Many countries dispose of their toilet paper in the toilet, while others place it in a trash can.  Others do not use toilet paper (i.e., a water hose is used), while others do a combination of the aforementioned.  And to make sure people exercise the correct local protocol, owners of restroom facilities often post a brief sign as a polite reminder.  But the sign I saw today in my hostel bathroom most definitely wins first prize!


justin bieber

Music to my ears!

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Recently, I had the fortune of visiting both Hang En Cave and Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, but with drastically disparate experiences.

My Hang En group consisted of ten amicable people and we were the only ones allowed to enter, and sleep, in the cave that day and night.  Not a trace of garbage was in the cave and it was almost as if we were the first people to discover the subterranean paradise.  The tour company staff were very pleasant and genuine people, while the expedition equipment provided was more than adequate.  And the food … was excellent!  In short, a memorable experience.

In Ha Long Bay, while my boat had sixteen people, we saw approximately twenty other boats during the day and at night three of them were parked next to ours (including a party boat).  The limestone islands and sunset/sunrise were impressive, and the kayaking was as serene as it gets, but the polluted green water was a massive turnoff.  The boat staff were stingy with the subpar food and flat out rude at times.  Maintenance problems plagued many of the rooms and bathrooms.  In short, not the most memorable of experiences.

Generally, there are two ways to handle a tourism experience.  One way is to charge a low entrance fee and profit from the masses.  Alternatively, employ a high cost and target wealthier clients.  Both strategies can be successful, but only one guarantees the preservation of the area in question, along with a more noteworthy memory.  The more a person pays for a product/service, the more serious he/she takes the purchase since the price hits the wallet (and psyche) harder.

So the next time you decide to explore a beautiful park, or ancient structure, do some research on the above avenues.  Saving money is good, but not at the expense of an irreplaceable piece of history, Mother Earth or your own personal experience.

phong nha

Tourism done right.

ha long bay

Disney Land?

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I have met quite a few foreigners living, or traveling, in Vietnam.  And while all praise the food and plethora of leisure activities in this country, many also complain about how they are treated by the locals regarding matters of the wallet.  It is understood that haggling for a deal on a souvenir, a taxi ride, a bus ticket, hotel, etc. is a way of life in lesser off countries, but it should be done in a congenial way.  Cut-throat anger is not how you win over the masses.  Nor is blatant mistreatment of potential customers.  Regardless of the
reasons for this behavior (i.e., Communist mentality, poverty, etc.), people’s actions are still a part of who they are on the inside (even if it is a small slice of the pie).

But does this mean that we are to write off an entire population?  No, of course not.  Despite being rough around the edges, the Vietnamese are quite friendly.  For example, one night a hostel mate and I passed a large gathering of local friends and family.  Upon seeing our curious eyes briefly peer into their lives, we were warmly invited inside, with Vodka, karaoke and crabs flowing like the Nile.  The next day, as my hostel mate and I whizzed around on a rented scooter to breathe in the beautiful karst scenery of the area, a local farmer took us down a narrow forest path for views that were definitely not on the “tourist route.”

In short, yes, sometimes people can use a little brushing up on their disposition, but that does not mean we should discard them completely.  A diamond in the rough is not always readily apparent.


off the beaten path

Take a ride off the beaten path to better understand the locals!

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I feel more comfortable in the Asian world.  But shouldn’t I be more complacent with the westernized world I grew up in?  See my video to find out the answer.


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Look to the left.  Look to the right.  Behind the counter.  Under the table.  Over the rainbow.  It is everywhere.  The ubiquitous cell phone.

Nowadays, it seems that people cannot detach from their technology for more than five minutes.  Given that you can do virtually everything with these handy gadgets, this is quite understandable.  Need to catch up on work emails while at home?  Check.  Need a date? Check.  Need a map to navigate yourself out of a big city?  Check.  How about a discounted evening at the new restaurant in town?  Check.

Frankly, I have no issues with the added convenience and flexibility that comes with this technological progress.  But when you begin to substitute “smart phone time” for “human socializing time,” I have issues.  Why use an app for dating when all you have to do is strike up a conversation with that hot girl in the coffee shop?  If you are lost in a city, why not get to know the locals by asking them for directions?  Why not save your work emails for the office so you have more time to chat with your family when you are at home?

What is even more disturbing is when I see this phenomena at hostels since these places are possibly the most social environments on the planet.  Instead of getting to know people from all over the world and thus enriching your cultural knowledge, your eyes are glued to the latest political pic on Facebook or the newest talking and dancing cat video on YouTube.  Sad, just plain sad.

In my (not so humble) opinion, use your new found apparatus when you need to as the practicality argument is a strong one.  But please, please, put down the damn contraption when you have an opportunity to engage in communication with a fellow earthling.  You will feel more open, more alive … and more human.

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