Why I will always return to Vietnam

As a contributor who touched off a bit of controversy myself in City Diary last year with

“What’s Wrong with Tourism in Vietnam”

I shouldn’t be too hasty in joining others to throw rocks at the on-line Huffington Post’s travel writer Matt Kepnes for his recent piece entitled

“Why I’ll never return to Vietnam” .

While I’ve certainly had some bad experiences in Vietnam over the years, including almost losing my Buddha and golden chain to a motorbike-riding thief in a non-touristy part of HCM last year, I am not about to say good-bye to a country and culture that’s been part of my entire adult life.

No place is perfect.

But few places in the world are as enticing and exciting as Vietnam.

You’ve got to roll with the punches.

I have the impression that – for whatever reason – Mr Kepnes arrived in Vietnam with quite a “negative attitude” in the first place.

He had one bad experience as everyone does, even the Vietnamese, and was cranky for the rest of his trip. The examples he cites are unbelievably trivial.

(Just how “kẹo” or cheap is this guy to complain about chocolate lollies for change?)

He clearly exaggerates and uses dripping sarcasm to deliberately provoke the outcry – and publicity – he has now received.

Frankly, I am surprised that a reputable publication like the Huff Post would even run such an unbalanced piece – and four years after his last visit.

If he doesn’t want to return, that’s no loss to Vietnam, believe me.

Sadly, there’s always been a real arrogance among many foreigners who come to Vietnam.

They don’t understand even the most basic aspects of the country’s long culture and history.

(No, the entire country was not napalmed, Mr Kepnes.)

They expect people to be humble and subservient.

That’s the last thing you’ll from the Vietnamese!

The best way to start interacting with Vietnamese is a simple nod and a smile, perhaps a short wave.

They judge by your face.

Your body-language.

But if you walk up all demanding and angry, you’ve already lost them.

Of course, they’ll rip you off.

I know the Vietnamese language has a reputation as hard to learn, especially with all those tones.

But with a few well-practiced expressions, plus a knowledge of numbers, no one should get ripped off.

If you are that worried about how much your “café đá,” or iced coffee, or plastic bag of “soda chanh đường” or poor Mr Kepnes’ Mekong Delta speciality will cost, then ask when you order!

And never think you are singled out for being a foreigner.

Even Vietnamese have to bargain and they also get ripped off.

It’s all part of the game.

Still, as I pointed out in last year’s piece, Vietnamese really do need to improve the quality and friendliness of service in the hospitality industry.

Hotel staff can be downright arrogant to their customers, like we are doing them a favour even staying at their establishment.


By Tuoi Tre Online


One thought on “Why I will always return to Vietnam

  1. Totally agree with you on everything except one point – that HuffPo is a “reputable” publication. It’s widely known that they don’t pay their writers so bloggers intentionally do controversial ‘link bait’ posts such as that one to pull traffic to HuffPo and then to their blog. It’s a shame the post has got so much attention. Personally, we had a wonderful time in Vietnam, never got ripped off, found people to be very friendly, and will be returning this year. I’m a travel writer and I meet travellers day day out and the overwhelming feedback on Vietnam is that it’s an amazing country – extraordinary cuisine, culture, landscapes, and people. Matt is most certainly the exception in my experience.

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