A Change of Guard

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Monday 31 December 2007

Tourists complain of difficulties, negative experiences

Foreign visitors in Vietnam (photo: danang.gov)

VietNamNet Bridge – The number of foreign travelers to bordering nations, Laos and Cambodia, are half those coming to Vietnam. However, international visitors’ complaints reveal that Vietnam has much to learn from its neighbors.

Where has all the hospitality gone?

A traveler nicknamed Eileen 76 on the Lonely Planet tourism forum, wrote: “My friends and I just got back from a five day trip to Hanoi, Vietnam and frankly, it was a trip from hell.Why? From the moment we stepped on the plane (AirAsia), you get ignorant and stubborn Vietnamese who turned on their mobiles mid-flight! Not one, but several, despite sterm reprimands from the stewardess.

The next day, I had my mobile stolen from my backpack. We were standing on a sidewalk near the lake, trying to figure out which road we were on and where to go when I felt a tug from behind. I turned around and saw a guy standing too close to me. I yelled at him and my first reaction was to quickly check my bag to see whether my digicam and money were missing.

The ‘expletive’ yelled back but I ignored him and walked away when I realized that, thank god, that I still had my money and camera. It was 2 to 3 minutes later that I suddenly remembered my phone, which was kept in another outer compartment and sure enough, it was gone!! And so was the sketchy man!!To add insult to injury, a shopkeeper was sitting and saw the whole thing, and yet, he did nothing! We were less than one meter away from him. What’s wrong with these people anyway?Oh, who can forget the horrendous traffic. Normal traffic rules don’t exist here. As far as I know, red means stop, while green means go. But to the Hanoians, both colors meant the same thing – go, go, go. I lost count of the number of times we were nearly mown down by motorbike when a pedestrian light was clearly green and intersecting traffic lights were red. I know they like to honk at anything and everything that moves, but does that mean it absolves them of all responsibility? I mean, just coz you honked while riding your bike against traffic and nearly crashing into pedestrians, does not necessarily mean you can simply shrug it off with the excuse ‘I used my horn didn’t I’?I’ve been to Cambodia where the traffic was equally chaotic (in Phnom Penh at least), but at least there was method to the madness. There, you just cross and drivers will automatically avoid you, provided you don’t make any sudden moves or freeze halfway. But try to apply that system in Hanoi, and you’re liable to lose a few limbs, if not your life.”

Regarding service quality, Eileen wrote: “And what’s up with Hanoian’s attitude anyway? They’re rude, crude and uncouth. OK, so they don’t really speak English. Fine. I can accept that. What I can’t stomach is the way they don’t even look you in the eyes when you speak to them. There was this incident at the Water Puppet Theatre where we wanted 3 tickets for the 8.30pm show. The ticketing girl curtly said "no" but tore three tickets and gave them to us. We asked (politely) what does no mean – is it no, there are no more seats for the 8.30 show or no, you don’t have VND20,000 seats?? (There were two classes of seats - VND20,000 and VND40,000).She just mumbled No again and eventually figured out the tickets she sold us were VND40,000 for the 9.15pm show. We told her we wanted the cheaper seats and again, got the mumbled no. During the entire (one-sided) conversation, the girl was scribbling on some papers on her desk! And she didn’t even look up while we were trying to communicate!!! In the end we gave up and just gave her the money. But what happened if a person didn’t want tickets but just some information? We encountered the same sour-faced and negative attitude among merchants around the Old Quarter market area when we asked them to take some pictures. For example, we went out to sampled biahoi (the austere local beer halls). The restaurant owner’s smile turned sour and her attitude immediately changed for the worst when we asked 2 simple questions: 1. How much (a reasonable enough request); and 2. Can I take a picture?

And let’s not forget the attitude of Hanoians in general. They either poke (if you’re lucky), shove or ram you aside if you happen to walk a little slower or disrupt their route. And what about their inability to queue? What’s worse is they think its their god-given right to cut queue? Is all this really necessary? And before all you guys take potshots at me, note that I’m an Asian and as polite as possible, with smiles and thank yous (in the local language) to the people I meet whenever I travel. I’ve been to a number of countries, from Asia to Europe and in all my travels, never have I experienced a colder, ruder or more selfish people than in Hanoi. What happened to the reputed Vietnamese hospitality touted by everyone?

Although Vietnam is more developed than its immediate neighbors Cambodia & Laos, it still has a lot to learn from them. They should learn from their regional peers how to be warm and friendly. It’s a smile here or a friendly greeting there that really makes a visitor feel welcome and makes all the difference in the world.”

She concluded: “Thank you very much, Hanoi, for your "wonderful" hospitality. Return to Vietnam??? Not in this lifetime. Give me Cambodia or Laos or even Thailand anyday.”

A tour guide that doesn’t like tourists

An Australian visitor, Harry Ledger, who lived in Vietnam for ten months, shared the same opinion. He wrote about his “hard” trip to Ha Long Bay on BBC. According to Ledger, a tour guide named Nguyen slept and snored the whole way from Hanoi to Ha Long, except for when he led visitors to a souvenir shop, which offered items for double Hanoi prices.

This tour guide sometimes mumbled negatively and Ledger remembers most him saying “I don’t like tourists. But foreign girls are really beautiful and you will see that when you go to Ha Long.”

At noon, Ledger’s group stopped to eat lunch at a restaurant located near a railway station. It was terrible with overdone and cold food like prisoner rations. But “superintendent” Nguyen told Ledger that he hadn’t acquired a taste for Asian food because he was a foreigner.

Ledger wrote that he had lived in Asia for years, at least ten months in Vietnam and that lunch was the worst meal he had eaten here.

“But I and other visitors knew that if we complained, nothing would change. Finally, we arrived at the wharf. I saw hundreds of cranky boats swarming, aimed at the tourists. And a rickety, double-deck, 45-seat boat was ours,” he wrote.

In another article on BBC, Ledger related the desperation of another western visitor, Anna Skodvedt-Sundling, who wished for a quick end to her trans-Vietnam tour.

This Swedish girl, 26, was among the increasing number of independent tourists traveling to Vietnam on a trans-Southeast Asia tour. The girl said she was disappointed. Everything becomes uninspiring and she only wanted to go to Laos quickly because each day she was forced to argue so often with merchants over being cheated out of money. She thinks Thailand is more hospitable and convenient.

Ben Harper, from the UK, said: “When I had my pocket picked in Saigon, police told me to report the theft to tourism police. But tourism policemen couldn’t speak English so I had to return to the local police station. When I got there, they told me it was too late and threw me out. They thought it was funny.”

The above complaints are specifically aimed at tourist managers and Vietnamese locals.

(Source: TTO)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Frankly you need to plan for a different vacation if you thought going to Vietnam was going to be some belle belle epoque affair out of some colonialist novel.

You seem believe the locals should bend over backwards for YOU. Why on earth would you think that? Are you a racist? Are you a colonist? Do you believe your nationality, language, skin color or wealth should afford you the right to a vacation where Vietnamese (who possibly have never flown on a plane before) don't turn on their cell phones mid-flight, or shop keepers also work as local policemen, or all traffic parts to allow your holy presence to pass through.

Can you please move back to Wyoming or whatever ignorant hickville you came from and just learn to respect other people and cultures before you venture outside that kingdom of justice, kindness and trafficless paradise. Then take a chill pill, maybe some personal responsibility and try traveling to developing country with the mentality that you actually have something to offer them (and I don't mean $$$) and not the other way around.

Pardon my tone here but you seem like you're probably old enough to know better so please read this again and try to take it in. I wish you better travels in the future.