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Hitchhiking Vietnam
travel tips
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Traveler's code:
The global backpacking community lived by rules that are both pragmatic and unconventional. People often choose to travel together on the strength of little more than a five minute introduction, and separate with equal ease. Sharing a room doesn't mean sharing a bed, and a week or month together rarely implies the kind of commitment that one might expect from a similar arrangement back home. Traveling the world is an unpredictable business -- buses break down, monuments beckon, wars erupt and borders close. How can one be expected to stick to hidebound schedules and predetermined partners?

I've had dozens of people say to me over the years, "I'd love to travel around the world - I just can't find anyone to go with. I really don't want to go alone."

In reality nobody travels around the world alone. You meet up with other people, travel for a week, part company, pick them up again a few countries later... You have to try really hard (or else have a truly Godawful personality) to travel alone - people will be asking you if you want to head off somewhere together on a daily basis.

Let's say you get on an overland bus to Thailand through Laos. There's another Westerner on board, towards the back. You'll naturally gravitate in that direction. He'll make a space of you - if nothing else because you're (probably) not carrying a pig and a brace of chickens and therefore won't smell a whole lot worse at the end of the ride than you did at the beginning. You'll start talking. By the time you reach your destination you'll know his second cousin's favourite color and he'll know all the gory details of how your wife took the china but left you the 18-year-old cat when you divorced six months and three days ago. Then you'll go off and find a guesthouse together for the night.

If you don't like traveling with other people you may have to do something drastic, like coughing up blood at regular intervals or running amok once a day. Good luck.

SURVIVAL TIPS
Tourists tend to gather like flocks of seagulls, always alighting in the same place (usually a cafe or guesthouse catering to their needs). These can be great places to meet fellow-minded Westerners. It's also a chance to pick up the most up-to-date information on what's happening around you (new rules and regulations, things to see, etc.). This is particularly important in Vietnam, which is changing so fast that the guidebooks are out-of-date within six months.

You can spend your entire vacation surrounded by foreigners and never really meet a local. Make a point of breaking away from the pack every once in a while.

There are a very few foreigners who are working their way around the world by stealing from other foreigners. Just because they look like you doesn't mean they're honest.

Don't fall into the trap of trying to save money at all costs. I've listened to endless western conversation in backpacker cafes and it ALWAYS seems to revolve around money. Where do you find the cheapest guesthouse in Nha Trang? Which bus driver won't rip you off? Which tour gives you the most bang for your buck? I rarely hear backpackers (or any other tourists) exhanging information on the culture - death rites, traditions, religion, etc. I wonder if they'll get home and realize that they saved themselves a few hundred dollars and saw almost nothing.

 

Backpacker cafe:
"Kim Cafe was well known as the local Mecca for backpackers and travelers-on-the-cheap. Its tables spilled onto the street, jammed with foreign faces, bushy beards, and incongruously red hair.

I slunk into a Vietnamese soup stall behind the boisterous cafe and eavesdropped on Western voices discussing the best tours, quickest buses and cheapest restaurants.

"Yeah, Co Giang street. Floor space for three bucks a night. The coffee's free but you gotta bring your own milk." "Just agree to whatever and give him 5000 once you're there. Happy Hour's five to seven." "They wash and dry jeans for four thousand. If they're real dirty they'll squeeze you for five."

All around us, opportunistic Vietnamese hastened to fill foreign needs. "Rooms for Rent" signs buzzed and blinked from every window. Three-walled shops sold black-market CD's and traded well-thumbed novels, two for one. A message board bristled with necessary knowledge, from:

"Urta, we gone Mekong, back on 17th" to

"Avoid Restaurant 442! Soup tastes like panther piss."

On the corner a driver reclined in his own cyclo, thick glasses propped low on his nose, reading "War and Peace" under the dim light of a magazine stand."

Excerpt from Hitchhiking Vietnam

Pick your Partner.

Asia is home to a migratory subculture, an endless tide of young men and women who ebb and flow between Asia and America, working summer jobs to earn the price of their winter playgrounds. They seemed to be on a perpetual post-60's Walkabout, shunning mainstream Western goals of family and professional advancement in favor of the here-and-now. They were gentle creatures who asked little of the world, paid their way and rarely caused a fuss. They were well represented in every capital city east of Burma, and always seemed to know where the best food and cheapest lodgings could be found.

"His name was Jim and he had spent the last three months in Phnom Phen, and was planning to stay another three. Every summer he returned to Alaska to live in a tent and work in the salmon industry, ten-hour days of slitting and gutting fish that would earn him enough money for a leisurely winter in Asia. He liked Cambodia; the beer was cheap, the pot was practically free and the women considerate and obliging. He released a stream of fully utilized smoke and fell into a long silence. He had been thinking of writing about his experiences, he said, but never seemed to have the time. Maybe next year."

Excerpt from Hitchhiking Vietnam

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