Central Market in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon)
Five Reasons Why I'll Be Skipping Vietnam
on My Next Trip to Asia, and Why You Should, Too
I just returned from a two-week stay in Vietnam, and while the original intent of my trip was to take a long overdue adventurous vacation, I must report that my experience there was anything but pleasurable. It truly pains me to say this, because it is obvious to even the most casual observer that this was once a beautiful country, with a proud and dynamic culture. Since the fall of Saigon in 1975, the country has become a study in decay, bureaucracy and corruption. Many of its people have been transformed by the policies of the incompetent bureaucrats in the communist government into hustlers, thieves, beggars and street urchins. If you're considering a trip to Asia which includes Vietnam, you might want to check out my five good reasons for reconsidering that decision.
1. The crime rate is unbelievably high, especially when it comes to crimes committed against tourists. Westerners are singled-out as potential targets by pick-pockets, purse snatchers, muggers, and con artists from the moment they step off their planes. Many visitors don't even make it to their hotels before being robbed. Many of the smaller hotels aren't on major streets; they're located down narrow passageways that taxis typically can't maneuver through. Consequently, tourists are often dropped off on a main street, and they must walk down narrow passageways or alleyways dragging their luggage to their hotels. Nothing says "Rob Me Now" to a mugger or purse snatcher like a jet-lagged traveler pulling a suitcase down a narrow passageway, since the mugger knows you are carrying all of your cash and valuables.
2. Sanitary food handling is a foreign concept in Vietnam - literally. I'm normally not squeamish about what I eat. Seriously. My friends joke that I'll typically eat anything that doesn't eat me first. So it takes a lot to make me worry about what I eat, where I eat, and how I eat it. Vietnam managed to succeed at causing me to worry about all three, all the time. I learned that in many of the country's finest dining establishments, rat meat is a delicacy which is actually listed on the menu, food is more often than not prepared on the floor, and the pots, pans, plates and chopsticks are usually just rinsed in a bucketful of cold dirty water before being reused.
3. Liars and hustlers and beggars, oh my! They're everywhere, and they're persistently obnoxious. They simply won't take no for an answer, and will pretend they don't understand when you tell them to go away. Take a bite of food, and someone will try to sell you a napkin. Buy a souvenir, and someone will try to sell you a plastic sack to carry it in. Finish a meal, and someone will try to sell you a toothpick. It's a little unnerving when you realize there are hustlers watching your every move, just on the off-chance that they may be able to anticipate a need and be there in a flash to sell you something. The beggars are just as obnoxious, and quite often exploit horrible disfigurements to play on your sympathy, or your desire to make them go away.
4. The tour companies think you're stupid. Let's say you want to take a tour. The (all fictional) ABC Tour company will be glad to sell you the tickets, which by the way, are for a bus owned by QRS Tour Company, accompanied by a tour guide from XYZ Tour Company. When something goes wrong (and something always does) good luck getting anyone to take responsibility for making it right, or getting you a refund. It's always the other company's fault. As I sat waiting to be served in one of these tour companies, I watched a steady stream of dissatisfied clients come in demanding refunds, and all of them got the same song and dance: "You need to talk to that other company."
5. The people are crazy. No, really. Crazy as loons. It's not unusual to see five people on a single little scooter, and sometimes it's four or five people and a baby. The Viet women have been conditioned by Korean television advertising to believe that the whiter their skin, the more beautiful they are. Consequently, they often wear hoodie-sweatshirts, long-sleeved jackets, floppy hats, gloves, and dark sunglasses, even when the temperature is in the nineties and humidity is close to 100%. At the beach, they swim wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and floppy hats to avoid getting a sun tan. Skin whitening creams are among the biggest sellers there. Many people wear face masks out in public, which I assumed was due to the dust and exhaust in the air from the heavy traffic. No, my guides explained to me, it was because it had become fashionable to emulate Michael Jackson. The scary thing is, I only half suspected he was pulling my leg.
Well, there you have them - my top five reasons why I won't be going back to Vietnam anytime soon. I have more, but if those five didn't convince you, I suspect nothing will. If you're considering a trip to Asia, my recommendation to you is, try a country where the people aren't wearing masks.