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Similarities & differences between China and Vietnam

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Mar 29th, 2010, 06:42 AM
  #1
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Similarities & differences between China and Vietnam

We visited Vietnam several years ago on our own (hiring custom tours when necessary). Now we are contemplating visiting China on our own (possible areas Bejing, Yunnan, Guangxi, water villages around Shanghai). Once again we'd do a mix of DIY and private custom tours. We are not thinking to do the standard biggies tourist itinerary of Beijing, Xian, Hong Kong etc. but want to do some more low key rural visiting with some biking and walking through villages.

How would you compare and contrast the two countries? I believe when we were in Vietnam we heard that China was more advanced and has a higher standard of living. Is this true? Is China as crowded with people (residents, not tourists) as Vietnam was? How do costs compare? Is the traffic as scary in China as in Vietnam? Thanks.
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Mar 29th, 2010, 07:01 AM
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Yes China is more advance and wealthier than Vietnam and the US according to some people.

Yes China is crowded but you can avoid crowds especially if you travel independently.

China, IMO, is slightly cheaper than Vietnam for food. For merchandise it's way cheaper than Vietnam and most countries in the world.

Traffic in Hanoi is very bad and dangerous. China has better traffic control over Vietnam and better roads.
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Mar 29th, 2010, 07:21 AM
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I actually found Vietnam rather more...manageable...in terms of sensory overload. There are places in China to avoid crowds even when in the cities (Milu Deer Park, for instance, or even the further reaches of the Great Wall) but, well, it's got the world's highest population number so that's a lot o' folks. Obviously the rural areas will be less crowded.

I think I agree that the traffic is a little better in China; of course, I wasn't riding on the backs of motorbikes like I was in Vietnam, so that might make a difference in perception.

Here are my two trip reports from those places to give you some idea of one person's take:
http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...d-far-away.cfm
http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...s-in-china.cfm
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Mar 29th, 2010, 07:21 AM
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China is huge, especially when compared with Vietnam. You can't make a straight comparison. There is an immense gulf between the new sections of Shanghai and rural villages, and an equal gulf in the standard of living of the new middle class and the farmers.

The big cities in China are very big, often very polluted, and (at least in Beijing) subject to traffic gridlock. However, the traffic is not as anarchic as in Hanoi or Saigon. The trains are very good - the soft sleeper class is noticeably more comfortable than in Vietnam.

Food can be expensive or remarkably cheap - depends on where you eat. I'm not a shopper, so can't help with that. Bargain.
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Mar 29th, 2010, 01:20 PM
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Thanks all. It is interesting to hear all of your thoughts. We managed with the traffic and crossing streets in Vietnam, but I was just curious. It is good to hear that the soft sleepers are better than in Vietnam: we had quite the experience with the train there. I'm not a big shopper, so that is not a big concern of mine. I think you are reinforcing my idea that we won't want to spend much time in the big cities and should head to the countryside instead.

Amy--thanks for the links to the trip reports. I look forward to reading them later on tonight when I have some time after work.
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Mar 29th, 2010, 01:41 PM
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For more (somewhat dated) China TRs see my website - www.wilhelmswords.com - asia2001 and rtw2004.
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Mar 29th, 2010, 07:35 PM
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We traveled in both countries and would agree that they are significantly different all things considered. I've no idea if the current situation is in China, but when we were there the locals spoke very little English which made it extremely difficult when it came to asking for directions. I found the Vietnamese people speak better English.

China is obviously larger and more diverse than Vietnam.
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Apr 1st, 2010, 02:16 AM
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In my experience, I find the PRC and Vietnam to be quite different places. Both are Socialist/Communist (in Vietnam IMO the presence of the party is actually much more apparent, but their economy is not as developed). Both are Buddhist/Taoist/Confucian, but the focus of their Buddhist practices are different, and really the presence of religion in the PRC is quite minor (at least in public), but in Vietnam is more apparent as temples were not destroyed and the government does not take as active a role in suppressing it; for example you see monks on the street in Vietnam which you will rarely if ever see in the PRC. In Vietnam, the French influence is still quite strong, and Vietnamese food and art are quite different. Recent political history notwithstanding, the long and predominant history and culture of Vietnam is SE Asian and not Chinese, and little of it carries north of its border; although you will find some Vietnamese influence in Guangxi. The geography and climate of Vietnam and parts of southern coastal China (like Guangxi ) are similar, but that does not make the cultures similar. Your trip also includes northern China, which you will find quite different from southern China (esp in terms of food) and of course quite different from SE Asian cultures.

In terms of standard of living, in the cities I would say that the standard of living is higher in the PRC. Public transport and other services are good and the level of public housing seems to be decent. There are some enormously wealthy people in the PRC, and even just the sort of middle-class wealth on display is much more evident than in Vietnamese cities. However, in the true rural areas (and not the tourist towns) I think you would find that the standard of living would be quite similar to, if not indeed in some cases worse than, Vietnam. The boom in China has almost exclusively been in the cities and the newly-created industrial areas like Shenzhen, and I don't think you would find that is has trickled down to the village level (which is what is beginning to worry the party). I think you would find the average village in rural China -- where a huge portion of the population still lives -- to be quite similar to the average village in Vietnam. (Altough in Vietnam they are likely to still have their village temple.)

While the Han Chinese certainly have many good points, I find the Vietnamese people to be more friendly and open. Much as I enjoy living in China, I don’t think anyone who lives or travels here would rave about the “warm and friendly Chinese people” like they do about Thais, Balinese and IMO the Vietnamese.

As you want to avoid the larger cities, a walking or biking tour might work for you in the PRC. I know that Mountain Travel Soebek is very well regarded and has been in business a long time, I have gone on whitewater trips with them in Bali, see http://www.mtsobek.com/. You might also check ATG Oxford Tours, a UK operator of walking tours who are generally very well regarded, I have used them for walking tours in Europe and found them to be very good, and their groups are small and congenial. Take a look at http://www.atg-oxford.co.uk. Also try Backroads, see http://www.backroads.com/, I have not used them yet but they seem to be well-regarded on the US board, and they have some trips in Asia. You probably could use one of these to tailor an individual trip if you did not want to join a group. While I am not a fan of tours, the above are not like big group bus tours, and also I think in the more remote countryside areas in the PRC you may find language to be a bit of an issue and may prefer to have things more organized for you at least in terms of logistics like transport and hotels.

I don’t know that I would call the water villages of Shanghai to be “low key rural” visiting as they are firmly on the tourist bus map, and I think the same would be true for many parts of Yunnan and Guangxi provinces (e.g., Lijiang and Kunming in the former and Guilin and Yangshuo in the latter), so you may want to do some research and pick your areas carefully. I think you will find the air pollution in both cities and in some other parts of the PRC to be pretty severe, and esp compared to Vietnam. You most likely are going to find the PRC more expensive in terms of hotels and food (unless you go really basic, where costs may be similar to Vietnam). In cities and tourist areas, IMO, the PRC is more expensive, IMO.

I have to say that I think it is a shame you would not consider including Hong Kong, as that is, IMO, a perfect place to do self-guided walks of the countryside which includes village areas. While we do not have the rice terrace areas like you will find in Yunnnan or Guangxi , there are hundreds of miles of well-marked trails here set in the beautiful hilly countryside. Hong Kong is not all shopping malls and skyscrapers by any stretch of the imagination, get some guidebooks that know what they are talking about and you will see the opportunities for rural village visits which exist. IMO these are as good or better than much of what you will find in China, in the first place because the village temple still exists in Hong Kong villages, and in the second because you can get there on you own via public transport (which in some cases will include a fun ferry or small boat ride) and/or a lovely scenic walk. Finally, there is no language barrier to be concerned with, and if you want it, the more well-trodden tourist sights (not to mention the excellent restaurants and hotels) of Hong Kong proper are easily available as well. (Please bear in mind that when I say “village” I do not mean a village with a charming church, cobble-stone streets and trim gabled houses featuring red geraniums in window boxes like you find in Switzerland. I mean dirty, falling-down-around-your ears and featuring lots of barking dogs -- and is some places wild bulls and cows -- and where the village temple is quite likely to be tricked out in shiny pink bathroom tile. (Although there are notable exceptions.) The word ramshackle is an apt description. But I am in love with these villages none the less. These are also quite similar to what you will find in the PRC, although people in Hong Kong have more money and so they are a tad nicer and don’t have the loose poultry.)
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Apr 3rd, 2010, 08:35 PM
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I completely agree with Cicerone. I believe China has a much larger middle class than Vietnam does, and a far more oppressive government. I'll put it this way - I think I can trust the Vietnamese, but I'm not so sure about the Chinese!
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Apr 3rd, 2010, 09:11 PM
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Cicerone--

Your comments are extremely helpful and thought provoking. I think I know exactly what you meant when you refer to ramschakle but appealing. I have felt that same way about parts of the former bloc in eastern Europe. Thanks so much for taking the time to write an extensive reply. I'll need to do some thinking now.
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