I first came to Vietnam 12 years ago. At that time I was backpacking with a girlfriend. Vietnamese people joke around with the expression same same, which they use a lot to express the fact that things are pretty much the same no matter how you look at them: a restaurant here is same same as the other one across the street. You want to give them $3 for a tee shirt and they’ll answer: “give me $5 for it, same same“…. Well, Vietnam is not same same if you ask me.
It’s not same same with the other countries that we visited in SE Asia this past month. People are so much rougher here than they were in Burma, Thailand or Cambodia, the same roughness that you often feel when dealing with Chinese people (sorry for making a generalization). Smiles are clearly not as abundant either, and business comes first. Prices are steep in Vietnam, and it’s not so easy to find pleasant, charming hotels for a good deal, such as the wonderful guesthouse we had in Chiang Mai, or the FCC in Siem Reap.
It’s not same same as when I came 13 years ago either. The country has gone through an economic boom, there’s construction everywhere and places don’t look the same anymore. It was particularly shocking in the Mekong Delta, where we took an overnight boat trip to celebrate Marcelo’s 5th birthday. From Ho CHi Minh City (ex-Saigon) to the delta, a 3-hour drive, it was building and houses non-stop. And now in Hoi An, the center of this world-heritage Unesco town is full of tourist shops and cafes. Pitty, I want to say…but I don’t see the poverty that I remembered either. So if I am not such a happy tourist anymore, Vietnamese are most likely happier.
And it’s not same same to come here with 2 young children. Back then, I was free-spirited, traveling light and with just a few savings in my pocket. This time around, we have Marcelo 5 years old, and Amalya 22 months stealing the show. We don’t interact with people in the same way. I used to stay in dirt cheap places, travel by bus and eat a lot of street food. Now it’s more about finding comfortable and clean places for the family. Naturally, we’re not able to be as much in touch with the local people. I can’t complain though, it’s just a different experience all together.