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Now that I've been in Cambodia for two weeks, it is time to be forthright about my opinions on backpacking through Vietnam.
For months, I was the person asking for tips on Vietnam. After always being person begging for advice, it sure does feel good to be the one dispensing it.
In Cambodia, I met a lot of people who were headed to Vietnam next. Just like me, they want advice.
Well gather round', young grasshoppers. I have your advice.....
... I just wish I knew how to put it lightly.
Vietnam had the double whammy of being stop number one on my trip, and the place I was most excited to see. In the months leading up to my trip I built up a cache of expectations.
If time is the biggest enemy of travelers, expectations come in at a very close second.
Oh, how I reminisce on the days when I thought my month long visa for Vietnam couldn’t possibly be long enough. The glorious days of Anthony Bourdain episodes and Ha Long Bay google image searches.
Fast forward through 30 days in the country, and I was practically running for the border.
There are two lessons to be learned from my experience backpacking through Vietnam. One is about the country itself, and how tourism has changed it. The second is the issue of expecting too much from a destination.
Even though I knew I wouldn't be the first person to ever travel through Vietnam, I really just expected it to be more.... authentic.
I have seen the tourism capitals of the world.... the places that have completely lost themselves to excessive tourism. I never expected Vietnam to be like this.
I think most people are under this perception...at least Americans. People said goodbye to me like I was headed to Vietnam in 1973, not 2016.
They thought I was crazy.... the things people asked me! "Is there even cell phone service there? Do they speak English? Sex trafficking? Land mines? Are you sure it's safe?"
I can't bash them. Even though I was far more educated, I was also fearful about traveling alone.
Well, I am here to let you know: it's easy to get by as an English speaking tourist. In fact, as a tourist, you are welcomed with open arms.
Everyone speaks English. Everyone knows where you want to go. Everyone can help you get there. Hotels and tour guides are plentiful.
You are not the first person to do anything in Vietnam - there is a rock solid tourist infrastructure to get you from A to B. I can't say this about every country in the region, but Vietnam, yes.
Of course there are big differences. You're in a completely different country. The first time you see cooked dog or a pig truck (google it), your head will spin. It will be weeks before you feel comfortable crossing the street.
However... Vietnam may be thousands of miles across the globe, but a journey there does not make you Magellan. Tourism is kinda a thing in Vietnam.
This type of tourism, though? Very overwhelming. Everyone wants your money. You are seen as a giant, Western pie, and everyone wants a slice. Tourism has ruined the experience the average person can have in Vietnam. Anywhere that people frequently visit has been tainted by tourism. To have an authentic experience, you must work very hard to get off of the beaten path... much harder than in typical destinations, like Italy or Spain.
I think that is what disappointed and surprised me the most. I rarely felt like I saw the real Vietnam, and I was working hard to get off the beaten path.
Lesson number two: the issue of traveling with expectations.
I will keep this short.
With all the technology in 2018, it is easy to learn a lot about a destination before you head there. However, no matter how great a place seems, do not go there expecting it to be the best place ever. Don't expect it to change your life or bring you to tears. Ignore the opinions. Ignore its ranking.
Click to read: My Top 10 Experiences Backpacking Through Southeast Asia
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