A love letter to tourists: Vietnam is flawed, and that’s perfectly fine

By Minh Le   April 18, 2017 | 09:00 am PT
A love letter to tourists: Vietnam is flawed, and that’s perfectly fine
Like every other place on earth, Vietnam is perfectly unique. Photo by Tuan Anh Sym
Who says chaotic and messy can’t be beautiful?

Travel comes with baggage.

Not just the things we try to squeeze into our bags, but all the emotions and anxieties and prejudices and expectations that we carry with us along the way.

The problem with baggage is it can be heavy and slow us down sometimes.

The high expectations that we have of a travel destination are the reasons why we book the air ticket and leave the comfort of our homes in the first place. But most of the time, right from the moment our plane lands and the captain starts telling us about the weather outside, we are forced to face the most painful but truest truth: nothing (or no one) will ever live up to the beautiful visions we had in our minds.

Crash and burn!

Usually we take that crash landing with grace. We lower our expectations, we replace them with new ones, or we switch to denial mode. We do everything we can to move on and try to have a blast with the version of reality handed to us.

But here’s a thing about “low”. Low can always get lower and low can hit new lows.

Even after we have adjusted our world view too many miles below what is ideal, life has a way of testing our limit.

Then it breaks us. The barrage of yelling and complaining and comparing begins.

A couple of travel bloggers has recently shared with the world the eight things that they didn’t like about Vietnam during their trip. Among them were scams, line cutting, nose picking, tiny chairs, too many motorbikes and a black coffee that was too sweet. The list, though very personal, seems to have hit the right chord with many visitors and locals, who have issues with a few or all of these things.

Some have called this list petty – a description used by the bloggers themselves, possibly to prevent potential personal attacks. But that’s not necessary. When tourists return home and reminisce on their journey, they need to have the complete freedom to write about the things they love and the things they don’t. For future travelers, such personal anecdotes are a lot more helpful than a generic, go-there-eat-that guidebook.

Yet some of these lists of bad things are extremely damaging and unforgiving. Leaping to generalizations about a country and its people based on one bad experience, one bad day or one bad week is unfair, if not discriminatory. (No, not all Vietnamese cut in line or pick their nose in public.) Not to mention the problems that tourists often find in Hanoi or Saigon are the same problems tourists find in New York, Bangkok, Sydney, London and anywhere else. Scammers, uncomfortable seats and bad food don’t have a destination of choice.

Like every other place on earth, Vietnam is not a perfect travel destination – nor should it be. Like every other place on earth, it is perfectly unique with all of its awesomeness and all of its flaws.

No, things will not be dreamy like those omnipresent drone videos. Visitors are bound to be disappointed in one way or another, with most of their expectations crushed like ice in a blender. But they are also bound to be surprised and amazed, if they choose to let themselves be.

Travel should be more about discovery and less about entitlement. Isn’t it why we decide to leave behind our soft bed and hot shower in the first place?

As for travelers to Vietnam, the long-standing advice is: lower your expectations.

My advice: come with none.

* The article does not necessarily reflect the views of VnExpress International or VnExpress. VnExpress International welcomes more discussion on this topic.

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