uhmm, let me think... Oh yeah, Angkor Wat was amazing!

#5. Nepal (77) - it'd be even higher if I'd spent less time in Kathmandu! The Himalays are simply incomparable! Yes, the hike up to Everest Base Camp was tough, but the sites were simply stunning. Kathmandu had some things to see too, but there were just too many people busy trying to sell pot, hash, cocaine, or anything else you can think of as soon as you stop out of your hotel. And the blackouts... I'd have put Nepal above Cambodia if it wasn't for the blackouts! Most memorable site/experience: Amu Dablam. Everest and Lohtse may be taller and more massive, but AMu Dablam was the prettiest peak!

#6. New Zealand (75) - not much culture here, but oh, the mountains! Getting to see Mt Cook lighting up as the sun was rising over the ridge behind us was probably the most spectacular experience so far. Not to mention the 'Moon surface' volcanic terrain at Tongariro, the amazing variety you see up North in the Bay of Islands, and, oh bungy jumping 134 at Nevis, in Queenstown. But on the down side, it's expensive, and if you don't have your own car, getting around is much too hard! Most memorable site/experience: did I mention the watching the sun rise over Mt. Cook?

#7. Fiji (70) - there's not all that much to do here, but the two things that Fiji does have may be the best of their kind in the world: beaches and diving! Not to mention that everyone (locals and tourists) are constantly relaxed: it's Fiji time! Most memorable site/experience: diving at Robinson Crusoe island. Sharks, turtles, rays, corals, all in crystal clear waters!

#8. Malaysia (66) - There's just something missing... I'm not quite sure what though. The fresh sea food is great, the people are ready to help (even the ones trying to sell you something will gladly answer your questions even if you don't buy anything) and Sipidan island may be the only dive site better than Fiji. But it's also fairly expensive for a SE Asia country and Kuala Lumpur rather symbolizes the country: there's a few things to see here (the Petronas towers), but not all that much. Most memorable site/experience: diving at Sipidan!

#9. Australia (65) - if I had to choose a place to live of the ones I'd seen so far, Melbourne is the choice, hands down! But for visiting? Maybe it's just because I've been here before, but it just doesn't seem quite as interesting as most of the places in SE Asia, and the nature can be amazing (Ayer's Rock, 12 Apostles, 3 Sisters in the BLue Mountains), but if you want nature, you've got to go to New Zealand! Most memorable site/experience: off-road driving in the Northern Territory.

#10. China, incl. Macau (incomplete) - I've been in China for all of two days so far, and one of those days was in Macau, which isn't even technically part of China. And I've learned that nobody speaks English here... But, I don't know, I found it to be an exciting experience when I went about 24 hours without seeing another foreigner and only managed to order dinner by making a motion to indicate that I wanted a bowl of something... (noodle soup to be exact). Plus the girl at that restaurant didn't speak a word of English, but was very amused/impressed by my heavy backpack. Oh, and here, I got to bungy jump off a 233m tower - eat your heart out Nevis! Most memorable site/experience: bungy jumping in Macau.

#11. Singapore (55) - it's just tiny... which limits how much you can do in Singapore. And it's expensive - not Europe-expensive, but sort of an Australia-sort of expensive, which is a lot for SE Asia! And it's not as clean as I had been led to expect! Most memorable site/experience: playing frisbee with the locals

#12. Sri Lanka (50) - I'll call it 'blah'... It was really interesting to see a temple that the people were actually using (not just another tourist attraction in Thailand), but overall, I was there for only day, in the capital of Colombo. And there's very little to see or do in Colombo, unless you are fascinated by the military being all over the streets. Of course I've heard (and read) that the best parts of Sri Lanka are outside of Colombo, so I would be happy to go back some time. Most memorable site/experience: the temple

#13. India (35) - have I mentioned that the people are important yet? The Taj Mahal is simply brilliant, but it's an oasis of brilliance in a dirty, ugly city of Agra. It's a bit of a michocosm for the country - it has some of the most amazing places to witness in the whole world, but the people who live there just don't seem to care enough to take care of these places. The people? They just don't seem to care... about much of anything. Which makes talking to them, sharing a road with them, talking to Dell's India-based customer service is incredibly, unnecessarily difficult! Food's good though... Most memorable site/experience: the Taj Mahal (as long as you try not to look at the surrounding city)

#14. Vietnam (10) - oh, Halong Bay is pretty enough, and the rice paddies in the countryside are beautiful as well, but overall? Overall, it's the one and only country I'm not particularly anxious to go back to! Most memorable site/experience: the ride in the back of the truck.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

philippines is a member of south east asian countries too. :P