All three of these countries share a similarly dismal past, were ruled by the French a hundred or so years ago and have huge amounts of trauma in living memory. Vietnam was never a particularly powerful country, it was part of China on about four separate occasions, was taken over by France and then dealt with an internal war between the north and south over communism. Because at the time the Americans hated anything even close to having a sickle on it they decided to join the south and bomb the hell out of the border area. The Americans didn’t stop at this as there were sporadic bombings in Cambodia, who I think had been letting the northeners walk down through their land, and blanket bombing in Laos, who as far as I remember had very little to do with anything. Laos is now officially the most bombed country in the world and many areas are scattered with UXO’s (unexploded bomb stuff that kills adults and children regularly, in some provinces as many as one per day).
Category Archives: guide
For those of you not familiar with the phrase ‘same same’ it is what you will often hear round the streets of SE Asia from people such as market sellers comparing two things which are at the same time similar but often very different, i.e different qualities of product. In a way I think this phrase really sums up the three countries; Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. In a way the three countries are quite similar, the streets can look and function the same and the food has very similar staples but at the same time any two can feel worlds apart.
This was quite possibly my craziest journey so far and the promised 10 hours resulted in about 16 in five different busses and a boat.
The day didn’t get off to a good start with our alarm failing to sound. Awaking to the hostel receptionist knocking at our door at 5.30 letting us know our bus was there we quickly packed the room into our bags and sprinted down the stairs in a half asleep state. We were taken by car to the bus which was doing its rounds in picking people up, a bus we assumed must be the one that took us to the main bus station, as did everyone else. The bus was the worst I have yet seen in Asia and looked like an out of service local bus as the driver had a barrier for ticket buying, thus meaning the seats didn’t even recline.
I’m having a bit of an inspirational lull at the moment as I’m just loitering around in Phu Quoc, I’m staying here for 10 days, which is really far too long but I need to bide some time before going to Cambodia and seeing as I paid for the boat to get here then I may as well take my time, there is a beach with crystal clear water just 100m away so it’s a good place to choose.
My breakfasts will be a bit repetitive as they are included with the room, there isn’t a great selection but what there is is good. I’m staying at A74 hotel which is $25 a night for a sea view double room, we get 10% off for staying 7 days so $22.5 or £14. I only really need 2 meals a day so my lunches can be a little absurd. As I’m not doing much here this is most of my spendings, though a motorbike will be hired one day and a snorkelling trip was done another. I tend to have one fresh coconut water a day which costs 12,000/36p and is a truly healthy treat. Apparently it is so close to the substance of blood plasma they used it for transfusions in the Vietnam (American war) war. If you’re lucky they will then chop the coconut open and let you scoop out the flesh.
After travelling from hotel to hotel/hostel to hostel for three months we
decided it was time to take a holiday from all the hard work and chill out in a beach resort for a week. For this we chose Mui Ne and managed to find a beachside resort with a pool for £9 a night between us. Being far more interested in quaint towns and people watching this was quite a unique experience. The entire town (being one road about 6km long) is there for the sole purpose of tourism.
The best way I can see to describe the comparison is that China is the equivalent of America to Vietnams Western Europe. The scale of things in Vietnam seems tiny with small old streets, stylish architecture and small towns with a population of 100,000 being considered places of note. In China it is a tough challenge to find anywhere with a population of less than a million.
After two months in China Vietnam is a refreshing change, the streets are full of independently owned little stores and in my 10 days here so far I have only come across one American chain, that being a single KFC in the capital of Hanoi.
As a first time backpacker I found it hard to find much useful information online
Hostels can vary between £3 and £8 a night depending on where you are and how touristy the area is. The most expensive place for me was Wuhan as there wasn’t much anticipation for non-Chinese tourist and what was on Hostelworld was very limited. Booking in advance wasn’t particularly necessary however I find it easier to know where I’m heading from the train station. Places such as Fenghuang were heavily geared towards tourism and the local rooms to pay for were a far better deal than the hostel so sometimes it’s worth only booking the hostel for one night then finding something local. I personally get quite moody when I’m carrying my backpack in the heat and so wouldn’t want to deal with looking around whilst carrying it.
Often referred to in semi irony as the bible, The Lonely Planet for any country can be seen grasped in backpackers hands as they make their way through the streets, looking for a second opinion on any shops and restaurants before taking the courage to step through the doors. 40 years ago I can understand how Lonely Planet would have been essential for finding places to go and the tourism highlights a country has to offer. The present day traveller has internet access in nearly every hostel allowing the usage of wikitravel and hundreds of travel blogs to gain a wider scope and a variety of opinions on what is and isn’t worth visiting or paying the entry fee.
Before setting off on my travels Shanghai seemed like an exciting hyper city whereas Hong Kong seemed nothing more than a dirty has been city. I have now learnt that my preconceptions were about as wrong as they could be.
Shanghai is very much standard mainland China, just it happens to have had a technological boom. There are numerous high end shopping streets and
touristy shiny areas but turn down the wrong side alley and the usual China toilet smell wafts into your nostrils. Because the business side of the city has risen so rapidly it is very segregated and perhaps false looking compared to the majority of the city. Although very tall and impressive, the skyline is but one small cluster of high rise buildings still fashioning their Disneyesque gleam as though they may not really be there at all.
Our intention with Wuhan was to go there for the soul purpose of getting a boat to Shanghai. By the time our train ticket was booked we had realised that it would be tricky, expensive and that the better Yangtze views were in the opposite direction. So by the time we arrived at our hostel, which was quite expensive, we were in a city which didn’t seem to have much going on, feeling under the weather and in a useless hostel which didn’t even provide an area map, ticket booking… or western toilets.
so the first day we had to go out and find a ticket booking agent and managed to sort the train tickets,with this off our mind and the knowledge that not even the hostel staff could understand Wuhan busses we had no option but to wander around. The street scene in Wuhan was the most vibrant I’ve seen so far (with the exception of there not really being much street food). We strolled along the side of a lake and found some windy bridge pathways over an expanse of lotus flowers and a large outdoor swimming pool. When back on land we came upon an open workshop creating large fantastical displays for carnivals and parades.