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Europe lovers gave Asia a try instead this time around--thoughts on our experiences

Europe lovers gave Asia a try instead this time around--thoughts on our experiences

Old Jan 21st, 2007, 07:44 PM
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Europe lovers gave Asia a try instead this time around--thoughts on our experiences

A few months ago I posted here wondering if any of you Europe affecionados had ever given Asia a try; some people said they were also wondering about the possibilities, so I thought Iíd follow up with the results of our adventure. After numerous trips all over Europe we decided to give Asia a try, so we flew to Vietnam for the 1st 2 weeks of January. Here are a few of our thoughts and impressions in case any other Europe lovers are so inclined to try somewhere else.

Airfare is definitely higher, and flight times from the Midwest in the US are around 26 hours which makes for some grueling flying. But, surprisingly we have had few problems with jetlag. We paid about $400-$500 more per person for airfare than we ever have to Europe in any season. Food is a lot cheaper, and is absolutely delicious whether you eat on the street or in a restaurant. Forget wine. Beer is the affordable drink. If you are the type who wants pampering, you can be pampered for a lot less money than in Europe.

There is nowhere in Europe that would have the warm weather that Vietnam has in January, so that was a big plus. It is a fascinating county with lots of gorgeous scenery and a completely different world than we have ever seen before. We preferred the rural parts to the big, noisy cities, and this is a marvelous place for those who are active and like partaking in outdoor activities. Thus, we chose to do more off the beaten path things than your typical tourist so that we could see how people really live in Vietnam.

We are typically independent travelers in Europe and have only ever hired a guide once for a few days in the Maramures area of Romania. But, for this trip, we decided that a private guided tour was the way to go. We are so glad we went for this option. To us this country seemed much more confusing than any other we have ever visited. And hiring a guide is cheap. Plus, tourists canít rent cars, so that limits oneís transportation options.

Now for the downside. The country is extremely dirty, noisy, jam-packed with people, full of litter, and generally filthy. We saw a lot of very interesting things but nothing we would refer to as charming. The poverty and living conditions are absolutely incredible. Count your blessings that you were not born in a third world country. I think everyone should, at some time, make a trip to see how the majority of the people in the world live so as to gain a perspective on how truly well-off and privileged we in the West are. Every photo youíve seen in National Geographic or in a solicitation for donations to worldwide charities is absolutely true. We saw 3 year olds barefoot and with no trousers on in 50 degree weather. We saw people cooking over firepits in the corner of their mud huts. We saw people using the Mekong River for cooking, cleaning, washing, defecating, fishing etc. We saw families of 5 all riding on the same motorbike because they were lucky enough to be able to afford this mode of transportation. We saw children who do not attend school because their parents canít pay the annual $100 tuition.

Do we regret the trip? Not in the least! Would we go back for a second visit? I donít know. Frankly this is the only trip where we have ever looked at each other and said that we were ready to go home before the end of the trip. This happened to us about day 13 out of 15 days. Perhaps it is because we opted for a trip that was difficult physically and exposed us to the true gritty conditions rather than the ďtourist niceĒ places where visitors are pampered and catered to. Put it this way, Iím now perusing the Europe board again and thinking of another trip there rather than another Asian destination for our next trip. The idea of sitting around relaxing in a nice café in an appealing setting with a bottle of wine sounds pretty good right now.
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Old Jan 21st, 2007, 08:10 PM
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"Count your blessings that you were not born in a third world country."

. . . though we have invaded one or two. Hey, come to think of it, that might be a contributing factor . . .
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Old Jan 21st, 2007, 08:31 PM
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julies

Don't give up so easily on Asia. Give Thailand a try.
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Old Jan 21st, 2007, 08:31 PM
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julies, thank you so much for post. DH and I are avid Europe lovers who considered, many times, forgoing Europe for Asia. We always end up going with Europe because we don't know how we would like Asia. I know its terrible to say, but we don't know if we are quite ready for it. If we do go sometime soon, it will probably be to Hong Kong and Singapore and/or Bali.

On the flip side, we are considering a trip to South Africa next year. Quite different than Asia, I know, but for some reason it seems more comforting to us.

Your post was really interesting!

Tracy
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Old Jan 21st, 2007, 08:40 PM
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I am glad I'm not such a snob. Your condescending remarks about Vietnam are absolutely sickening.

I am horrified at you.
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Old Jan 21st, 2007, 08:42 PM
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Julies, thank you for visiting Asia. I grew up in a third world country--I moved to the US in my late teens. I know that the money you bring to these countries help the local economies thrive. There is as much culture in these parts of the world as much as in Europe--you just need to look for it. I'm glad you stayed away from the city. I find that most cities in third world countries are dirty and noisy. But the rural areas are definitely beautiful.

Everytime I go back, I am reminded how lucky I am to be in the US--not just for economic reasons, but also I grew up under a dictatorship, and say what you will of the US government, I still appreciate the freedom I have here.

I hope all lovers of Europe will give Asia a chance one of these days. Countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia and India have a lot to offer (and of course, China and Japan--although much more expensive).
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Old Jan 21st, 2007, 08:46 PM
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julies,

Give Japan, Taiwan, Phillippines, or Singapore a try. Much more "westernized" but still fascinating

marginal, all the OP did was state facts as they saw things, why are you so horrified by that and why get so personal so quickly?

MvK
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Old Jan 21st, 2007, 08:47 PM
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Thanks for the report, but Asia is a pretty big place and I'm not sure you can generalize your Vietnam experience to the whole continent. I'm a europhile, too, and in the last couple years have been in Hong Kong, Macao, Southern China and Beijing, as well as (several years ago) the area then called Soviet Georgia and the Caucusus region. Each was different and while there are assuredly some sad things everywhere, it was not uniformly dirty. Please note that I am not disputing your report about conditions in rural Vietnam, it is consistent with reports from friends and colleagues who have been there. Just want to point out that there are lots of places in Asia - even Southeast Asia - that are different and folks should not be scared away. And I do wholeheartedly agree with your notion that we really do have it great in the developed West.

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Old Jan 21st, 2007, 08:53 PM
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I think Vietnam is magical and the cities are so interesting..>Hanoi is lovely with its old colonial buildings... Saigon is amazing in the energy. We too have traveled mostly in Europe..but we loved being in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam because it was so different. The people are lovely and friendly, the food delicious, the scenery beautiful and the price is right.
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Old Jan 21st, 2007, 08:58 PM
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I've been to S.E. Asia 10 times and Europe 11 times. If I had to pick one over the other, I don't think I could. I love Laos as much as Italy, Thailand and Bali as much as Paris. As the OP said, the airfare is more and longer, but that is more than made up for by all the great hotel and food prices. Wonderful Thai massages for $4-5 per hour. Ocean view rooms for way under $100. Of all, the S.E. Asian countries that I've visited, travel in Vietnam is probably one of the hardest, for many of the reasons stated. Other countries are much more laid back. For those of you who haven't been, I highly recommend going at least once!!
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Old Jan 21st, 2007, 09:00 PM
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Julies-

I'm one on those who travel both Europe and Asia about 50/50. I love both almost equally and both have their plusses and minuses.

I too would recommend you give Thailand a try. As independant travelers, you would have had a very easy time in Thailand and not have been so tied to a guide as you were in Vietnam.
I don't think I'd ever recommended Vietnam as anyone's first introduction to Asia, but from your other posts it sounds like you still had a good time.

As far as airfare, from the West Coast, it's sometimes cheaper for me to go to Bangkok than it is to go to Paris. It all depends on the time of year. I've been wanting to go to Vietnam for the last couple of years, but for some reason, the airfare there is about $400 more than anywhere else in SE Asia in the Summer.

Besides Thailand, I'd also recommend Bali, Singapore, and Hong Kong to get a completely different perspective.

As far as traveling in 3rd world countries, I remember being shocked at the level of poverty in Honduras, even more so than that of Nepal, or any other Asian country I'd visited. So, outside of Western Europe, you're going to encounter much more visable poverty than you would ever see in the Midwest US. Still, every time I encounter it, I too am remided how fortunate I am.

So, someday I hope you give Asia another try. Don't be surprised if you find yourself wanting to go back at some point. It's hard to resist the fantastic food, beautiful scenery and fabulous people.
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Old Jan 21st, 2007, 09:06 PM
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MvK, I feel a touch faint after realizing that we agree again. Twice in one week!
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Old Jan 21st, 2007, 09:08 PM
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I had the same reaction to your report as Seamus. To be more precise, you didn't give "Asia" a try -- you gave Vietnam a try.

I've only been to Japan, although I've seen quite a bit of the country over several visits including once in January. Your list of downside observations would not apply to Japan. And it's in Asia.
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Old Jan 21st, 2007, 09:37 PM
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Your comments had some positve mentions, so I take it that it was a worthwhile visit.

I go to Asia for different reasons than Europe. I found Thailand fascinating. Yes, there was poverty and Bangkok was noisy and crowded. It appeared to me that labor is their cheapest commodity, hence the $6 an hour massages. It's important to keep in mind that our tourist dollars help many of these people. But the culture, the architecture, the food, the value for the dollar, and the people are just some of the reasons I enjoyed Thailand (the land of smiles...really).

Hong Kong is a big, exciting city that might have given you a completely different impression. At first it reminded me of New York, but once into the older sections, I knew I was in Asia. And the food -- OMG -- we ate a lot, but wished we eaten more.

In Europe/UK I want to enjoy the surroundings in Tuscany, Lake Como, and the Cotswolds, the art and uniqueness of Paris, London, and Amsterdam.

Different continents, different reasons for visiting.
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Old Jan 21st, 2007, 09:52 PM
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Very interested in your thoughts and perspective. Thanks for posting julies!

Good Travels,

Murphy
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Old Jan 21st, 2007, 09:59 PM
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The irony of this report is kinda amazing. Finding Vietnam to be impoverished (and lacking in charm) and imagining the pleasures of sitting in a cafe in a Paris...

French colonization of Vietnam was totally brutal, as it was in their other acquisitions throughout the Caribbean and Africa. All that coffee and sugar we've been enjoying since the 19th century ain't from the French countryside...



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Old Jan 21st, 2007, 10:13 PM
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Thanks for the followup julie - I recall your initial question. I haven't been to Vietnam but your experience sounds similar to ours in Cambodia, even if reactions can vary of course. I'd used Romania poverty then as a fractional point of comparison... sounds like that wasn't too far off. In our case, we saw a lot of genuinely happy attitudes and sincere friendliness in Cambodia, and I think that helped balance our perspective a bit. Not sure if Vietnam shares that openness, as it's someplace I thought might be worth combining with a return trip to Cambodia. I mean, I can see that avoiding the conditions much of the world can't escape doesn't make it less of a problem, but I can also see that in the end, it isn't the same stress relief of a vacation as sitting in Paris might be. And people need both an expansion of horizons AND the chance for downtime. So I don't see anything snobbish about admitting that coming back from some areas of the world may mean needing a vacation from your vacation.

But I do agree with NorthShore and others, if you haven't committed to sticking with Europe in the future, you would find Thailand quite a bit more comfortable. A balance between the exoticness of SE Asia, along with a fair dose of the cafe society goodlife. To give an example of the difference - I rented a car and self-drove around rural Thailand. Not something I'd do in Cambodia and I'd suspect not Vietnam either. But it was good roads, and in most cases, western style restaurants and hotels were available everywhere. Not saying there isn't poverty in Thailand, but not really even as much as was evident in Romania. You'd come back from Thailand relaxed, I think, even after reading your reaction to Vietnam.
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Old Jan 21st, 2007, 10:26 PM
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I'd recommend Japan. I've been there five times and have to force myself to broaden my horizons and consider Europe and America (I'm Australian)

I know everyone says it's expensive but I find it a bargain compared to Europe and the UK as long as you're prepared to forego the big luxury hotels.

You can find something to suit everyone there - big city experiences, traditional culture, scenic countryside, crazy pop culture. You can try foods you've never heard of or play it safe with your favourite fast foods. Getting around is a breeze with a JR railpass and you always feel perfectly safe. There's no bargaining so buying things is a breeze. And the mixture of old and new is enthralling.
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Old Jan 21st, 2007, 10:58 PM
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Well, seeing that I was born and raised in Malaysia (still a third world country), and now living in Europe. I suppose I ought to comment a thing or two about it.

True, what you said, southeast asia countries (though not all!), especially in the rural areas, are very much stricken with poverty. But the locals there are happy in their own respective lives, they have enough to eat, to drink, to celebrate. And it is in simple lives like these that you tend to appreciate more, the things that you have, like family ties, etc. Filial piety, for example, is a value hold true here(not to say they aren't in others!), and parents really do live with their children up till the day they grow old and grey.

And really it would take a visit to these places to make you realize what you have and make you appreciate it that much more.

Honestly, they need as much help as they can get. Raising awareness in forums like this may end up helping them in ways you'll never know.

As for me, I'm slightly surprised Malaysia has not once been mentioned! Haha! I live at the southern-western tip of Borneo islands. It's pretty great too. People would get here what they could not get in other, say more developed countries like Singapore and HongKong. A visit to an orang utan reserve? A scuba dive ANYTIME of the year? And the range of food here? Let's just say everytime I reach home, I put on at least 5kg in a month's time.

And having travelled in Europe, Arab and Asia, I really cannot say which one do I prefer more. They all have their own specialties which are unique (I know this sounds cheesy, but it's true!).
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Old Jan 21st, 2007, 10:58 PM
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I'd love to give my family the chance to experience Japan, Phillippines, and SE Asia but after that flight from Melbourne AUS to LAX back 23 years ago when I was younger and in shape, I'll pass! Maybe a steam ship?

Had I not been "hosted" during my time in Taiwan and Tokyo, I don't think I could have managed because of the language (written and verbal) differences. Singapore and the PI would have been OK, but elsewhere would have been far too challanging.

How did you (group) handle the language difference in SE Asia, particularly Viet Nam? Does the former American military presence there seem to have helped in that regard?

NorthShore,

Twice in as many days! Excepting politics, I expect we are in agreement on a great many things. We would probably enjoy trading tales of travel over a bottle (or two) of a nice wine.

MvK
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