Monday, June 11, 2007
Southeast Asia: Final Thoughts
This was my first time traveling in 'the developing world' and it was certainly a very interesting experience. Especially in Vietnam, any traveler was seen as a walking, talking ATM. People constantly tried to squeeze money out of you, either by selling you a service, item or cheating some extra dong out of your pocket. I myself got cheated on the cab ride from Hanoi airport, using a non-metered Taxi. They warn you about that in the Lonely Planet, but the guy knew the first rule of sales. He didn't take no for an answer, and like a moron I got in the car. Luckily I only parted with an extra 20 bucks, painful but not super painful. Heck he TRIED to cheat me out of 200 dollars! A lot of the scams in Vietnam are based off of the 16,000 VND per 1 USD. Thats a tricky exchange rate to get used to, and if you mess up on your zeros then you can easily overpay by a large magnitude.
When I tipped the rower at the perfume Pagoda I gave her 10,000 dong, which is 2/3 her daily wage of 15,000 dong (yes under a dollar per day!). Now usually if somebody gave you 2/3 of your daily wage as a tip, I'd think you'd be happy, but she was pissed and kept yelling "is small, is small, that one!" and pointing to the 100,000 dong note in my wallet. Yeah, right lady, you realize that the rowers who row pilgrims and not tourists don't get tips at all!
Phuket is beautiful, bit certainly it is a couples island. Do not go alone, you won't have anybody to talk to. Or maybe I'm just unfriendly.
The most interesting thing I learned though was not about Thailand or Vietnam, it was about Japan. Upon returning to Ishikawa, and then on my trip to Tokyo the following weekend, I noticed a distinct lack of Western tourists. Obviously Phuket was full of people, but so was Bangkok, and even Hanoi had far more obvious tourists than I saw in Tokyo. Most of the Westerners you see in Tokyo are living there. Now I know that Kyoto does have a very high percentage of visitors and tourists, but seriously, where is the foreign tourist in Japan? Of the three couchsurfers I have hosted two lived in country. Only one was visiting, and she was visiting for about four months, which is quite the visit!
So why is smelly Bangkok more full of tourists than ultra-modern Tokyo? Expense? English level? Sushi? I wonder...