Vietnam’s Tourism Industry – Should it be left to the kids?

Here is an article I wrote for a website. here’s a sneak peek…



The full un-diluted version of Vietnam blog is on its way too!






Vietnam.

 

 

“Start in Hanoi, then work your way to Saigon. You’ll see a difference in the south” – A simple piece of advice given to me before becoming a tourist of this country. 

 

 

Hanoi Airport – August 2013 – My first time in Vietnam. Like most travellers my first priority was getting to the hotel. ‘This taxi drivers great!’ I thought – we’d been exchanging stories, it was a 40 minutes ride into town – so a little conversation goes a long way! Then conversation turned sour…

 

 

“Pay – You pay!” Insisting the toll booth we went through cost over ten times more than it did. He became visibly angry – raised his voice. The English he’d been chatting to me with had all been ‘forgotten’ and he became more animated in his demand.  

 

 

Now, I’m aware he must see hundreds of tourists a week – and, sadly, I have no doubt he thought by shouting i’d give in and pay. What took me by surprise was – this tact became a frequent occurrence – when dealing with anyone in trade.

 

 

 

 

Employee’s of the tourism industry seem to have been given this handbook on dealing with us tourists.

 

  • When ‘pointing’ and ‘one-syllable-directions’ fail – try raising your voice.

 

  • If the offender still isn’t doing what you expect – become more aggressive with your gestures. 

 

  • Be as defensive as possible when challenged on any of your demands and Remember – when in doubt, just refuse to speak English.

 

 

 

 

In total, I rode five 12 hour ‘sleeper’ buses, and what I noticed was rather shocking. No matter when you got on, or where, it was a case of western people are at the back – natives are at the front. When sitting in a seat deemed ‘wrong’ (i.e too far forward) a staff member would repeat the steps from the guidebook I mentioned above. 



 



Once and only once did i attempt a Rosa-Parks-esque stand-off. Refusing to move to the back of the bus. He became furious and told me to get off.

 

 

 

 

I’m sure there are many reasons why in these particular cases – its just-so-happened – to be this way. But surely better people-skills are required. Surely better training could be given. Surely no-one deserves a verbal onslaught from an angry bus driver.

 

Funny, i thought, that in every other aspect Vietnam had proven to be exceptional. Hotel workers were some of the best i’d encountered. Street sellers were polite and easy-going. Restaurant staff were as good as the food (which in Vietnam is very good indeed!).

 

 

 

 

Why then had the travel trade been left so far behind? Are us tourists really that bad? I needed to know, and strangely an answer came to me from an unlikely source.

 

 

Saigon’s Parks are a breath of fresh air. You can see people learning to dance, outdoor martial artists giving lessons, dozens of children skating and students. Students of english – this generation of academics gave me hope for Vietnam’s tourism industry. What seems like the whole school – are out in the parks simply going up and talking to people. they are practising english.

 

My most enjoyable night was spent talking in the park. We talked about everything. We debated politics. We chatted about english traditions. We discussed patriotism. When I asked them how long they’d been doing this one lad they said that every night for over a year he’d been coming to talk to foreigners. when I asked why he did it he said… 

 

 

 

“If i learn English it means I can get a better job, I can go to university or even get a scholarship somewhere. I practise everyday because I want to get better, because I learn new things and because i make new friends everyday.”

 

 

The advice i got about ‘people changing’ as i travel through Vietnam – was true. I saw an attitude change. I saw a generation change but mostly I saw a thirst for knowledge – and a spark of passion in young people that I fail to see back in England. So if you ask me ‘what do you think of tourism in Vietnam?’ I’d say go, dive in and get to know the people behind the job description.

 

 

 

But be wary of Airport taxis!

 

Advertisements

Cambodia’s Lies – through the eyes of a skeptic

Cambodia’s Lies




Shocking isn’t it. Before you ever set foot in Cambodia – You have been lied to. True maybe for the whole world now-a-days. But this country is like a novel. One which the author got 300 hours in – realised the HUGE plot holes – and gave up.




 

I will ease you in. Start where I started. England (notably not Cambodia) where I planned a trip around Asia…



 

Thailand – Cliché traveler destination. Might as well have a big ‘Start here’ printed on it.

Loas – Often mis-pronounced. It’s between me and Vietnam.


Vietnam – There was a war here once. Lets see what the fuss is about.


Cambodia – Cheap. Buy things here before India.



 

 

That was (more or less) my itinerary. Based on both research and references. Somehow all failing to mention the corruption, the lies and the propaganda. I hope to amend this. Read this article and be fair warned!




 

The first lie. Go to Cambodia, it’s cheap. No, it’s not.

 

 

Don’t get me wrong – compare house prices, a weekly shop or a moped to those in the UK – Asia wins hands down. But of the four countries I mentioned – Cambodia was the most expensive.

 

Street food was double that in Thailand. The hotels matched prices of Saigon. Even the kids-with-a-million-sunglasses were extortionate. Why then was this – noticeably – one of the poorest countries I have seen?

 

Who is all the money going to? – We’ll come to that.

 

 

 

 

 

The Second Lie. Go to Cambodia, the people are amazing.

 

Amazing is a strong adjective to use. You get the idea though. I was led to believe the citizens of Cambodia were what make this country great. 

 

Tourism is the countries biggest income. This is reflected in people. 

 

 

I imagined what the kids think. All they’ve seen is – western people must have a money tree! – I have little money… – these people need to give me their money!  

 

Its  tough, some 80% of all Cambodians are under 30. It’s hard to find an ‘old’ cambodian at all. Which suggests a free-rule for teenagers becoming impolite, deceitful and otherwise disengaged from visitors of Cambodia.

 

 

Of course this doesn’t ring true for everyone. But when you visit you will see for yourself, and why wouldn’t they be like that?! Poverty meets tourism – that’s not a good film idea. There was actually a poster in a tourist guide that read 

 

“Children aren’t the attraction. Think before visiting an orphanage”

 

 

This says it all about us tourists. The mentality of ‘wow, look – the third world. let’s go see the children quick’ – Actually that’s not too far off the truth. when you see a 60+ western man with a young Cambodian girl on his arm. Gold around her neck and a distinct look of depression in her eye.   

 

A far cry from the youngsters of Vietnam – thrilled to talk to a native Englishman to improve their second language. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The third lie. The worst lie. Cambodia’s history.

 

This one got to me. The representation of horrific events. I chose my words carefully.

 

Two out of the three highest grossing tourist attractions in the country are – ‘S-21 prison’ and ‘the killing fields’. In short – a brutal prison where genocidal khmer rouge tortured innocent people – and the fields they were taken to be executed.

 

 

I found ‘the killing fields’ an ‘interesting’ place. It certainly does have a lot of human remains on display. you can pay to buy a flower, walk 5ft and place it down at the steps. (after you’ve paid to get there, get in and get the audio tour)

 

I found things here didn’t quite add up though. Little things. Little inconsistencies here and there. Facts and figures changing. The awful propaganda film they play three times a day. The Kids selling bracelets.

 

 

 

More so I have to say about S-21 prison.

 

Once a school. Turned into a prison. Now a museum – asserting that most of what you see is exactly how it was found in 1979.



 

Here’s a list of discrepancies I found at s-21 –  



 

1. Block A is the first building you enter. Photos of the rooms ‘as they were found’ show the last 7 bodies in the prison tortured to death. The bodies now buried just outside the door in large memorials. 

 

Each of the photos are on display – in the room they were taken in. Set aside the awful quality of the photos and Windows appear to have moved. Something wasn’t right.

 

 

 

 

2. Gallows stand tall in the Courtyard. A plaque states prisoners were hung by their wrists. Dunked in a vat of feces, then interrogated immediately.

 

S-21 is stated to be the most secret of the Khmer rouge’s prisons. Public gallows and feces dunking. In the capital city. Not the most effective way to keep your secret prison secret.

 

 

 

 

3. Block B is now a memorial to the prisoners. Thousands of photos. Each one a prisoner of S-21. All murdered. All cataloged with names and numbers. – well this building puzzles me. 

 

The story goes (stated on the walls of block B) that the detainees arrived in a truck. Were measured. Then Photographed. Then Beat. Women were raped. Then Put in mass detention rooms. Later moved to individual cells. Tortured. Taken to the killing field. Killed. (Not necessarily in that order). 

 

Why then do the photographs show smiles on the faces of these inmates? who is happy to be led – handcuffed – into a prison complex – riddled in barbed wire – with gallows and huge buckets of poo – hearing screams of torture – seeing those in front of you beat and the women dragged off for rape. 

 

Smiling yet?

 

Some of the photos are poor quality, most are clear(all better than the ones taken after the prison was discovered – abandoned) 

 

For the displays some were blown up to around 8 times bigger then the original ‘little’ photos. Then, oddly, had been edited to look older. Tea stained and ripped. Yet the thousands of ‘little’ photos were fine? that’s strange.

 

 

 

 

4. Block B also housed the Torture equipment. Complete with Illustrations of how it was used. What confused me here was a water torture device. A large wooden box – similar to a coffin – only three times as wide. It would be filled with water and the poor man inside would be handcuffed to the metal bar inside. Forcibly ‘half-drowned’. 

 

10 years of use. 30 years later. Zero water damage. A wooden box, with iron shackles – constantly filled with water. 40 years on and it was as if never used.

 

 

 

5. The building that looked most visually interesting. Block C. Wrapped head-to-toe in barbed wire. Not just any barbed wire though – Barbed wire that was clearly not 40 years old.

 

Inside – shoddily constructed cells. Uneven and leaning over. maybe 200 3ft x 6ft cells.

 

 

The bricks were exactly the same as you see everywhere in Cambodia. The concrete between the bricks – looked as new – as the concrete holding up the metal supports (Put in place by the museum to stop the cells falling like dominos).

 

 

 

 

6. Maybe this one goes down as the straw that broke my ‘skeptical’ back.

 

The Khmer rouge abandoned this facility. They were loosing a war and left S-21 behind them. Why then did they choose to leave… 

 

-Photographs and measurements of every murdered person.

-Photographs of Dead and tortured inmates.

-The names of every Khmer rouge that worked there.

-Documents, detailing interrogations (and torture) of every single inmate – Thousands of files – Signed by the wardens.  

 

All of that evidence was just ‘left behind’. The Khmer rouge were, no-doubt a brutal force, but Stupid – they were not. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am therefore – of the opinion – that S-21 prison was indeed a prison at one point. However was probably not housing a grand total of 12,000 – 15,000 innocent inmates over its years (depending on which book you read)

 

 

I believe it is more likely that the whole thing was politically fabricated. Made up to serve a different purpose. Used as a propaganda tool.

 

 

Strangely, I later found out, this is also to belief of the oppositions leader in Cambodia. However the last time he publicly said his opinion he was heavily and publicly berated.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

The final lie of Cambodia. One which isn’t at all well hidden. The Government.



The corruption of a prime-minister (former Khmer rouge to-boot) and the trickling down ooze of corruption throughout every government-owned entity. 

 

Hell – even the Cambodian anti-corruption agency is owned and run by the political party. Which makes me wonder what exactly they do all day in that office?

 

 

It is well know throughout the world as one of the most underhanded, unethical and unscrupulous regimes.

 

 

 

…But hey, Cambodia has got no natural resources the ‘worlds police-of america’ need to steal. There not threatening any one except their own population. There resisting, but following (in a shade of grey and 7 years late) the UN’s demands for equality. 




So lets let them be for now and all focus on Syria.