Over the last few days the more I thought about the article “What’s wrong with tourism in Vietnam?”, the more it annoyed me.
Not everyone sees the world through American eyes. “Vietnamese are like Australians and perhaps find serving people demeaning or beneath them”- what a ludicrous statement. Perhaps it’s more the case that both nationalities see it as shallow to greet every customer with “Hello, how are you, how can I help you today” and “Enjoy your meal, have a good day” and saying these things as some automaton gesture renders them meaningless. Of course you find good and bad in Vietnam- are there not rip-offs in every country? Restaurants are welcome to sell seafood at any price they like at Ha Long bay. It’s a free economy. And you are free to choose cheese if you wish- but I wager you\'re missing out on a great experience.
Bad hotel experiences? I stayed in a hotel in Rodeo Drive (Beverly Hills, California) once and during the night the plumbing ruptured so that most of the rooms had no shower or water. The guests all lined up to check out the next morning, hot and sticky in the California summer and there was no offer of a discount or anything other than a lame apology for the inconvenience. I am Australian so I didn’t make a fuss. I certainly didn’t judge the American tourism industry based on this experience.
I see the statistics of ‘repeat visitors’ comparing Thailand and Vietnam all the time. I simply don’t believe these claims. For a start Thailand does ask if the visitor has had a prior trip to the county on the arrival card. Vietnam does not. Good or bad I don’t believe Vietnam has a method of measuring repeat visitors to the country. Tracking passports isn’t a reliable method as people renew these every 10 years or so.
Secondly Bangkok is a major international hub, Saigon is not. Many travelers take in a few days shopping in Bangkok, or some days at the beach on the way elsewhere. Also whilst Vietnam is an amazing country, with so many countries to visit in the world- whose notion is it that people should return visit? Yes I agree that some of the cement structures in Vietnam are on the ugly side, but the more they build in a modern aesthetic, the less Vietnam looks like Vietnam and the more the place looks like, well, Darling Harbour in Sydney! "
Tourists, even on tour with a tour-guide as adults can surely solve the occasional language problem when ordering eggs and coffee. A tour-guide is a tour-guide, not loco-parentus. For sure some tour-guides could work harder for their living, and show more concern for their clients. The same could be said for American bankers.
In Vietnam’s defence- the country does have something that the world has lost. It’s called ‘a sense of community’. Vietnam isn’t only a collection of scenic locations, it’s a culture of people connected and unified in an unusual way, with values, history and behaviours different to any culture. If you’re on about concrete, war memorials, rural vistas and the price of seafood you’re missing the point. Vietnam has very low crime rates, the country is very safe compared to western standards. Vietnam has very low rates of homeless people, you hardly ever see people living on the streets, unlike the country that prides itself in having the world’s largest economy. No old person dies in house in Vietnam and lies undiscovered for days or weeks.
Having grown up in Australia, I barely recognize the place anymore. Everything is illegal. Arrive with a baby or two infants at the airport and no taxi has the child restraints to transport you and any driver is terrified of a AU$300; 3 demerit point fine. Hotels have ‘no eating sections’ – where it’s illegal to eat food (the smoking section)- I’d like to sit on the veranda in the sun and eat my meal; “sorry sir that’s illegal”. On any occasion some teenager has a fatal car accident there are calls from the community to make it harder for ALL YOUNG DRIVERS- even the majority that seem to avoid participating in a fatal car accident and simply wish to drive home from their supermarket night-fill job.
Personally l love Vietnam just as it is. If I could stop the country progressing further into the 20th century, I would. I like the place being in the 12 century, or 16th century. The food is fresher, the people friendlier, the traffic lighter and you feel like you’re part of a community. Vietnam is rich in ways that western countries are poor- the tragedy is- the Vietnamese don\'t know this fact. Vietnam is more enjoyable when you take it as it is, rather than experience it though a filter ‘how you think it should be’.
Finally I’d like to add a true story I published some time back in the Live Hoi An Magazine. It illustrates two worlds with very little understanding between them:
A few years ago I was sitting enjoying breakfast at the Cargo club. A tall young American stood in the doorway watching the rain pour down outside. The young waitress started a conversation- “Where you from?” “I’m from New York” he replied. “How long are you travelling?” “I’m travelling for three months and I’m going to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia… Have you ever travelled?” The waitress answered in a shy voice “No.. I’ve never travelled but I’d like to”. The American asked- “Where would you like to travel to?” The waitress answered in an embarrassed way “I’d like to go to Dalat.”
At this point, I should explain that every Vietnamese girl wants to go to Dalat. Dalat is the honeymoon town. Vietnamese girls don’t dream about corporate ladders- their dream is to find a nice boy, get married, and have a romantic honeymoon in Dalat. So, surprised by her answer, the American says “Dallas? You’d like to go to Dallas?” The waitress said shyly “Yes I’d love to go to Dalat”. “Do you know anyone in Dallas?” the boy asks. “No… I just want to go there one day, I’ve always wanted to go there”. I enjoyed the poached eggs that morning at Cargo, watching the rain, and listening to an American boy and a Vietnamese girl share the same ten minute conversation about Dalat and Dallas, two entirely different cities!