Vietnam has a tourism problem

Vietnam is an odd ball. Part of me highly recommends some places, but overall I can’t say I enjoyed traveling there nor would suggest others come here. I’m still trying to work out what is wrong though!

Expectations, un-met

Before I came here I spent a lot of time listening to a friend who had travelled around the world five years ago. She talked at length about how great Vietnam was and how she really enjoyed spending time there. Combined with my desire to hit the Phong Nha National Park, Vietnam was high on my list countries I was excited about. In fact, it was the only country in South East Asia I was interested in visiting.

Now that I’ve left, I can say Vietnam as a whole was a complete let down for me. Perhaps the surprising thing is that this is the feeling shared by many of the travellers I talk to. No-one can pin-point why they didn’t like it though.

I have two theories, first of all the contents of this post, the affects of tourism explosion. Secondly, the country seems to have a chip on it’s shoulder and is not what you’d expect from a Communist country.

Vietnam, tourism explosion

On my travels so far I’ve visited around 15 countries or so and it is sometimes obvious how each differ in terms of how they treat me, the tourist. Some places welcome me in with open arms and will do anything to assist you as they are so happy to have me visit them, whereas others consider you to be simply an ATM and try and take as much money from you as possible.

I personally think that the Vietnam most people sees has a problem and it’s to do with the way tourism has developed here – there are 6 main destinations in Vietnam that create a route from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi (Ho Chi Minh, Mui Ne, Dalat, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi) and you can get a bus ticket with stops at each of these destinations for around $50. As a result, the backpackers & tourists pretty much travel from one spot to the next – the locals know this and they exploit it.

I’ve seen locals fighting with Westerners for no apparent reason (I saw a security guard hit an Ozzie bloke in the face with a Taser because the cue ball was stuck in the pool table). I’ve had security guards manhandle me because our group refused to pay the surprise “service charge” of 20%. I’ve heard of people getting robbed, of scams, incorrect change been given everytime and of motorbike bag snatching. I’ve heard of Gang Warfare on the streets of Mui Ne. I’ve seen the results of a man getting date-raped…The stories go on but they all tend to come from the stops between the main cities. The locals have become accustomed to the Westerners arriving by the bus load and exploit this with impunity. It has lead to an unpleasant situation where whilst you’re not loathed to go out, you are constantly on guard, watching the locals and what they are going to do next.

So, is it all bad and Vietnam is a corrupt, horrid country?

No. Far from it. I stopped off at some places not on the main Westerner tourist trail (Ninh Binh, Phong Nha and Vung Tau) and the Vietnamese people show what they used to be made of.

Sure they pester people asking them to buy things and they’ll try to charge you more, but it feels that they do so with respect and are open to bargaining. They’ll charge out of their homes as you go past just to say hello. They have open fascination with the Westerners and will just stop and watch what we’re up to. They’ll joke on and tease us for having a different culture. When they don’t speak English they’ll do everything they can to play charades with you so that we can communicate. They come across as brutally honest in their dealings chasing people to make sure they get their change or returning my camera when I left it behind.

So, as I said, Vietnam to me is a country of two halves – the places on the main tourist trail have become corrupt with the arrival of Western money whereas pop somewhere off the beaten track and you’ll find truly lovely people. I would hazard a guess and say that the unbeaten track is the Vietnam of 5 years ago.

Further reading

My companion post to this, Vietnam has a chip on it’s shoulder is worth a look but over the past week or so (whilst these posts have been sitting scheduled) I’ve seen quite a few interesting articles appear online such as Wandering Earl’s When Tourism Goes Terribly Wrong, yTravelBlog’s When Travel Destinations get Trashed And People Die, Nomadic Matt’s post on Huffington Post Why I’ll never Return to Vietnam.

See, it’s not just me!

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