The Economist has a very interesting story on Vietnam's tourism mob, discussing how some aspects of the promotion of Vietnam as a destination haven't been handled perhaps as well as they should be.
You can read the full story here
The quote that really stood out for me though was this one:
"Vietnam has a return rate of just 5% compared to Thailand’s whopping 50%."
Vietnam tends to elicit strong reactions from people -- they either love it to bits, or loathe it with a passion. A side effect of this is that Vietnam and it's tourism industry are forever needing to find new people to come visit, because so many just don't ever come back. This, I believe is why Vietnamese travel agents are so aggressive online trying to push their product by spamming sites like Travelfish.
It's for this reason, that in the new site, with a couple of exceptions, we're banning Vietnamese travel agents entirely from posting on the site. They've just become too much trouble.
This is fascinating stuff. What is it about user-friendly Thailand and laid-back Laos that make people want to come back again and again while Vietnam has only a small percentage of people return?
I know in my own travels, I've really enjoyed every southeast Asian country I've visited. But I've never been to Vietnam and I'm not all that much in a hurry to go either. Part of it is just opportunity cost of course. I enjoy being in Thailand and Laos so much that going anywhere else means just that much time less where I love to be. But a big part of it is exactly stuff like this - the stories I read and hear about hassles and touts and a certain hard edge to the culture that people don't enjoy.
So I guess what I'm asking is this:
For the folks who have been to Vietnam and don't want to go back, why not? What was it that made you say once is enough?
And for those folks who love Vietnam, what is it that the rest of us aren't quite understanding? What too is unique and special about Vietnam that I wouldn't get to experience anywhere else?
Hey exacto... Here's my perspective after spending a month there in Dec09.
I arrived in Hanoi and I loved it - the chaos, the food, the crazydriving, etc. I couldn't get enough walking around, exploring, etc. We were hassled quite a bit on the streets by the various vendors but Iguess as newbies to the country, it didn’t bother me at that stage. We fell (once!) for the trick of having aphotograph taken while wearing the cone hat and carrying a pole with hangingbaskets - and THEN being obliged to buy the fruit that was in the baskets. But I learned - and had to fend off the subsequent vendors who sometimeswere fairly rude about the polite rejection. Did a tour in Halong Bay andhad an overall good (but cheesy) experience.
Carried on to Hue which was also fine. The guys in the guest housetook us on their bikes to explore the outer areas over two days and we had areally nice time. Overall we found the people there pretty friendly, includingthe guesthouse and restaurants. And there wasn't too much hassling in thestreets which was good.
And then we hit Hoi An , followed by Nha Trang. I would definitely returnto Hoi An as it's a gorgeous heritage town with nice surrounding areas - butthe 'street hassle' factor was extreme - at times aggressive and almost nastyif you didn’t buy anything. You are pretty much a walking walleteverywhere you go. We went for a walk out of the Hoi An township into thecountry area. We stopped to watch anelderly man walking his buffalo in a paddock. He came up to us, offeredto let us pet it and then suggested that my friend climb aboard, which he did. We all had a good laugh, I took a few photos - and next thing the hand isheld out with the expectation of payment. It completely spoiled themoment. It meant that we stopped trusting ANY local that we met - wealways assumed their friendliness was a ruse to hit us up for money later.
We carried on to Nha Trang, and the constant harassment of restaurantstaff, sunglass sellers etc was the pits. You just couldn’t walk anywhere without fending them all off. I couldn’t just sit on the beach withoutcontinual interruptions. It wore me downto the point where I just wasn’t enjoying myself, and considered skipping outof Vietnam. A polite ‘no’ just wouldn’tmake them go away.
We walked past a T-shirt shop and the vendor called out for us to comeand look. My friend asked “how much?” Next thing, the Tshirts are being taken outof their packaging, behind held up against my friend’s chest –and when he said ‘Nothanks, I only wanted to know the price’ the turned very surly. (My warnings to not ask ‘how much’ unless youwere seriously interested went unheeded!!)
We carried on to Dalat – and the Vietnam world changed for me. It was the first town that we could freelywalk around and no one (aside from some easy going, Easy Riders) botheredus. We ended up a 9-day Easy Rider tripwhich I have posted about elsewhere and it turned my view of Vietnam (or morespecifically, the Vietnamese completely). We met many locals in small towns that were the friendliest people ever –happy to chat and didn’t want anything from us. Based on that experience alone(from Dalat through to Mekong area) I would return. But aside from Hoi An, I doubt that I wouldreturn to any of the main tourist centres for any length of time.
It’s a shame that so many of the Vietnamese (esp in tourist towns) areso focussed on obtaining the tourist dollar that they don’t realise that they areactually discouraging tourists from going in the first place, much less want togo back for more. Like you, I had read much about people’sreactions to Vietnam that I was feeling a bit hesitant about going in the first place. I'm glad I did. I had some bad moments there, but I definitely had some awesome ones as well. What will draw me back to Vietnam in the end? The desire to see more of the 'off the tourist trail' Vietnam.
I have experienced this ‘hassle’ factor in Thailand, Cambodia andIndonesia before – but never to this extreme nor to the extent that a politerefusal wouldn’t be enough to have them just walk away to find another prospect. I compare the buffalo story above in Hoi Anwith experiences that I had in Bali and Flores (Indonesia) where I was invitedinto homes, invited to a family wedding,and to just sit on their front porch chewing sugar cane and talk – with noexpectation whatsoever that we would ‘pay’ for the experience. And those were the moments that I cherish andwould draw me back.
Interesting question and thoughts.
I'm a Vietnam fan. I've been there now several times over the past 12 years. I also frequently visited Thailand several times but that has gotten less over the years.
First of all I'd like to make a clear distinction between "touristy" Vietnam and "off the beaten" track Vietnam. There is a huge difference between the two and in my opinion the difference is far greater than in Thailand or many other countries. Certainly when you look at attitude of locals.
I've fallen in love with the "off the beaten track" Vietnam. The touristy Vietnam I find still worthwile but the agressive locals ruin it also for me.
2 things stand out for me.
- The fact that it's a country on the boundry of SE asia. Where Burma is at the crossroads between India/Bangladesh and SE asia, Vietnam has an distinct chinese influence while also having SE asian influences
- It's a very dynamic country and the energy is great. Apart from the tourist hassles it's great to see the entrepeneurship of vietnamese. Even the spamming of the vietnamese agents on this site has to be admired in some sort of way. Every time I return to Vietnam (mainly in the south) things have changed, buildings have gone up while I'm still able to discover a beautiful pagoda or beach which is completely forgotten in the mad rush for money. In general I would say there's more to be "explored" in Vietnam.
To me Thailand is a bit too laid back and too easy. The fact that people return to Thailand also means that there are also few changes that could possibly scare them (I will leave the political unrest aside). I had the feeling that after I had visited some places I somehow knew what was going to happen on a next visit or that everything would look the same when I returned. I love the food, the culture and the people but the surprise-factor is gone for me. Still a great destination though. I always recommend newbies to SE asia to start in Thailand.
I've lived in Hanoi for 8 months now and already feel a real connection to the country, so stories like this really frustrate and sadden me. The country has been doing incredibly well for itself, not just in the rapidly increasing tourism numbers but also economic growth, yet they get so many things so wrong.
I was in Vietnam for the first time 7 years ago and then travelling here last year so I can look at the situation from a tourist perspective as well. I think there are a few issues:
Firstly, Vietnam can be a negative experience for tourists primarily for the hassle / scam reasons already mentioned. It adds a wariness to the trip which isn’t what most people want from a holiday.
But what is the solution? Education - to inform people that actually their actions are having a negative long-term effect? I doubt that would work - Vietnam is still a poor country and tourism is an opportunity for the poor to make money. So can they really be blamed for trying to get any penny (or Dong) they can? And do they really care about the long term picture when they are living hand-to-mouth?
I read an article in Vietnam News this week which said a new regulation was coming into effect that all public transport vehicles had to print prices on the outside of the vehicle. But is this really going to make a difference? Perhaps it will to buses, when you can point at the price you have a stronger case, but taxis? They have prices printed now and it doesn’t seem to stop them over-charging.
And there are - unbelievably - trade-mark laws in Vietnam. But that doesn’t stop people copying hotel, restaurant or travel agent names either.
I really can’t think of anything else that could be done to overcome this problem.
Secondly, for many people Vietnam seems to be one of those “got to ‘do’ it” places - somewhere that people want to go just so they can say they’ve been or because they simply feel they ought to. I ran some research groups with backpackers recently and they found it hard to explain exactly what had made them come to Vietnam beyond it just being on the backpackers’ route. So once you’ve been, once you’ve “done” Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An etc. etc. what would draw you back? For Thailand I’m guessing the beaches have a lot to do with it. Whilst you might not want to re-visit a city or town more than once, beaches have a more enduring appeal. Vietnam does have some lovely beaches but the best ones aren’t well known and the well known ones are nothing special.
The off-the-beaten track stuff is great, and certainly appealing to more intrepid travellers, but I don’t think it’s the intrepid travellers that are creating those high return rates for Thailand.
Finally, it’s not the easiest or cheapest place to get to. Bangkok is far easier and cheaper from many Westerners. Plus you have to fly into one place and out of another - if you’re doing the north to south trip - which can increase the cost.
And a last note regarding the Hanoi 1,000 year celebration to which this article refers, I think there are two sides to this. On one side, yes, it’s been poorly managed with regard being used as a tourism tool. Even for those of us who live here, it’s been difficult to get details about events, road closures etc. and few of the events sound in the least bit interesting. On the other hand, I get the impression they didn’t want tourists here anyway: rumours were that visas had been suspended. I thought when I heard this that it was ridiculous, but now we are in the midsts of the chaos I completely get it. Hanoi is a busy, noisy, often annoying, city at the best of times but just imagine it with what seems like twice the number of people, all heading to the lake, or to the parade route. Add to that the road closures, which pretty much cut the East from the West of the city, and getting anywhere becomes a nightmare. So perhaps they were right to focus on the events being for local people rather than attempting to attract even more people to the city.
Although I agree with you on many points it doesn't mean that the article is not right. At least that's how I interpreted your comment about "saddened & frustated". I may have assumed wrong.
I also see that Vietnam has made great progress and development has been at least 20 years behind Thailand so I definitely believe that things will get better and they already go at incredible speed. I believe the solutions will present itself over time. Question is whether the government and the people will seize the opportunity.
Certainly the beaches play a big role in the return rate for Thailand (and the high quality of resorts). I don't think Vietnam gets any real package holliday tourists at the moment and therefor they can also not return. Packpackers are less likely to return as packpacker. Perhaps at a later stage on honeymoon or after several years working for a typical "holiday".
And I doubt wether Vietnam will ever be able to match Thailands numbers because of the lack of truly great beaches there. I agree completely there with you.
Your little research amongst backpackers gave surprising results. I would always have guessed that for a lot of people the Vietnam/american war (and related movies and TV series) would be a major influence.
To me it's more the question about the people. All sorts of government plans/laws can be put in place (and probably will be over the years) but in the end it will be about the people.
In general I find the Vietnamese less service-minded/obedient than the Thai and I don't see that change very soon. All the better for me since I actually like that but I doubt for that very reason that they will ever reach the standard of the Thail when it comes to tourism.
Just my personal opinion.
My saddens and frustrated comment was more a general note meaning that because I love the country I want it to do well so it's a shame when they get things 'wrong' or are perceived to do so. I don't disagree with the article, I was just pointing out that maybe they didn't "invite" tourists because they didn't want them here! Rather than just because of poor organisation and lack of tourism marketing knowledge. I completely agree about the people but I still think it's a balance of the people, and both the reality and perception of what the country has to offer.
Regarding the research results, it was amongst a pretty specific target group - some were interested in the historical / war side of things but they were in the minority. I would guess however that a different target group would give quite different responses.
I'd be really interested in return rates for other countries in the region. Any ideas? I can't find anything obvious online.
I find this interesting also and I've been looking around a little but couldn't find statistics that easily.
one thing (from a Thai university) caught my eye:
The high return rate for Thailand can partly be explained by the fact that BKK is the major transportation hub in the region. People who return to this region to visit Laos, Cambodia, Burma etc. fly via BKK because of cheaper flights and therefor also spend easily an extra week or so in Thailand.
It probably explains a significant percentage of the return rate.
I'm in Vietnam now, but I won't be in a hurry to come back anytime soon. The people here are unreasonably stingy. We have had constant problems dealing with hotels, restaurants, tourist agents and people in markets and the streets trying to rip us off. The hotel in Mui Ne had a water heater that would break constantly. We complained everyday and then when we checked out they refuse to give us any sort of discount. Then in Saigon we stayed at a place for 3 nights, we bought several tours from them, and then when we check out they will not watch our baggage, even after we bought the onward ticket from them. The attitudes of the people here are surly and they are stubborn. I have been treated like a walking ATM and I am sick of it. Someone mentioned that there are non-touristy places, but why not just go to Laos? Other than the food, I don't get what the big deal is about Vietnam. You can get a much better experience in Laos or Cambodia in my opinion.
#9 petrarch1603 has been a member since 1/5/2010. Posts: 7
There is no question that Vietnam is quite a challenge. I have observed that those travelers who have done their homework before a trip have far fewer problems. I can't explain the problem of scams and hawker madness - maybe it's the fact that Vietnam's economy has emerged from ruin very fast after the American War - just a guess. At any rate, after 3 trips, and now having made several friends among local Vietnamese (mostly Hanoians), these petty problems that disturb tourists so much have become very very unimportant to me. Yes, I still get a little hot under the collar when I'm scammed, but life goes on and I still love Vietnam and the Vietnamese. Very few here have even mentioned the positives that this country presents, and there are many.
I try to discourage those tourists who just want to lie in the sun and soak up the tropical rays in Vietnam - I tell them to stick to Thailand and Malaysia. Vietnam is a challenge and many of us do appreciate this country.
#10 daawgon has been a member since 17/4/2007. Posts: 1,111
Very few here have even mentioned the positives that this country presents, and there are many.
Don't stop there daawgon! Spell it out. What are those positives? Food? Culture? Faces? History? Scenery? Be specific. Like I asked above, what is it that the rest of us are missing?
Hanoi old quarter
Bia Hoi corners with the locals
Sapa stunning scenery and misty town at night
Halong Bay can’t be missed just to see once
Vinh Moc tunnels to understand the devastation of the American war.
Hoi An the place just grows on you and glad we allowed a week there at the end of trip.
Warmth and generosity of a large part of the population
The continual overcharging well above foreigner prices.
Aggressive touts well that’s nothing new.
Scams i.e hotel in Hanoi tells taxi driver to drop us on the side of Hanoi station for sapa train.Driver drops us other side guy takes us around to international departues on other side 40,000 dong for his trouble as we didn’t know what was what.
All round aggressive people if there was a dollar to be had. Some times got quite nasty and had never seen it this bad in 20 years travelling in s.e.asia
Would I go back yes probably to see the south. Would it be the first place I went back to probably not. Maybe that’s just me. An interesting statistic I had read before arriving was Thailand has about 40% return visitors. Vietnam has about 7%. Must be something in that. "
Interesting thread this. The above was a the end bit of my trip report for Vietnam when we were there in June. Not sure were I read about the 40% - 7% return percentage but the article certainly confirms what I thought.
I'm still torn 4 months later whether I would return, part of me says yes part says no way. My wife is probably a little bit more patient than I am and would definitely go although even she was taken aback at the nastiness we encountered.
One episode particularly stands out. We had rented a motorbike in Hue for the day. After arranging a tour at the great Stop and Go cafe after seeing the Citadel, the very friendly owner suggested we ride down to the local beach which is about 10kms out of town for a swim and some lunch. As it was 40 degrees we thought why not. After parking the bike and explaining to the guy we thought the price for parking was way too much he finally relented abused us and stormed off. After negotiating the price of the two deck chairs under the umbrella we had a swim and after getting an understanding that eating in the restaurant behind us we could go back to our chairs off we went. Well after some great seafood we wandered back to the beach to find the chairs had been given to two locals. Then it got really ugly as we tried to explain we didn't think it right to have to pay twice. I have never in 20 years of travelling Asia seen the sort of vehemence and anger/aggression of we were circled by a mob of people. We stood our ground and eventually two more chairs we organized. Suffice to say we didn't stay to much longer and my wife was even jostled by the lady as we left. All up never have I seen any thing like it.
Hope I am not ranting too much much but all of the really good things can be really soured by experiences like these.
Next June it's off to the Gilis in Indonesia. I wonder how many other people do the same thing.
Somtam might even be able to catch up for a beer in Bali.
Read all the above with interest.I must say first time I went to Vietnam I hated it because of the rudeness and downright aggresion of some people but these are the minority.Just a small hint for when you are hassled by touts, hawkers etc Don't reply in English! e.g. 'No thank you'.We found that pretending an inability to speak English got rid of them very quickly.Try Russian 'Niet' or something.for some reason they are scared of the Russians.
Outside of tourist areas people are just wonderful and friendly.We stayed in Danang to visit Hoian.I still fondly remember the beautiful lit-up riverside at night,the great beaches nearby.Eating fresh seafood at incredibly cheap prices next to the beach.Sitting drinking tea with workmen at the side of the road.
If you want the beach and a lively scene Nah Trang is for you.On the beach they have little areas staked out with shade,beach lounger and a towel thrown in with a security guard to deter hawkers-very very cheap.
Funnily enough the one place I hated in Vietnam was Hanoi but that might have been because the weather in Feb.was smoggy and walking around gave me a sore throat and stinging eyes.
I spoke to a vietnamese guy in Vientiane, he was running a family hotel there so I took the opportunity of talking to him outside his comfort zone about the practice of ripping of foreigners.He explained that people complain to the govt that they don't make enough to live and the govt reply OK make up the shortfall by ripping off the tourists.Incredibly short-sighted but apparently true.
#13 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557
Interesting story about that Vietnamese guy sayadian. Nice to hear some background about that.
for people interested in more statistics
I think overall that most returning people have the same experience. First visit is annoying when you visit the highlights with the now well-known downsides. For the few people who's first visit wasn't a complete disaster and did have some memorable experiences, the second visit was far better because they went more off the beaten track. Too bad that not enough people get to see glimpses of the positives on their first visit.
I'm trying to remember what my first visit was like:
- The rudeness and agression was 12 years ago a bit less (so were tourist numbers) and I already found it annoying. People there haven't changed much.
- Food. That really stood out as a positive. Vietnamese is still my favorit cuisine next to French and Italian.
- Ao Dai. I don't know what it is with that dress but a Vietnamese girl in a white Ao Dai in a green ricefield is so incredibly beautiful. Over the years I've seen less and less girls wearing it. It used to be mandatory for all schoolgirls. And no, I'm not a pervert or into anything like that (if you wondered).
- Hilltribes. I haven't done this recently but I found the hilltribes in northern Vietnam far more interesting/genuine than the ones in Thailand where it felt more as a thing solely for tourists. In northern Thailand I had the feeling (I'm not claiming) that the people would be putting on their jeans as soon as the tourists had left. I don't know what the situation is now round Sapa.
- Scenery. Perhaps not unique to the region but I thought that some of the landscapes were truly breathtaking. Especially the train ride from Danang to Nha Trang was beautiful to dream away by the window.
- Bia Hoi. One week really stood out in Nha Trang where I returned every evening to the same place to have a drink and a chat with three men in their 60's chatting away in (my very broken) french and english.
I am returning on Thursday for my second trip. I was there last year and loved it. Vietnam is an island of peace and quiet compared to India. The airports are clean and efficient and the customs officials are smiling and helpful. In India arrival is so stressful and the people suck big-time. In Vietnam arrival was easy and I found the people warm and friendly and the food awesome. I was ripped off a few times for pennies. Tourists sometimes get indignant when they are ripped of for tiny amounts -- get over it.
#15 NYTim has been a member since 11/9/2009. Posts: 106
Really informative post
#16 mic123 has been a member since 11/10/2010. Posts: 2
Some will say this is too simplistic, but people generally act on their emotions on a fairly basic level. I think Vietnam is seen as an exotic dream destination to do once in a lifetime whereas Thailand is just a place you can go to anytime for a trashy beach getaway. And Thailand is easy, modern and more western in comparison to Vietnam.
I would return to Thailand , not to explore but for a cheap beach holiday if there was a good deal on special. I would also return to Vietnam happliy, but more in an "explore" sort of trip to see the places I missed last time. Problam is there are also many other courties I would like to visit, so its unliley I would return to Vietnam for a long while...
Just to add a little positive though.....As I would highly recommend everyone to travel in Vietnam, it was an amazing place
We had so many positive, suprising experiances, Sapa, Hanoi, Mekong Delta, eveyone was incredibly friendly . At one point we had stayed three days at one place, crashed a scooter, and owed the hotel for accom/food & laundry. Then we discovered our cards didnt work and we couldnt get cash. Hotel card machines were not working either They let us stay and continue to book a tour/stay/eat etc trusting we would sort it out. (Which we did later via ATM in a different town AFTER leaving).
Even crashing the scooter (I bet you are rolling your eyes, yes yes stupid tourist ), yet everyone stoped to help, Hotel organised a doctor to visit when we needed, and only $30 for bike repairs, which they were completely apologetic and nice about (after making sure we were ok and recovering)
Also in Hanoi, Our hotel arranged someone to come with us in the Taxi, to the train station, and he took us all the way to getting on the train and pointing at the carrage we needed. (Hotel $30 a night, not a backpacker place )
I would highly recommend travel to Vietnam, just be prepared for the "scams" so you know what to look out for. Dont let the hassling get to you, be careful but dont stop trusing everyone, there are nice people out there too.
#18 jasinorbit has been a member since 4/12/2009. Posts: 37
I think the last posters summed it up pretty well.
Thailand: return for beach
Vietnam: return for exploring
I would find it interesting to hear what peoples budgets were since I have the feeling that people on a mid-budget (like jasoninorbit, daawgon, NYtim and me) have a more positive experience than people on low budget. Especially when compared to Thailand where low budget backpacking is still great. Is this true?
Speaking for myself, I don't mind the scamming so much anymore (I used to hate it). The decision is always mine but when on a bigger budget you might let it go a little quicker. Also the cheap open-bus ticket route does not add to a better experience since it attracts the unfriendly locals/touts.
Do I have a point here?
Eastwick makes a good point.
Hotels is pure luck, no matter the price hostel/hotel - it comes down to luck.
But for other stuff - do i mind if a taxi rips me off $5 - not so much, except for the principal of it I have a budget yes, but I have also budgeted to go over it, on a short term holiday. For a backpacker on a strict daily budget, this makes a big difference.
#20 jasinorbit has been a member since 4/12/2009. Posts: 37
Completely agree with you. I also don't like overcharging/scams for the principle of it but it could not ruin my experience. It's only a small part of it. I do negotiate/haggle normally but sometimes I just can't bother with it. "Do I stand here another 10 minutes for $ 1 or make this guy happy with a little overpay".
Doesn't mean that some bad experiences (like from earlier posters) couldn't ruin my holiday but I usually see that as incidents and couldn't blame a whole country for that if the rest was fine.
I too completely agree. It's something you just get used to - either in terms of just accepting it or by working out what things should cost and therefore being in a better position to be able to negotiate or avoid the scams. I think it's important to differentiate between those little rip-offs which are just a bit annoying because you don't like the feeling e.g. an extra 25 cents for a bowl of Pho, and the bigger $5 type rip-offs which, when you're on a budget, are also a financial pain. The former it's best just to accept most of the time I think or they will start to ruin the trip.
I also just wanted to add that whilst I recognise all of this hassle, scams etc. are particular problems in Vietnam, it's certainly not unique to the country - we had a lot of trouble in Bangkok with tuk tuks and taxis, I had my bag split and money stolen in China, my camera and iPod stolen on a Malaysian Airlines flight, constant hassle (worse than in Vietnam) in Phnom Penh and Angkor Wat and so on. It's just part and parcel of travelling I guess.
Whilst I'm at it, just a couple of the great things about Vietnam:
* The scenery in the NorthWest - some of the most jaw-dropping views I have ever seen.
* The people who don't want to rip you off - smiley, friendly, inquisitive, good humoured
* Eating bun cha or pho or whatever and drinking lemon tea or bia hoi whilst squatting on a 10inch stool by the side of the road
* The energy in the cities
* And just the fact that is so so different from the UK that I am constantly delighted and amazed by the things I see every day, be they good or bad
I think you are spot on about budget having a perspective on experience of your visit.Vietnam doesn't have guesthouses like Thailand which means as well as higher prices which put some people off there is no sense of community.As guesthouses often have communal hangout areas whilst hotels can be cold and impersonal.
I hated open buses but what is the alternative.We took a local minivan from NahTrang to just outside HoiAn.I still shake at the memory of it.The driver clearly having had a liquid breakfast proceeded to drive as if the demons of hell were on his tail whilst constantly answering his mobile and engaging the conductor behind him in the conversation.Watching the road clearly wasn't high priority.The only other means of travel are the trains which are great but don't allow you to deviate.
I don't understand why people don't see Vietnam as a beach destination though.It has gorgeous beaches all through the south.
As far as scamming goes.I got to admit I don't like duel pricing on principal.If it's just a small amount for coffee or something I just make a point of letting them know that I know what they are doing.A shake of the head is enough but I'm not going to make a stand over a few cents
Has anybody though that Vietnam has a Bhuddist culture totally unlike it's neighbours-Thailand,Cambodia,Laos.I just mention it as someone might have input whether this makes a difference in attitudes or not?
#23 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557
It seems like this has all been covered pretty well by now, but just to add one more voice...
Some break down the travel industry into cultural destinations and leisure destinations, with cultural places being those where people explore sights and museums and such, and leisure destinations being those where people sit on a beach. At this point, with the possible exception of Nha Trang for Aussies, Vietnam only falls into the cultural department, and those travelers rarely return anywhere, regardless of their experience. Most people only go to Tokyo or Moscow once, whether they loved or hated it.
Thailand goes in both categories, with huge numbers in particular returning over and over again to the Phuket resorts. Also, perhaps this is sad, but I think sex tourists return a lot, and many thousands of them inflate the return numbers.
I've spent a lot of time in both countries and I honestly don't feel they are too different for most first-time visitors. It's mostly down to Vietnam being hard to reach from North America and Europe, and Thailand having two large and devoted groups of fans who keep coming back.
-Avoiding open-bus ticket is indeed difficult. Although I do remember having hired a private taxi and that was rather cheap. Off course more expensive but by no means out of reach for a person on holiday with a slightly bigger budget.
But I meant it more as an indicator for the touts and bad experiences.
- I like the beaches as well but I don't think they match the tropical expectations of the typical package holiday tourist that is looking for crystal clear blue water, white sand, a few nightlife spots and coconut trees. There's not that many beaches like that because of the open ocean (as opposed to Thailand's gulf). But who knows, it might come.
- The bhudism point is a good one. I'm not an expert on it but given the fact that religion there is more similar to China and far east it does seem a good point. You also see far more the "little fat sitting buddha" (I'm definitely not an expert )that apparently brings good commercial success. It also seems far less focused on spiritual happiness than in the other countries you mentioned.
Have you ever tried Ha Giang province? If you haven't you should definitely go, now that you live there (I did when I lived there). If you like the scenery in the north-west you will love it there as well. Beautiful mountains and also hilltribes on sunday market in Ha Biang. It's not on the tourist trail (yet) and getting to Ha Biang can be done over road. To reach the great mountain scenery you will need a motorbike though and learn vietnamese quickly (or go with someone who speaks it).
Worth pointing out that less than half the population of Laos is actually Laotian; many are Vietnamese.
I first went to Vietnam before there were a lot of tourists and saw most of the tourist sites then. Now I find them overcrowded and a lot of the tourists behave pretty selfishly. I often wonder how other tourists cope with those places now. I tend to spend time in non tourist areas and have probably had more kindness and help from people in Vietnam than anywhere else in the world. I hink it is the people who keep me coming back.
I also love the food, the scenery, the interesting towns and cities and I can afford to travel there.
I went twice to Laos; the first time was a delight and the people a joy. The second time a lot of the sme places just felt like big theme parks and I noticed the people were less trusting, sometimes almost rude and the kids asked for money. I assume the tourist experience affects them. The other thing that stops me going back there is that there seem to be more places and a greater diversity in Vietnam than in Laos.
I also think that all the negatives of Vietnam apply in many other places in the world (try India, I've been cursed a number of times there for not giving to beggars, going into shops etc. At least in Vietnam the touts remain quite good natured).
#26 violets has been a member since 6/7/2009. Posts: 151
wow, the topic that keeps on giving.
I agree with others that there's other countries with same experience and we shouldn't focus too much on it but the to me (and many other) the difference between Vietnam and Thailand is apparent.
Just a quick reaction to rawjer:
I completely agree on your first points but given the reactions I would not say that a first-time experience for both countries would be the same.
More ideas on the return rate difference:
- From mathematical point of view it doesn't make sense to me. If return rate is 40-50%, shouldn't the total visitor numbers per year be far higher considering the fact that tourism has been going on in full force for 20 years or so now? Exponential growth and such..
And assuming that they calculate by visa and passport numbers:
- There is an increasing number of foreigners that have a condo/apartment in Thailand
- Expats doing visa runs.
- Backpackers on a long trip may return a few weeks/months later on the same trip. That feels different to me and shouldn't be counted as a real return tourist.
eastwest, yes, now that I think more about it, I do agree that the first-time experience in each country is quite different. I guess after all those months in Vietnam I was able to forget that first week, which was definitely a bit challenging and not particularly welcoming. Thailand does a much better job at all of that.
I also agree that these numbers don't sound like we are comparing apples to apples. If it were a survey where they asked people at borders "Do you plan on coming back to this country in the future?" I could see it being a fairly wide margin like this, especially among those leaving beaches or islands. But if we aren't counting visa runs or other things that completely poison the actual passport entry data, then this difference just sounds too much.
Clearly Vietnam has a problem with the way it receives visitors and for it to be more successful needs to address those problems. Scams, touts and the like are annoying and do detract from the experience it is true. We found anything to do with transport to be the worst - taxis, buses, arriving at bus or train stations nearly always ended in poor experiences. Getting from the airport into town should be a priority for the Government - its an awful first impression.
However, a sense of perspective. At no time during our month in Vietnam did my wife and I feel in any way frightened, or felt that things could escalate out of control. There are countries we have visited where you do sometimes feel a little worried about what may happen. Vietnam wasn't one of them. Though some over-aggressive touts did seem to rant and rave at you from time to time, it never felt more than that. A smile and a polite 'No thank you' would, we found, be sufficient to see them off. By some distance we found more people to be helpful, friendly and not out to get the last penny from you.
An example to sum up. We took the train from Danang to Hue. We knew we'd me met by a taxi mob at the station, so asked the hotel to meet us. Unfortunately, they got stuck in traffic and were late. We got off the train and were surrounded and repeatedly offered a taxi, rickshaw, whatever to our hotel. These guys have seconds to make their sale, though, so it was a melee and increasing desperation as the numbers of foreigners thinned out. We were asked about 50 times, always the no thanks we are being met. After a few minutes we were the lone foreigners and the frantic mood changed. Those without a fare just came to have a chat. A few more minutes and still no hotel transfer, so we spoke with one of the guys about a lift. He was delighted, the fare agreed and we started to wander to his vehicle. Round the corner came the hotel's transfer guy, all apologies. We looked at our potential new driver, who just smiled and shrugged his shoulders as if to say 'That's life'.
I have never been to Vietnam, but my neighbors are Vietnamese and they go back to Vietnam every year to visit relatives (one's family is from Hanoi and the other Saigon). They tell me the same thing every year - The Vietnamese people are jerks, always trying to rip you off and rude. I have no idea, but they talk about the Vietnamese in a very negative way. I have entertained going there (it's not far from where I live) and they always tell me not to waste my time. They only go because they feel they have to.
#30 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Ex-pats nearly always, it seems to me, have a pretty skewed image of their home country. Doesn't seem to matter where they're from, they always seem to go on about how rubbish it is at home now, how things have changed for the worse, how the people there are so awful. There may be reasons in their past why they feel this way and, therefore, why they left. In any case, I think its probably best to go see yourself and then make a judgement.
They're not expats, they're second generation Vietnamese. They speak Vietnamese, and eat Vietnamese food (which I hate), but they were born in Thailand. I suspect there are two basic reasons:
1. They have an essentially Thai outlook, and the Thais have a lot of antipathy towards the Vietnamese.
2. The war. Their parents were refugees, one set Ho Chi Minh supporters, one set despise "Uncle Ho". The war has lest bitter memories for them about Vietnam.
#33 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Point taken and basically they are Thai who don't like Vietnam. However, I don't see the relevance to this topic about (first-time) travel experience, of mainly westerners, to Vietnam.
Since you live in Thailand: Do you have a take on the different bhuddism being an explanation? I really would like to know if that's a big underlying influence.
In response to the Buddhist question. I'm a scholar-in-training with a focus on SEA visual culture, and while this is not my area of "expertise"--and I've not yet traveled to either country--I work as a teaching assistant for courses that deal with these and related issues.
The Buddhism practiced in Thailand is of the Theravada variety, i.e., the earlier transmission from the Indian subcontinent, which spread to Sri Lanka and mainland SEA. Without going into gruesome detail, it comprises a very different set of texts and practices than those associated with the Mahayana (later transmission), China-derived strain of Buddhism practiced in much of Vietnam (Thich Nhat Hanh's brand of Ch'an or zen Buddhism being another story altogether). "Sinitic" Buddhism has absorbed many "folk" traditions (ancestor worship, concern with good fortune, etc.) as well as Taoist and Confucian views, values, and rituals that are absent from the Theravada school. That said, Thai Buddhism is now regulated by the state and is in no way "pure."
Hope this helps.
#35 glomer has been a member since 23/2/2010. Posts: 86
P.S. I thought I would add that Thailand is the only country in SEA not to have been colonized, though it did suffer through other forms of Western meddling. I suspect this, paired with the American ("Vietnam") War accounts for a lot.
#36 glomer has been a member since 23/2/2010. Posts: 86
I encourage you to travel soon to this region to see it with your own eyes. You will love it.
Can you elaborate a little? I think I have a thousand questions for you...But let me start with three:
-What are the main differences between the texts of Theravada and Mahayana?
-Does either have a stronger tolerance/promotion of seeking personal (material) wealth?
-Which or what is considered the pure form? I guess each will have teir own claim to it (like protestants and catholics)
Sorry if it reads like an interogation but I'm really interested in this stuff. At least the main lines.
Thanks for your reply. I'm going to Hanoi en route to Luang Prabang in December and have traveled a handful of times to Indonesia, where my mother is from. I'll try to assemble a cogent answer to your questions before bed Again, please remember that I'm by no means an expert in Buddhist Studies--those who know better, please jump in!
First, it's important to remember that there's no stable thing called "Buddhism"--there are many Buddhisms, each inflected by the site of its development, often becoming hybridized with other local traditions (I can say this with some confidence, sitting here in Northern California). Buddhism has always been a complex, contested set of views and practices, often characterized by lively debate and sometimes deep divisions. In all strains of Buddhism there are sincere practitioners and those with other kinds of motivation--even monasteries are full of criminals, broken-hearted lovers, those seeking relief from poverty, etc.
Both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism (and the latter's offshoot Vajrayana, the esoteric school) are based on certain fundamentals: the biography of the historical Buddha (Sakyamuni), the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, the Three Jewels, etc. Meditation is doctrinally central to both strains, though it is practiced with varying degrees of commitment in various places (and sometimes not at all). Both traditions have traveled to the West.
Theravada Buddhism is the southern strain: Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia. It shouldn't be thought of as more "pure," but it does reflect an earlier Buddhism, based on the Pali canon, itself composed hundred of years after the Buddha's death. The key human figure in this tradition is the arhat, who abides by a complex of ethical codes and seeks liberation for himself, often in isolation (see the Thai Forest Tradition).
Mahayana Buddhism is the northern strain: China, Tibet, Korea, Japan, Central Asia. It is essentially a "response" to the Theravada tradition (which the Theravadans deem unnecessary--your comparison to Catholics and Protestants is apt). It comprises a version of the Pali canon plus sutras, like the Lotus Sutra, that were written in Sanskrit. This tradition is crowded with deities, but the key human figure here is the bodhisattva (this term has a different meaning in Pali) who abides by more ethical codes and delays his/her own liberation to first seek liberation for all sentient beings. Mahayanists like to think this doctrine gives them the "edge on compassion," but this has little basis in terms of actual practice.
Again, neither strain is "pure"--they are both shot through with all kinds of contradiction, outside influences, internal tensions, etc. Because Mahayana took root in China, a place of great historic instability, frequent wars, and authoritarian regimes, concern with material well being or fortune has found a place within Buddhist life, as has ancestor worship (which would seem to contradict the foundational principles of karma and rebirth). So one sees grains of this in the Vietnamese context (and perhaps the incursions of the French and Americans strengthened this quality).
Lots of books on the subject that can say more, more accurately than I can, but I hope this helps!
#38 glomer has been a member since 23/2/2010. Posts: 86
Well, the relevence to this topic is that the Thais are foreigners too. But they are more intimate with the Vietnamese than we are, and they fought against the Vietnamese in the last Indochina war and in many conflicts prior to that. The Laos have had the unenviable position of being placed between these two pretty aggressive peoples (sort of like the Poles between the Germans and Russians). My neighbors, of course, speak Vietnamese, so unlike when normal tourists go, they can fully communicate and understand what is being said to them. They blend in better, but this doesn't stop them from being accosted by peddlers and touts of all types.
I suspect that the Vietnamese rural people who have little exposure to westerners are intensely curious about them. This is common in most rural areas where westerners are rare or non-existent out here. They are probably also a bit too shy to try and pimp you for money right away. This is all speculation on my part, of course. In my wife's village I was an object of considerable curiousity when I first went. Now I'm pretty much just another guy around town (except the young women still flirt aggressively). Everyone is friendly, but nobody is running up to shake my hand anymore, or try and touch me. But there was a time... and I suspect in rural Vietnam (or Laos or, to a lesser degree Thailand) that phenomenon is still alive and well.
Within the town I live in, people of ethnic Vietnamese extraction have a bad reputation as cheapskates and "black hearted". But I don't place much stock in such talk, as it is pretty typical whenever any new cultural influence moves into any area. The Brits talk poorly about the Pakis and Somalis. The Americans first talked poorly about the Irish, then the Italians, now it's the Mexicans (etc). The Germans talk poorly about the Turks. You get the idea. That's just the way life is. But I dod suspect that culturally the Vietnamese are more aggressive and compared to the softer Laos and Thai culture, this turns tourists off.
#39 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Fascinating stuff glomer,
I don't mind that you're not the biggest expert on it. Perhaps all the better because otherwise I might not understand it all. Hope to read that answer from you later then.
I live in Cambodia and know some things about it but never dived deeper in the subject (since I'm not religious) but the possible relation to people's behaviour fascinates me.
"plus sutras, like the Lotus Sutra, that were written in Sanskrit"
I always assumed that it was based on some therories/teachings of a far east asian scholar/monk. Interesting that it's also based on South asian teachings.
"but the key human figure here is the bodhisattva (this term has a different meaning in Pali)"
It that visible on display? I mean, in Theravada you see the buddha (in several positions) but statues in Mahayana do not seem to revolve around 1 main figure.
"Mahayanists like to think this doctrine gives them the "edge on compassion," but this has little basis in terms of actual practice."
My sentiments exactly
"Because Mahayana took root in China, a place of great historic instability, frequent wars, and authoritarian regimes, concern with material well being or fortune has found a place within Buddhist life, as has ancestor worship (which would seem to contradict the foundational principles of karma and rebirth)."
Does this apply more to Mahayana than to Theravada? In my experience the ancestor worship is big in Theravada as well. The material well being does seem to have a greater role in Mahayana although Thai and other Theravada do not seem to have less interest in profit. I have the feeling though that they do it on a "normal" level and not so much related to religion or pray for it.
My last questions which I forgot to ask earlier:
- The little fat sitting figure (with the big belly). What is his name and is he one of those later deities? Is he related with material well being (I thought so)?
Thanks, I really appreciate your replies
Glad to help!
My impression is that Cambodia is a bit different from Thailand in that it has a strong Hindu-Buddhist heritage (like Java); this is certainly true in terms of its visual culture. If you remain interested in these issues, you might try poking around your own neighborhood to see what you find!
Buddhism is an Indic religion, i.e, emerging out of India, therefore all its foundational texts were set down in Indic languages (Pali, Sanskrit) before being translated into Chinese, Tibetan, Thai, English, etc. The great irony is that Buddhism has all but disappeared from India.
Sorry, my description of arhats and bodhisattvas was a bit confusing. These are real people, i.e., a highly developed practitioner might strive to become--or even succeed in becoming--an arhat or bodhisattva. They also have various visual representations and, in the Mahayana conceptual universe, there are infinite bodhisattvas and buddhas. A famous Mahayana bodhisattva whose image you may have seen is Guanyin (or Kwan Yin), the bodhisattva of compassion. Some consider bodhisattvas rough equivalents to Catholic "saints."
I don't know that much about lived Theravada practice, so I can't say how each tradition has absorbed rituals of ancestor worship, but I'm not surprised that you've observed this in SEA. I also can't remember the name of the fat-bellied Buddha (sorry!), but yes, his belly demonstrates that he is well-fed, so he is associated with good fortune.
#41 glomer has been a member since 23/2/2010. Posts: 86
My apologies to others for having hijacked this thread. I got the impression that most points were covered anyway. If people want to return to topic feel free to do so. I just find this fascinating and I have the feeling that somehow there is a link between the different buddism and Vietnamese/Thai attitude. But I will let it rest now from my side to let other return to the topic.
I have travelled/worked in this region now for 12 years and never got deeper into the subject apart from the obvious things you observe. Problem for me is that I haven't learned the Khmer language well enough yet to talk to a Khmer in depth about this subject. Most, however, also do not know much about differences between the different forms of buddism. They just know about their own sort.
Guanyin. Is that a lady? I remember suddenly having seen quite a few statues of a standing lady, very similar to the virgin Mary, in Vietnam.
May be I should buy a book on the subject.....
I always assumed that it was based on some therories/teachings of a far east asian scholar/monk. Interesting that it's also based on South asian teachings.
Far East asian monks travelled to India & brought back the teachings. most well known are prob Fa Xian, Yi Jing & Xuan Zang (XZ features in the Chinese story 'Journey to the West').
It that visible on display? I mean, in Theravada you see the buddha (in several positions) but statues in Mahayana do not seem to revolve around 1 main figure.
in Theravada Thailand & Laos, there are also statues of others at the altar e.g. Buddha's first 5 disciples, the earth goddess Mae Thorani & famous monks. though they will be placed at a lower position than statues of the Buddha.
In my experience the ancestor worship is big in Theravada as well. The material well being does seem to have a greater role in Mahayana although Thai and other Theravada do not seem to have less interest in profit. I have the feeling though that they do it on a "normal" level and not so much related to religion or pray for it.
would say that it is big in Theravada cultures, not Theravada Buddhism. Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia - there is so much mixing of animism (& esp in Thailand, Hinduism). ancestor worship & other rituals - incl stuff like divining/fortune telling, praying for luck/good business/harvest/rains/etc, charms/amulets/tattoos for power/to ward off evil - are not part of Buddha's teachings. yet amulets, sak yant tattoos & blessings of vehicles are big business in Thailand, & astrology & worship of 'nat' influences so much of Burmese life (even politics)
Buddhism doesn't have ceremonies for stuff like weddings, blessing of newborns, opening of new businesses...& various cultures 'fill the gaps' with practices from animism, Taoism, etc e.g. baci ceremonies in Laos & NE Thailand, Shinto rites in Japan (for everything except funerals, for which they'll turn to Buddhist temples). Thailand is a place where monks have become so involved in such technically non-Buddhist rituals.
The little fat sitting figure (with the big belly). What is his name and is he one of those later deities? Is he related with material well being (I thought so)?
There are two...the one associated with Theravada is Sangkachai (สังกัจจายน์), a monk who was so handsome he decided to fatten himself up so as to discourage attention from adoring devotees. The one associated with Mahayana is Budai, oft referred to as the 'laughing Buddha', & the one that people link to good fortune.
Thanks Wanderingcat for the very helpful post!
To Eastwest: Yep--I believe Guanyin is supposed to be androgynous, but is often portrayed as female.
#44 glomer has been a member since 23/2/2010. Posts: 86
If the travelfish guys read this: great upgrade to the site!
Thanks for the info glomer and wanderingcat. The main question regarding this topic remains unanswered though: whether the difference in buddism/religion/worship can be related to the different attitudes of locals (especially in Vietnam where people tend to be more agressively commercial).
But regardless of the answer I really learnt a lot from everyone.
My wife and I did a 5.5 month tour of SE Asia last year. Vietnam was the first country we visited and was probably the country we least were looking forward to after reading about the constant hassling, scams, touts etc however it ended up arguably being our favorite country on the whole trip.
Maybe we were lucky but we didn't find too many hassles, were never scammed (or at least never found out about it if we were . We loved the food, culture and people. That being said I am not in a rush to go back. I heartily recommend it to friends and family (my parents just left for a tour of Cambodia/Vietnam this morning). I feel like we've seen the highlights and there are so many other places we want to explore (S. America, Burma, Africa, Indonesia etc) that going back to Vietnam is just not a priority.
I can see going back to Thailand again for the beaches and diving but as much as I loved a city like Hoi An or Saigon I don't see a reason to head back.
I am always amazed when people say they've been to Costa Rica 17x or Vietnam 9x. There are so many places in the world I want to see that going back to a place seems a long ways off.
Be careful in Africa. I lived in East Africa for two years. It is not benign like SEA is. Trust no one, and keep security in mind at all times. Driving around at night can be quite risky.
#47 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Africa is not safe for tourists especially the area near Durban and Johannesburg.
#48 williamducles has been a member since 23/10/2010. Posts: 19
I just found this thread very interesting so i'm going to add my bit.
There is a massive north south divide and I can't really speak for the south but I'd like to say a few things about the north and tourists to vietnam.
In Ha Noi it's not just foreigners that get ripped off, at the local market if you don't know the price you get caught out even if your vietnamese. the point is if you don't know what's what you'll be taken for a ride. I think it's a lack of foresight to a certain extent that's ingrained the the culture. I can't say this for certain but it would appear that many viet's would rather rip you off now than see you come back 12 times. This goes for tourism too.
I've been living here 16mnths and have grown to like Vietnam and the people. I think they are really quite friendly and usually curious. That would be outside the old quarter however. II really feel a bit let down when I see all the stupid/ poorly planned/ disastrous things the government does here. You really have to be interested in vietnam to come here. There's alot of rough with not so little smooth and yes it's not as accessible as neighbouring countries. You really can't do a whirlwind tour of vietnam. It's more a country where you pick a place and decide i'll stay here and use this as my base. Totally unfeasible for many people.
I'm quite saddened too by many young people (20-24ish like myself) who travel vietnam on one big piss-up while not taking any time to explore the culture and above all else talk to the people. It really goes along way to make some small talk with hotel staff etc. I was in hue recently and a young backpacker tried to say thank you in vietnamese gave up and said "oh whatever I don't care" this really irked me to say that so blatantly to someone who spoke english also.
This brings me into another point. A little bit of vietnamese goes A LONG way here. I'm not talking about the xin chao or cam o'n ( basic hello and thank you) i'm talking basic bargaining a sprinkling of idioms and a few bits and pieces (where, what time, compliments for people/food) It is a difficult language and I only speak it to a basic level but people are more friendly if you can say even the little things RIGHT. This does make the country harder to manage for a first time visitor. Hey maybe a half day language course in ha noi would set you well on the road.
To reiterate the north has a rip-off/money hungry culture. do your research and have a very clear idea of the price before entering any discussion of price and bargain hard if you feel it necessary.
#49 paddyk has been a member since 6/5/2011. Posts: 1