Published: June 10th 2012June 10th 2012
View of Ngoc Tien Monasery
Expectation is a fickle friend. He often disappoints you, but sometimes he happily surprises you. On the long run however I am not sure I would like him as a friend.
Let me explain. Expectation, more often than not, is the emotion that decides whether or not I like or dislike a country. Or to put it correctly it is because a territory doesn't live up to its expectation that it falls out of grace with me. Those expectations are often fueled by what others tell me about their experiences in a country. Now, I am not that naive that I believe whatever people tell me about a place. I know that such experiences are highly individual. But be that as it may, if enough people tell you a country is great, or perhaps not so great, it does have an effect on what you start expecting of it.
There are a few countries that everybody seems to love. They get praised by all and sundry. I am nowadays highly skeptical about such countries. My impression is that it is just fashionable to like those countries. People say they love it, even if they don't, because they wouldn't dare
Fishing boats on Dong Ho
not to. To tell the truth would mean facing a barrage of embarrassing questions along the line of: 'How can you not love this place? Are you sure we are talking about the same country? It must be you, because nobody else has had this experience.' Yes, if you don't love those countries you will be damned and it will be your fault, not the countries.
Some good examples of countries that everybody seems to love are Nepal and Laos. When I was travelling around India, all I would hear was praise about Nepal. For two years I would have to listen to other travellers tell me that I should go to Nepal, because it was 'So much better than India' and because 'In Nepal nobody cheats you' and 'Everybody is so nice in Nepal' and finally I would be told that 'You will love Nepal, everybody does.' It was almost a sin not to love it.
After two years of this I did go to Nepal, and of course I was highly disappointed when I found out that in Nepal they do scam you, and not all Nepalese are friendly, and that is isn't any better than
Mac Cuu Family Tomb Shrine
India at all. It wasn't Nepal's fault really, it was my fault for believing all those people. The truth is there is no Shangri-La, every country has good and bad people, and scammers and touts are to be found all over the world. I liked India infinitely more than Nepal, but perhaps, if nobody had ever talked Nepal up, I would have liked it just as much as India. It was after all very similar. I got scammed in both countries, but not overly much, only in Nepal it annoyed me a thousand times more, because it wasn't supposed to happen, according to the stories.
Same with Laos. Before I went to that country I had heard others telling me how great it was, and again I eventually succumbed to their stories and started taking them to be true. Laos would be paradise on earth, I was sure of it. Everybody told me so, how could they all be wrong? But they were and now, unfortunately for Laos, I am not a fan of it at all. It was put on a pedestal and when it fell, it fell deep. If I had come without all those expectations, I
Tomb of Mac Cuu
would have liked it better, it probably would have been no worse than Thailand or Cambodia.
But expectations, of course, work the other way around as well. Sometimes a country divides opinions. India is a prime example of this. I would say that about an even number of people love it, as hate it. Those who love it, love it because 'It is so spiritual', or 'It is so pure' or 'In India you experience life like nowhere else'. Those who hate it state that 'India is populated by scammers and touts' and 'India is the filthiest country on earth' and 'Indians are rude and unkind'. And of course everybody who has been to India tell you that 'If you have been to India, you can travel anywhere'. This last sentence in my opinions is a load of crap. The others are a matter of opinion, but to say that India is a hard country to travel is an insult. India is no harder to travel than anywhere else. But anyway that is beside the point. In the case of India, I had put my expectations low. Since I discovered that opinions on it were so diverse I had
Kids of Ha Tien
a hard time forming an expectation about it, and to be prudent I decided that it was best to expect the worst.
Well, as you know, when you expect the worst, things can only get better. So India was a pleasant surprise. I spent a long time there, I liked it, I found the people friendly, the food good, the travel easy, and the filth exaggerated. In actual fact India was no worse or better than the countries that surrounded it. Of course I was scammed, and of course I had the hassles of touts, and it is impossible not to be, at times, hit by the stench of an open sewer, or be shocked by some of the poverty you witness, but believe me, it is not worse than Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Nepal. I belong neither to the crowd that loves India, or to those who hate it. I liked it, as I liked many other countries. I can see how some parts of it might be off putting to some, and I can see how other aspects of it can make a person fall in love with it.
And so we come to Vietnam. Vietnam is
Rach Gia to Ca Mau
Hydrofoil to Ca Mau
like S.E. Asia's India. It divides opinion. I have met people who love it and those who hate it. I didn't quite know what to expect, and as a precaution, just like with India I put my expectations low. And how has it turned out so far? Well, I like it more than Cambodia, or Laos, or Thailand, but not more than Myanmar. I was warned that every Vietnamese was going to scam me, that I would be paying triple, or sometimes tenfold the actual price for bus tickets and sometimes even food. I was told that in Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City if you are a fan of Uncle Ho, the locals would snatch my bags of my shoulders as they rode by on their motor bikes, and that generally it would be a very unsafe place. Yes, I can tell you, that I was slightly apprehensive when entering the country.
My apprehension was misplaced. Sure I have had a few scams, but not nearly as bad as people made it out to be. I have on occasion paid about a dollar more than a local, and actually that only happened once. And it was made up
Rach Gia to Ca Mau
View from the hydrofoil
for the next day because I paid a dollar less than the locals on my next ride. No, as for scams or overpaying on busses or on food, it was worse in both Cambodia and Laos. Nobody has been nasty to me, I have had few hassles with touts, and the food is certainly one of the best in the region.
In Ha Tien where I entered Vietnam I was able to procure a really good room for a very good price and the same evening the manager of the hotel invited me for beers, paid for by him.
When waiting for the hydrofoil to Ca Mau in the port city of Rach Gia a iced coffee was given to me by a local and an elderly baguette seller told me she loved me. By the way, I can really recommend taking that trip, it is twice as expensive as taking the bus, but it is very fascinating to see the life along the canals and it is as genuine as you can get. Nobody goes to Ca Mau, so you will be the only foreigner on that boat and in that city.
In Can Tho, I
Rach Gia to Ca Mau
House made of palm fronds, along the canal to Ca Mau
was actually ripped off at my hotel, a hotel mentioned in the Lonely Planet. That will teach me for using their recommendations. Yep, go with the good book and you get scammed, do your own thing and nothing happens. However, on the whole, despite this small set back, I still had a lovely time there. I did the highly touristy floating market/ backwater tour, but since it was low-season it was quite relaxing. The markets were nice, the canals reminded me of the backwaters in Kerala in India.
Than Saigon. I held on to my bags tightly expecting somebody to steal it anytime. As it was, Saigon is a very pleasant city, and certainly its centre seems rather wealthy. I walked around this centre, took in some museums, talked to some very unobtrusive Vietnamese students who wanted to practice their English and drank some draught beer at ridiculously low prices. No, nothing bad happened.
Mui Ne than? Did something nasty happen there? Nope, again, can't lie, it was all good. Sure the food wasn't great and it was overpriced, but Mui Ne is a strip of resorts for foreigners and wealthy Vietnamese, so you can't really expect anything
Rach Gia to Ca Mau
Cross-roads, or to be correct, cross-canals
Finally Dalat, still no incidents. It is cool, they sell strawberries and black berries on the market, it drizzles a lot and its main attraction is something called the 'Crazy House' which is a mix between Gaudi and some kind of fairy tale amusement park.
So for those of you expecting me to rant about Vietnam. Sorry to disappoint. So far so good, but things can change. Maybe I will loose all my valuables and get ripped off horribly between now and the next blog. You will just have to wait and see.
There are more photos below