I just returned from my trip to Southeast Asia, which included Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. It was my first-ever visit to Southeast Asia and I’ve come back a bit tired, darker, and hopefully a little wiser. I don’t hesitate to state that Vietnam was the best out of all three countries, while Bangkok was kind of disappointing. There were good experiences and bad experiences, a few new friends and acquaintances made, and a ton of photos taken. I’ve had my eye on visiting Vietnam for a while, especially Halong Bay, but hadn’t had the time or the nerve till now. As I have a lot of free time now, having left my job in June, I decided to combine Vietnam with two other countries.
My Vietnam trip started at Hanoi, which I flew to from Taipei, then an overnight boat stay at Halong Bay, continued to Hue (by train), then concluded at Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), which I flew to from Da Nang. From HCMC, I took a 6-hour bus to Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, then took another 6-hour bus to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. Finally I flew from Siem Reap to Bangkok for a 5-day visit, and I flew back to Taipei.
I’ll have more posts about this trip of course, but first let me list a few brief observations here.
1) SE Asia is popular with a lot of travelers and it’s very understandable. The places, cultures, and foods are interesting, it’s reasonably safe, travel infrastructure and services are plentiful, and of course, quite cheap. I should have come to this region much earlier, but worries about safety and inconvenience prevented me. It’s ironic that the first time I came here would be on a 3-week, 3-country jaunt.
2) On the other hand, there were some really negative aspects. It’s not like I hadn’t heard of these before, but it’s still sad to see lots of kids hawking goods such as at Angkor, or even worse begging while carrying babies (likely siblings), crazy traffic, and taxi drivers trying to rip you off. And also it’s not surprising that some places would not be as clean as say, Toronto or Hong Kong, but it is disgusting to be eating at a roadside eatery and seeing rats a few feet away. Frankly, almost any problem that people have with China, I’d say you can find worse in SE Asia. However, I have to say I didn’t have much stomach troubles, and toilets in Vietnam were particularly clean, even cleaner than many places in mainland China or even Taiwan. In fact, I fared much better than my trips to Xian or Beijing last year when I had stomach problems almost every day.
3) I admire mainland Chinese for many things, but I didn’t expect solo or group travel in foreign lands to be one of them. I met many young Chinese during my travels, even befriending a group of them, who were all traveling around the region just like me, but with more ambitious and adventurous itineraries such as going on to Laos, Nepal, or India. Also, a good many of them were roughing it, taking 10-hour bus trips and going from place to place.
4) Thailand is a big name in tourism and it might be No. 1 in SE Asia; and it has a lot of good attributes such as nice beaches, decent cultural and rural sights, and of course, the sex industry. But frankly its “Land of Smiles” slogan is bullshit. People are generally polite, even helpful, but there’s a sense of arrogance and disdain which I picked up that seem similar to Taiwan in a way.