Flashpackers – Backpackers on a bigger budget
This Part 3 of 3 parts – A Lot of Valuable Information for Vietnam Travelers
In the 21st century, iPods & laptops make Asian trekking easier.
By Edward Yatscoff
Part 3 –
Many young backpackers stay at $3-a-night-and-up guest houses. If you choose to live large, a budget of $60 to $100 per day will certainly do it.
Cabs and tuk-tuks (motorcycles pulling a four-seater cart) in Asia are cheap transport. Hiring one for the day is worthwhile, but you’ll have to be a savvy negotiator. It helps to look at a city map before you arrive anywhere.
In Kep, we got off the bus and were solicited by a tuk-tuk driver, who gave us a strange look when we told him our hotel name. His colleagues snickered, making us suspicious that something was up. He quickly took our dollar and drove us to our hotel — around the corner.
Don’t buy tours or tickets on the street. Hotels and guest houses, along with travel agents, are your best option for travel/tour tickets as they’ll save you time and legwork — and you’ll have someone to yell at if your trip goes sour.
In Cambodia, if you book a room ahead, someone will meet you at the bus station holding up a VIP sign with your misspelled name. It’s hilarious.
Vietnamese National Railways filled up faster than we expected. Rail car seating is a maze of options: hard seats, soft seats, suites, first class, A/C, sleepers, slow vs. fast trains, etc. Call in the travel agent on that one.
In Cambodia, use the Mekong Express: good Japanese buses, a stewardess, free pastries, moist towelettes, karaoke-style music videos, and employees who gleefully wave as you leave the terminal. A competitor bus company we used once broke down, requiring us to stand in the heat for an hour. But that’s Asia. Everyone accepts these things. Perseverance is compulsory here.
Do not take the “sleeper” buses in Vietnam: late-night music, crazy wild driving, horrible roads, no shock absorbers, and still-warm blankets from the last passengers.
English is prevalent in many places in varying degrees. Not as much in China. Expect to occasionally pantomime what you need, and carry a “quick guide” of words in the local language. The locals appreciated our attempts to communicate. Hello, goodbye and thank you saw us through.
Checking English-language websites of local newspapers kept us apprised of events and weather. While in Asia, 12 people drowned when a tour boat sank in Halong Bay and the tsunami hit Japan. It made us wary of the cheapest tours.
We spent a lot of time cruising riversides and seashores. It seems that even the poorest towns in Asia have improved theirs, turning them into vibrant gathering places.
Booking transport and rooms too far ahead resulted in us missing a few events. But that’s winging it. Do research on local festivals and events, and try to time your trip to them.
Our biggest decision was where and what to eat and discussing options for our next move. Cambodian, Lao and Vietnamese menus are similar, hence, “same, same, but different.” Patrons can linger at eateries for long periods as the owners like having bodies at tables to attract passersby.
Fruit here is plentiful and cheap and we ate it for nearly all our lunches. Bring a thin cutting board and sharp knife. Although we ate some street-food, we didn’t get sick, crediting a combination of Dukoral medication, food wariness, chilies and luck. No salads, uncooked meals, smoothies with crushed ice, or ice cube drinks. Definitely no tap water.
After eating at one busy place we happened to see the dish-washing area and figured we’d be laid up. People told us if that we happened to get seriously hurt or sick, go directly to Thailand — do not pass go.
Five countries were a bit much as the many currency conversions and languages overlapped in our heads and at times became confusing. We should have spent more time on the Cambodian coast and less in northern Vietnam as somewhat cooler temps there in February and March surprised us.
At no time did we feel threatened or unsafe. Locals were accommodating and friendly and older people are generally accorded more respect. We underestimated the trek on the Janshanling section of the Great Wall. It was a tough haul, but we did it.
The sights, sounds and smells in Southeast Asia can almost be overwhelming, akin to being dropped onto another planet. Riding in an open tuk-tuk is almost magical. Pungent frangipani scents mix with exhaust, charcoal cooking fires, incense and the odd whiff of fish and sewage. It’s a heady mix.
Small children and extended families create lively street scenes and are present in almost every business. Their world is public and much work is still done on the sidewalks: moto repair to haircuts to barbecuing entire hogs.
The really good news was that beer is still a buck, and even cheaper some places. Deja vus all over again. The bad news is coming home and having to cook again. There were a lot more people there our age and older winging it. All it takes is a bit more effort.
by: Mark Lewis
publisher: Rough Guides, published: 2009-10-19
sales rank: 192106
price: $12.21 (new), $11.60 (used)
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