The Travel Episodes

One / Saigon

Lost in Vietnam

It’s difficult for backpackers to escape the package-deal tourism industry. Philipp Laage takes a trip to Vietnam – and comes face to face with his own shortcomings.

We arrive in Saigon in the late afternoon. Steam rises from the eating houses; we’re submerged in the sound of voices and engines as the taxi crawls its way through the traffic. The houses on Bui Vien Street aren’t much to look at. Small and narrow, they’re pressed close together. Concrete on brick, a smattering of plaster, hints of green on the balcony. There are shops on the ground floor, and restaurants and bars offering middle-of-the-road fusion cuisine – ‘Vietnamese & European Food & BBQ’, ‘North & South Indian Food Halal & Vegetarian’ – mainly for the Western and Australian backpackers, who saunter around in their tank tops and flip flops, letting their shoulders swing loosely, as if they were by the sea rather than in the city. Asia – one enormous beach.
My travelling companion and I are staying in a simple hostel around the corner on Pham Ngu Lao Street, like most of the young tourists who turn up in the city. Nobody calls it Ho Chi Minh City, always Saigon. You can feel the name on your tongue like a taste of old Asia, like the gentle memory of an era you’ve never experienced. The absurd fantasy of a sentimental spirit. Even so, I just want to sit here and watch the tangled traffic as it flows past, eating pho, drinking beer and doing nothing. But of course it’s not that simple.

It’s the rainy season, and an evening thunderstorm breaks above the narrow streets; everything’s dripping. An opaque network of electricity cables criss-crosses the streets and pavements.

Scooters glide like shoals of fish over the wet asphalt, following not traffic laws but their own internal guides.

All at once, the view of the neon facades with their cheap adverts, pixelated by the rain, makes me feel incredibly melancholy. It’s our first evening in Vietnam, and it doesn’t stop raining.
It’s always the same when you travel – first you have to orientate yourself, to make the city your own, so you don’t capitulate to its size and bustle the moment you’ve finished breakfast. Our plan was to travel on foot as much as possible, which is always sensible, and only take taxis for long distances (or when the tropical climate made our temples throb, which generally happens sooner or later, especially if you’ve not had enough to drink).

We walk from the bus station to Ben Thanh market, the largest in the city. An indigo lizard darts through the grass in front of it. Schoolchildren come towards us across the field, and the girls immediately want to take photos.

‘You are handsome, but snow white,’ one of them says to my friend.

The teacher invites us to visit the school, to talk about Germany. No problem, although – well, actually, no. We don’t have time. That’s nonsense, of course, when you really think about it, but you say it anyway.

We head onwards through the traffic along Le Loi Street, then across the road. You just have to go – no-one’s going to stop for you, you learn that quickly, so you move through the people, cars and countless mopeds like a diver through a shoal of fish. Somehow, miraculously, you never actually touch anybody.

Time to jot down a few impressions. The residential architecture, plain and functional, is an extraordinary jumble: columned, three-storey kitsch in pastel green next to depressing shacks with metal gates next to clumsy modernist apartment blocks with concrete roof patios, hammocks suspended above them.

Our T-shirts are quickly soaked and there are beads of sweat on our foreheads, so we look for water (you always drink too little). Vietnam is approximately the same size as Germany, and crosses numerous climate zones as it stretches from north to south. Here in Saigon, in the south of the country, it’s always hot and humid, with the stickiness typical of the subtropics. In the north, near the Chinese border, snow falls in the winter. It’s hard to imagine.

We just walk and look, because you never know what might be interesting – that’s a charm people are slowly forgetting, I think, as a cultural skill. But if you say that you quickly get a reputation as a pessimist about progress, and bore everybody to tears.

‘Trung Nguyen Coffee’ is the Vietnamese interpretation of a Starbucks. Their ‘Mother Land Coffee’ is enhanced with ginger, honey and milk. On the prestigious Dong Khoi Boulevard, which leads down from the colonial Notre Dame cathedral to the river, are a number of old and new luxury hotels, as well as luxury boutiques – Hermès, Versace etc. Every takeaway place offers oolong tea over ice, so you can cope with going back into the sticky heat of the day.

We visit the Reunification Palace. There’s a communist tank in the square outside, and the national flag fluttering above the grass. On 30 April 1975, North Vietnamese troops forced their way into the palace and the Americans had to leave the country once and for all. It was at this moment that the ‘domino theory’ set out in US president Harry S. Truman’s famous doctrine – the practical realities of which were then unquestioningly implemented by Henry Kissinger, unnecessarily dragging out American society’s psychosis about Vietnam – finally collapsed. Vietnam, ruled for decades by foreign powers, became a socialist country.


The true goal of the war was peace, according to Richard Nixon; Vietnam still bears its traces. There’s a war museum, for instance, on the corner of Le Quy Don Street and Vo Van Tan Street, where you can see pictures of children severely deformed due to the effects of Agent Orange, and in the tunnels of Cu Chin the guerrilla tactics of the Vietcong are re-enacted like a kind of propagandistic folklore (a day trip cost us 190,000 dong – it was worth it).


Today, Saigon seems like a strange mixture of Vietnam, France and the USA, from the dishes on offer in its eateries – unbelievably tasty and good value – to the old Renaults and the main post office designed by Gustav Eiffel to the brightly lit, not-such-good-value cafes for the urban middle class. The Americans poured money into the city in order to wage their war. Saigon, of course – along with millions of individual people, each of them following their own logic – is launching itself into the future at breakneck speed.

Unlike in the West, where this certainty is increasingly being eroded, Saigon still believes that the future will bring greater prosperity for all.

You can see it in the wide-eyed children on mopeds, clinging to the backs of their parents, sisters and aunts and weaving swiftly through the alleyways, as if there’s not much time for childhood anymore.

Everywhere there’s a sense of energy, efficiency and optimism – people are friendly and goal-orientated. ‘May I help you, mister?’ ‘No problem, mister.’ In principle, the hostels can get you anything: bus tickets, day trips, foreign currency, tickets for domestic flights. It’s very convenient when, like us, you don’t have much time. Saigon charts the course for the rest of the country, raising an obvious question: is that a good or a bad thing?

In the late afternoon we find ourselves back in our neighbourhood, before it begins to rain. I’m amazed how little it disturbs me – in fact, how calming it is. The seventeen-year-old waitress in Bui Vien, where we go again this evening because the food is so delicious, is decidedly pleasant, without putting on a hypocritical show of obsequiousness. She has two jobs, she says, working in a cafe in the morning and in the restaurant from the afternoon well into the night. She never looks tired, is always cheerful, and is amused by how much we eat.

There’s no doubt Saigon has a certain magic in the evening, when it gets dark and the lights go on. The electronic billboards advertising international brands (Canon, Nikon, Sanyo) blaze above the city and its occupants, both a promise and an admonition. They shine upon the elderly people sweeping the paths in front of their shops with straw broomsticks, upon the taxi drivers with their ill-fitting shirts and doctored meters, which increase in hilariously irregular increments, and upon the prostitutes outside their bars in the Pham Ngu Lao quarter, who call after all the passers-by, ‘Where are you going?’, without realising what an existential question that is.

Where are you going?

Good question. What is there to be discovered here – not on the tourist track, but for us personally?


* * *

Two / Nha Trang


We read that the coastal city of Nha Trang was once known as the ‚Nice of the East‘. Doesn’t sound too bad. We like the idea of rambling along the coastal streets and hearing the sea breeze, so eastwards we go.

The night bus takes seven hours. The roads aren’t very good. Outside the window the sun is rising; there’s no chance of getting any more sleep, the mornings are much too bright. It’s bedlam on the street, with taxis drivers – in cars and on motorbikes – announcing their prices. We know which street the hostel is on, and soon we’re on our way.

Nha Trang is on the South China sea, and apparently has the charm of a straightforward beach resort. After three days in Saigon with its population of seven million or so, we like the idea of just going to the seaside and relaxing.

A kilometre-long sandy beach runs along the edge of the bay, with big hotels directly on the water for the mostly Russian guests, who use Nha Trang as a dirt cheap winter getaway. The comparison to Nice is an exaggeration. Nothing has grown here, it’s simply been thrown up.

Our hotel is bland and characterless. ‘New Day Hotel’, ‘Blue Sky Hotel’, ‘King Hotel’ – you forget the names immediately. We have a simple room, two beds and a bathroom with a shower, but it’s reasonably clean and the price is an absurd 15 dollars per night. There’s Wi-Fi, of course, like everywhere in Vietnam designed for tourists.

After we’ve had some rest, we walk along the promenade in the midday heat, but it’s so warm that we decide to postpone our swim until the morning. We just wander around for a while, as if it will lead to something happening quite naturally, as in fact it often does. Judging by the heavy clouds above the mountains in the hinterland, it’s going to rain.

We visit a temple sacred to the Cham people, an ancient culture who were largely driven out of Vietnam, and the Long Son Pagoda with its fourteen-metre-high white Buddha, who gazes enigmatically out across the city’s harbour. In a tiny shop owned by an elderly man, electric guitars hang on the walls, but it’s otherwise empty apart from a fridge and a few plastic chairs. We drink Coca-Cola and stare out into the thunderstorm that’s now drawing across the bay.

‘I am Russian, but I don’t like Russian people,’ declares the beauty at the beach bar. We order gin and tonics, as if nothing else will hit the spot. ‘See this guy,’ she says, pointing to a man, ‘he talked to me like he was my friend.’ The next morning we try chatting to some Russian holidaymakers on the beach – about football, of course – but they can’t speak a word of English, so we run out of things to say.

Maybe the Russians have the right idea – just heading out into the sun, wanting nothing more than to get a tan and show it off when they get home.

But you have to be very wise or very dull to just lie on a deckchair all afternoon without talking or reading or doing anything else.

All at once I have no idea what I’m even doing in Nha Trang. There are certainly thousands of places in the world that are more beautiful. The dazzlingly white beach, the high-rise blocks, the shops and restaurants along the streets – it’s an anonymous coastal town with all the touristic appeal of a holiday village on the Costa Brava, pockmarked with ugly buildings.

What to do? We drink coffee and talk. The day passes slowly. Another coffee, more talking. About ‘life’ and the states of mind it brings, about how this and that work out, where you think you’ve come from – metaphorically speaking – where you are now and where you want to go. All legitimate, all perfectly understandable. But that way you don’t let the outside world into your head – you’re cast back inside yourself, your thoughts gridlocked.

You need to be interested in the world, not in yourself – that’s how we should continue our trip, I think, as I sit on the beach in Nha Trang and time drags itself onwards like a man dying of thirst in the desert.


* * *

Three / Hoi An

Trip Advisor 2014 Winner

On the north-south axis between Saigon and Hanoi, the small town of Hoi An is said to be definitely worth a visit. We’re curious, so we travel on up the coast.

Hoi An is approximately 500 kilometres further north. Our journey there on the night bus is not as restless as last time, but perhaps that’s because at some point a profound sense of exhaustion sets in, which eventually overcomes us. We’d like to get out there and really do something, but we’re just so incredibly tired that first we look for somewhere to stay. At eight o’clock in the morning, the day is already boiling hot.

We decide on a boutique hotel, which, according to various travel blogs, caters to the needs of so-called ‘flashpackers’ – people who travel with backpacks, but feel a certain sense of entitlement as to comfort and ambience. The room in ‘Phu Thinh 2’ costs 55 dollars per night. We have a balcony, with a view over the distant mountains and a neatly laid-out pool.

Hoi An is a small museum. Except there’s nothing to exhibit.

No-one would think that the city had once been a significant centre for trade in East Asia. Today in the tourist centre there are a few isolated old Chinese department stores with colourfully adorned gables, statues of dragons, decorations, incense sticks, shrines and ornamental ponds (you can buy a ticket that gets you into all of them), and many other places, above all restaurants, cafes, bars, souvenir shops and countless tailors. All tourists get dirt cheap bespoke suits and dresses made here, but we’re not really in the mood to be measured.

We walk through the narrow streets. Once again we’re wondering what exactly there is to do. Searching for something when we don’t really know what it is we’re looking for doesn’t work, of course. In the afternoon we stop by the market square. There’s the same sense of unease at not being able to get a handle on things.

The rain beats down again on the asphalt. The women, their stalls on wheels, immediately take out plastic capes.

We do nothing in Hoi An but walk and eat. While this is fine elsewhere, because there’s a particular atmosphere in effect, a sense of the place as a whole, Hoi An is an empty husk. Of course, this feeling is partly down to having flown about 12 hours and spent half a day on the bus in order to get here.

When you talk to other travellers or read what they’ve written online, you often hear that Hoi An is the city they ‘liked the best’. Maybe that’s because there are Chinese lanterns lit along the banks of the Thu Bon at night, and they think this creates a ‘magical’ atmosphere. We don’t know.

In the evening we sit by the river and watch people coming and going. On the small peninsula on the other side there are lots of bars serving strong mixed drinks. They’re full of people in muscle shirts and hot pants, the dress code of the dedicated hedonist. They’re not unwelcome here.

Hoi An’s sole purpose, it seems, is so that tourists with short attention spans can saunter through and spend their money. It really doesn’t matter what’s on offer in the countless restaurants: spaghetti, pizza, baguettes, croissants, burgers and – naturally – real ‘Vietnamese cuisine’, which of course isn’t as good as actual Vietnamese cuisine, of the sort you can find in the side streets of Saigon, for instance.

Hoi An’s Vietnamese inhabitants have organised the business very effectively. You communicate what you want, someone makes a quick call, and immediately everything is arranged: the laundry, the trip to the Marble Mountains, the bike rental, the plane ticket. Hoi An is a well-oiled tourism machine, a fine calculation. The traveller takes on the role of consumer lock, stock and barrel. It’s an amusement park designed for backpacking tourists on all-inclusive holidays, an increasingly common phenomenon across the whole of South East Asia.


Hoi An also bears witness to the ‘tripadvisoration’ of a place that is supposedly a spontaneous traveller’s paradise. In every front window hangs a certificate with a rating based on the opinions of modern globetrotters, who are already booking their next hostel on their iPads. You ask yourself, when you see another guest house that’s a ‘Trip Advisor 2014 Winner’, what that’s actually supposed to mean. This proliferation of recommendations, probably self-printed, makes them lose all effectiveness as adverts. The man at the reception desk in our hotel nonetheless asks us to mention him on Trip Advisor by name.

It’s a pity that the authenticity of the place is somehow missing, even though I can’t exactly put into words what I mean by that. Suddenly I feel ridiculous, seeking an unspoilt adventure in such an thoroughly kitschy confection of a city. I’m annoyed with my own expectations.

But we’ve discovered nothing new on this journey. We’ve followed the well-trodden tourist track northwards, too ignorant or too passive to do anything else. And anyway, what’s wrong with that? When you follow the crowd you find company easily. Ultimately we, too, are just two pleasure-seeking Europeans with overly sentimental temperaments and 600 dollars’ worth of cold, hard cash in our pockets, taking advantage of the price differences in an emerging, but still comparatively very cheap, country in order to drink ourselves into a contented haze in the evening sun.

And yet I’m feeling wistful, aware of a vague sense of dissatisfaction.

Our focus turns to the next step of our journey: Hanoi, the centre of the north. We hope to find some sort of authenticity there, some part of old Vietnam that has been preserved, that’s not yet on the way – like the boomtown Saigon – to becoming a new Bangkok.


* * *

Four / Hanoi

Celebrating on the Red River

Every visitor to Vietnam longs to see Hanoi – perhaps, at the back of their minds, as a subconscious refuge. We arrive by plane.

Finally, Hanoi – the characterful, culturally ambitious city. I was imagining peaceful little streets, gables, ornamental trees and cobblestones. I found something else entirely: boxy buildings, like in Saigon (though somehow more beautiful in their disorder), more electricity cables, more entropy, thousands of businesses, thousands of scooters.

We get room in a hostel in the old town, north of the Hoan Kiem Lake. The nondescript house fronts narrowly onto the street, like all the other buildings. The reception’s at the front, with a few windows, while at the back are the bedrooms, kitchen, inner courtyard, staircase and work areas.

The old town is more or less Hanoi’s main attraction. There are 36 streets, each named after the craft guild they belong to – in other words, what wares used to be sold here, and sometimes still are. In one street they only sell baskets, in another only spices, and so on.

But Hanoi, too, is in the midst of an extraordinary transformation. The facades of the houses are older at the top than at the bottom. In the upper storeys are tiny apartments with even tinier balustrades, clothes hanging up to dry on the cables, the stonework looking incredibly decayed. On the lower level are cafes like the ‘Hollywood’, modern restaurants, travel agents, souvenir shops, snack bars and hostels.


The old town doesn’t look like an old town, at least not to our eyes. We eat pho in small, tiled kitchens with plastic cartons full of chicken parts. There are sheer silk napkins on the tables, but it’s impossible to get your hands clean with them. Young people in fake Nike gear sit outside on stools and eat soup. They take out their smartphones and sit in silence.

We meet a German man in a tank top and baseball cap in Ly Quoc Sur Street, who tells us that in the evenings all the foreigners gather in Ma May Street in front of the ‘Hanoi Backpackers’. We’re still rather disorientated, so we bear this tip in mind for later.

In the afternoons the streets are still thronged with people. You amble along the pavement, get out of the way, cross the street – the traffic’s crazy. There’s nothing even approaching a pedestrian zone. The shops are crammed with electronic gadgets, baskets, carvings, chairs and tables, bowls with mother-of-pearl inlay, statuettes of the Buddha, toys and knick-knacks. An artist in his workshop is copying paintings by Botero and van Gogh.

In the evening we head over to Ma May. It’s full of people – English, German, Australian, a young man from Dubai and six Africans from Benin, who are calmly lighting up a joint as if they were relaxing outside their front door in some housing project, although they’ll certainly be well off.

People are drinking and chatting on the pavements. Efficient Vietnamese women are serving the foreigners with beer and schnapps – a large vodka costs 80,000 dong, a small one 40,000.

This pub crawl happens every evening. In a first-floor disco, about a hundred metres from ‘Hanoi Backpackers’, they’re playing music for people to sing along to. The genre doesn’t matter – it could be anything from 50 Cent’s ‘In Da Club’ to ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis. There are people making out in the corner booths. Then it’s over. A few Vietnamese people on motorbikes lead the way to the Red River, where the party’s going to continue.

On the riverbank there’s a club that’s apparently illegal (though it can’t really be). It’s a brick shell, a DJ, a bar and a small outdoor area. This is generally where people go to pick someone up.

Two Swiss women have their sights set on us, but we’re not available, which, to be honest, makes staying in a place like this a bit pointless.

Suddenly the German man from Ly Quoc Sur Street appears. When we met him earlier in the day we thought he seemed well-travelled, with a good instinct for how to bring each day to a satisfactory conclusion. He comes towards us, alone, and says he isn’t good at ‘cold calling’. He babbles like an idiot trying to impress the Swiss women. The conversation grinds to a halt, and at some point he leaves. It’s tragic – he’s thousands of kilometres away from Germany, and he’s after nothing more than a one night stand.

The air by the river is still clammy when we decide to go back to the hostel. What did we realise today? Vietnam is a bit like Mallorca, only with monsoons and mosquitoes.


* * *

Five / Halong Bay

Stormy Seas

Halong Bay is on the coast, four hours from Hanoi. The bay, with its ancient cliffs, is considered the most beautiful destination in Vietnam. It’s impossible to leave out.

We take a trip to the famous Halong Bay, according to everything we’ve read one of the country’s greatest attractions, the setting for a James Bond film, and the highlight of every visit to Vietnam. Travelling by boat across the bay, past its limestone monoliths, makes us think of the goatee-wearing seafarers who once smuggled opium over the sea in their junks. It would make a decent setting for a pirate film.

Halong is only accessible as part of a package, including a bus trip from Hanoi, a boat tour and a night on board the ship. We took a while to decide which option was worth the money, and – as we shall see – we made the wrong choice.

After two hours the bus stops at the halfway point, where there’s an enormous souvenir market. Here they want travellers to buy factory-made handicrafts, vases four metres high and life-size porcelain tigers (how on earth are you supposed to transport them?), laughing Buddhas made of industrial plastic, bowls, dishes and table mats. The trip to Halong is also a mini shopping expedition, then.

At the harbour we head past umpteen tourist groups towards our boat.

We travel out to sea past the first rocky islands, which jut out from the water, part of an enormous limestone plateau that’s slowly sinking beneath us.

They’ve gradually been washed away underneath, so they look as if they’re floating on the surface – as if, commanded by some angry and capricious god, they might somehow move towards each other and simply crush ships between them.

Our tour is kept to a strict schedule. We begin the afternoon by going swimming for an hour in a bay. We all troop off the ship, then all troop back on again. Then we go canoeing. After our evening meal there’s karaoke, which is indescribably irritating. The programme for the next morning is as follows: a visit to a cave, then a pearl farm where you’re welcome – do come on in! – to buy some jewellery to take home with you. Mist hangs above the cliffs as raindrops pummel the sea like gunfire.


As we’re returning to the harbour, the storm clouds once again loom threateningly above us. I go on deck and look out to sea as we drift along, listening to the rain.

The dimensions of the horizon are colossal, the rocky islands as big as houses, yet – when seen from here – tiny in comparison to the towering clouds above, huge honeycombs in shades of blue, grey, slate and white, piled on top of each other. The storm draws into view from the left, like a dark mass that swallows everything up. The few boats on the water look as if their end is nigh.

Nature herself performs the most impressive piece of theatre, not our tour guide, who just repeats the same banal phrases over and over. The most beautiful moment occurs when the actual programme of events is already over.

Perhaps this is exactly the problem when you decide to travel through Vietnam in two weeks.

Hanoi is where we end our journey. From here my companion is heading home, while I’m travelling to Cambodia. We’ll spend one more evening sitting in Bui Vien Street, and on the way there the prostitutes will ask us, ‘Where are you going?’

Is that a question you can ever really answer?

For now the question remains – what did we, personally, find in Vietnam (other, of course, than time for the kind of good conversation that can only be had with close friends, but for which we so rarely find time at home)? Or were we simply lost in Vietnam, lost in ourselves and in our expectations of this country, which wants so much to leave its past behind it and wake up tomorrow as a new Malaysia, a new Singapore?

We didn’t know what we wanted, so we simply took things as they came – a package-deal tourism industry, a country that provides an exotic setting for pleasure-seeking holidaymakers’ clumsy antics, a place where each holiday is supposedly spontaneous and unique, but which has become a thoroughly commercial product.

Was it a wasted journey? When you’re constantly part of something that at best you can’t really access and at worst you actively disapprove of, wouldn’t you be better off just going somewhere else? But what is it like there?

Maybe. But there’s a certain charm to observing reality as it truly is. It makes categories like ‘beautiful’, ‘picturesque’ and ‘authentic’ inadequate. All these qualities apply to Vietnam, but only to a certain extent.

In itself that’s not a problem – it’s just inconvenient if you only come to fully realise it at the end of your journey.


* * *

Translation by Caroline Waight

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Towards Winter

Notes from a cold water swimmer

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An Episode by

Run Travel Grow

Philipp Laage

Philipp Laage is travel editor at the German Press Agency (DPA) and runs Runtravelgrow, his own blog. The last remaining blank spots on the world map are particularily tempting for him. The mountains are where he feels most at home.

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  • Lea on 11. Dezember 2014

    Schön erzählt! Ich erkenne da viel wieder.

    • Philipp Laage on 7. Januar 2015

      Danke, Lea.

      Liebe Grüße, Philipp

  • Tim on 11. Dezember 2014

    Toll erzählt und zusammen mit den Videos und Bildern ein sehr lebendiger Lesefluß. Danke für das Auffrischen der Erinnerung.

    • Philipp Laage on 7. Januar 2015

      Vielen Dank!

  • Felix Windisch on 12. Dezember 2014

    Toll geschriebene Erzählungen mit einem wahren Kern, insgesamt aber vielleicht ein bisschen zu pessimistisch.
    Ich war vor 2,5 Jahren für 3 Wochen in Vietnam und habe ähnliche kommerzialisierte Dinge wie auch packend schöne Dinge erlebt! Reinfälle wie Kaffefahrten, die als Tagesausflug ins Mekong-Delta verkauft werden gehörten genauso dazu wie unbeschreibliche Landschaft in der Gegend um Nha Trang, die man aber nur mit dem eigenen Moped erleben konnte! Viel Spaß in Kambodscha, ein schönes und durch die grausame Geschichte auch irgendwie verstörendes Land!

    • Episode Gast on 7. Januar 2015

      Es kommt sicher immer auf die eigenen Vorerfahrungen an und natürlich auf die Haltung, die man hat, aber ich würde im Rückblick wohl Sri Lanka jederzeit vorziehen.

  • Angelika on 12. Dezember 2014

    Ich bin auch erst vor 2 Wochen aus Vietnam heimgekommen. Meine Pics, Videos und Eindrücke ähneln den Euren :-)


    Danke – schönes Layout!

    • Philipp Laage on 7. Januar 2015

      Unsere Erfahrungen mit den Sleeping Bussen waren nicht ganz so schlimm. ;-)

  • Stefanie D. on 14. Dezember 2014

    Schön geschrieben, lieber Philipp!

    Auch wenn die Geschichte nicht unbedingt den Erwartungen entspricht, mit denen man an eine Reisegschichte von Saigon nach Hanaoi heran geht. Beide Orte klingen so wohltuend und „liegen auf der Zunge wie ein angenehmer Geschmack des alten Asiens“, wie du schreibst. Aber wahrscheinlich hast Du Recht: Wir sollten nicht immer mit vorgefertigten Erwartungen an ferne Reisen in exotische Länder rangehen, sondern die Fremde einfach auf uns wirken lassen, damit sie uns in den Bann reißt. Meinen Eindruck von Vietnam muss ich mir auf jeden Fall noch selbst machen.

    Viel Spaß erst einmal auf deiner nächsten Reise nach Kambodscha! Wenn du ein bisschen Inspiration brauchst, schau mal auf smile4travel vorbei: http://smile4travel.de/gallerycat/kambodscha/

    Viele Grüße

    • Philipp Laage on 7. Januar 2015

      Wahrscheinlich hängt es wirklich mit den eigenen Erwartungen zusammen. Ich hatte mir Vietnam noch wesentlich ursprünglicher vorgestellt, eben auch in Saigon oder Hanoi, auch wenn das natürlich knallharte Touristenziele sind. Liebe Grüße, Philipp

  • Q.N. Thi on 15. Dezember 2014

    Schade, dass Eure Reise so ein Reinfall (wortwörtlich) war, ihr scheint nämlich in die Touristenfalle getappt zu sein, von Saigon bis Hanoi. Dabei hat das Land wirklich viel mehr zu bieten. Ein kleiner Tipp: Ein guter Vietnam Reiseführer (am besten den von Stefan Loose) lesen lesen lesen, um genau solche Orte zu vermeiden, wenn man keine Souvenirs kaufen möchte und andere Touristen aus dem Weg gehen möchte.

    • Philipp Laage on 7. Januar 2015

      Naja, ein Reinfall ist eine Reise nie, finde ich, solange man nicht beklaut oder ausgeraubt wird. Mich hat gewundert, dass die Ziele, die immerhin als die Highlights in Vietnam angepriesen werden, letztlich meine Erwartungen doch deutlich unterlaufen haben. Da fragt man sich natürlich, wo die wahren Perlen verborgen liegen (wir haben sie wohl nicht gefunden). Viele Grüße, Philipp

  • Alex Sefrin on 18. Dezember 2014

    Schöne Bilder, toller Text, aber sehr pessimistisch!
    Genau wie in Thailand auch, kann man in Vietnam gut organisiert durchs Land reisen. Aber das muss jeder für sich entscheiden, ob er sich auf dieser Welle durchs Land tragen lässt. Wir hatten eine ähnliche Reiseroute, aber mit ein paar Abstechern mehr und haben zu jeder Gelegenheit die ausgetretenen Pfade verlassen, was uns viele unvergessliche Erinnerung beschert hat. Aber vielleicht waren die Menschen damals noch nicht so abgestumpft vom Tourismus.

    • Philipp Laage on 7. Januar 2015

      Vielleicht ist es einfach sehr verlockend, den ausgetretenen Pfaden zu folgen, wenn sie so gut durchorganisiert sind. Aber Halong zum Beispiel lässt sich ja gar nicht auf eigene Faust erkunden (und es ist immerhin DAS Highlight, wenn man den Meinungen vieler Vietnam-Reisender glauben schenken will). Liebe Grüße, Philipp

  • Stefan Leistner on 21. Dezember 2014

    Hallo Philipp, da seid ihr leider in alle Touristenfallen hinein, die möglich sind. Ihr hättet Euch vielleicht wirklich vorher mehr mit den Städten befassen sollen. Wenn man sich innerhalb der Backpacker-„Zirkel“ bewegt, ist es natürlich schwierig. Die Vietnamesen sind geschäftstüchtig und haben ihre „Angebote“ genau auf diese Zielgruppe abgestimmt.
    Wir waren bereits 12x in Vietnam, habe alle Länder Südostasiens gesehen und lieben dieses Land und seine Menschen. In Nha Trang z.B. muss ich natürlich weg vom Strand, weg vom Backpacker- und Surferviertel und hinein in die eigentliche Stadt. Hier gibt es dann keine Touristen mehr, schöne Märkte und gutes Street Food. Auch ein Ausflug am Fluss entlang ins Hinterland ist ein Traum. Hoi An hat einen wunderschönen Strand und die Stadt muss man frühmorgens um 7:00 erleben, bevor der Touristenstrom kommt. Hanoi morgens und abends um den Hoan Kiem See, die Gegend um den Westsee mit ihren morbiden Prachtbauten aus der Kolonialzeit und natürlich das französische Viertel. Und für die Halongbucht gibt es auch preiswerte Anbieter, die das ganze noch individuell organisieren – muss man aber von Deutschland aus buchen (z.B. Green Tiger). Wenn ihr Lust habt lest mal in unserem Foodblog.

    • Philipp Laage on 7. Januar 2015

      Hallo Stefan, danke für deine Tipps! Ich sehe deinen Punkt total, möchte aber doch widersprechen: Hoi An fand ich einfach museal und uninteressant, auch früh morgens. Und wir haben in Hanoi ganz in der Nähe des Hoan-Kiem-Sees gepennt. Was mich in der Stadt eher verwundert hat, waren die anderen westlichen Reisenden (denen wir uns ja auch angeschlossen haben, also keine Beschwerde in diesem Punkt). Wie oben geschrieben, Sri Lanka hat mir wesentlich besser gefallen. Viele Grüße, Philipp

  • Henrik on 29. Dezember 2014

    >Kategorien wie „schön“, „malerisch“ und „authentisch“ greifen dann nicht.
    > All diese Attribute treffen nur eingeschränkt auf Vietnam zu.

    Das kann ich nicht nachvollziehen. Jedes Land hat „schöne“ und „malerische“ Flecken, da ist Vietnam keine Ausnahme. Meine Reiseerfahrung lehrt mich: Die „schönen“ und „malerischen“ Flecken eines Landes finden sich nur selten auf den ausgetretenen Pfaden und in touristischen Hochburgen. Und die habt ihr auf dieser Reise eindeutig besucht.

    Und „authentisch“? Erwartet ihr wirklich in diesen touristischen Hochburgen das Alltagsleben eines durchschnittlichen Vietnamesen zu finden? Dort ist Vietnam genauso „authentisch“ wie jedes beliebige andere Land, einschließlich Deutschland.

    >Es ist schwierig, dem Backpacker-Pauschaltourismus zu entkommen.

    Das ist doch Unsinn, ihr habt es ja gar nicht erst probiert! Dem Backpacker-Strom zu entrinnen ist mit etwas Überwindung eigentlich überall sehr einfach.
    Schmeißt das nächste Mal den Lonely Planet weg, schnappt euch einen Scooter und macht eure eigenen Erfahrungen abseits des Stroms. Fahrt durch das (malerische und schöne) ländliche Mekong Delta, durch die wunderbaren Bergwelten entlang des Ho Chi Minh-Pfades oder einfach nur ein wenig aus den touristischen Zonen raus (was in der Regel gar nicht lange dauert). Alternativ könnt ihr auch lokale Kurzstreckenbusse nehmen (in die sich nur selten ein Tourist verirrt) oder euch im Hitchhiken versuchen. Möglichkeiten dem Strom zu entfliehen gibt es wirklich genug! :)

    Unsere Erfahrungen im (untouristischen) Vietnam waren auf jeden Fall sehr gegensätzlich.
    Hier Bilder unseres Motorrad-Trips von Saigon nach Hanoi:
    Und noch einige Bilder aus dem ländlichen Mekong Delta (Nähe Tra Vinh):

    Viele Grüße aus Kolumbien!

    • Philipp Laage on 7. Januar 2015

      Wenn man mit dem Motorrad von Saigon nach Hanoi fährt, ist das natürlich ein ganz anderes Erlebnis. Wir hatten nur zwei Wochen, wir wollten uns die allseits bekannten Highlights anschauen (nicht umsonst sind es die Highlights, oder?), und die waren eben seeeeehr touristisch.

      Natürlich kannst du in jedem Land einfach von Dorf zu Dorf ziehen und wirst deine persönlichen, interessanten Erfahrungen machen. Aber als Vietnam-Anfänger machst du natürlich erst mal die klassische Route – und die fand ich extrem durchkommerzialisiert.

      Aber wie der Text ja auch ein bisschen rüberbringen soll, war es auch uns, den Touristenpfaden zu entfliehen, und wir haben es nicht gut hinbekommen (von daher ist die Kritik berechtigt). Ich würde aber trotzdem bei meinem Fazit bleiben: Wenn ich ein malerisch-schönes Reiseland in Südostasien suche, dann würde ich – nun – nicht mehr Vietnam wählen.

  • Denise und Philipp on 8. Januar 2015

    Hallo Philipp, der Bericht ist wirklich interessant. Auch wir waren Anfang letztes Jahres, als Kick-Off unserer Weltreise, in Südostasien. Vietnam war definitiv ein besonderer Fleck auf dieser Erde, vor allem durch die Vietnamesen die wir getroffen haben. Aber es gibt natürlich immer Momente die nicht Perfekt sind, auch wenn wir uns beim Busunternehmen vergriffen haben – wir können auf jeden Fall eine Zugfahrt empfehlen um das Land zu entdecken. Am Ende hat uns hat der Kontrast begeistert – Saigon war vielerorts sehr westlich und Hanoi eher traditionell. Und bei der Halong Bay, tja, da hilft manchmal nur ein glückliches Händchen. Falls Ihr noch ein paar andere Eindrücke braucht schaut gerne bei uns vorbei – http://www.upnaway.de. Unsere Reise ist zwar gerade zu Ende, Aber nach der Reise ist ja bekanntlich vor der Reise. In diesem Sinne, weiter so!

  • Join Our Journey on 16. Januar 2015

    Wunderbar geschrieben! Sitzen gerade in Hoi An und erkennen unsere eigenen Gedanken zur Stadt wider. Wir durchqueren das Land von Süd nach Nord mit dem Motorrad und haben gerade in der letzten Woche in den Highlands aber auch das komplette Gegenteil erlebt, dort haben wir ein völlig untouristisches und authentisches Vietnam gesehen. Viele Grüße!

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  • thomas on 30. April 2015

    Ich bin völlig begeistert von Eurer Website! Layout und Video/Bild-Text Komposition sind top und in wunderbarem Gleichgewicht!
    Den kritischen und tendenziell negativen Grundton, der sich durch alle Berichte zieht, finde ich allerdings schade. Die Beschreibung trifft zwar weitgehend zu, ist aber auch nur ein kleines Schlaglicht dessen, was sonst noch, insbesondere in Hanoi, zu sehen und erleben ist. Die Touristen und die Erfahrung mit ihnen, finde ich, sind nicht eine Silbe wert.

  • Chris on 17. Mai 2015

    Super Artikel, ihr habt es echt auf den Punkt gebracht. Ich glaube so geht es vielen Reisenden, die durch das wirkliche „Reisen“ auch an anderen Dingen interessiert sind, wie einen komfortablen Touristenpfad entlangzufahren. Der Pauschaltourismus-Backpacker bringt es eben auf den Punkt. Was ist Backpacking? Es ist ein sehr dehnbarer Begriff geworden. Dazu gehören eben Menschen, die durch geringes Gepäck versuchen ein Land authentisch und abenteuerlich zu erleben und auch diese Menschen, die für 3 Monate nach Südostasien fliegen um dort möglichst günstig zu trinken, zu feiern und Frauen abzuschleppen. Muss man dafür um die halbe Welt fliegen? Und wenn sie dann zurück kommen erzählen sie, wie einzigartig die Kulturen dort waren, während sie ausschließlich in internationalen Hostelketten mit Gleichgesinnten einen drauf gemacht haben.
    Das hat mich in Vietnam auch gestört. Man merkt, wie die Menschen dort auf den Tourismus fixiert sind. Es gibt kaum Möglichkeiten, individuell sich durchzuschlagen, außer man ist eben mit dem Bike zum Beispiel unterwegs. Und dadurch, dass man immer in die „Touristenhochburgen“ abgeschoben wird, erlebt man Vietnam kaum authentisch. Die Erwartungen jedoch waren anders, da die meisten Leute immer so begeistert von diesem Land waren.

  • Iwer on 16. Dezember 2015

    Hi Philipp,
    tolle Seite, sowohl technisch als auch inhaltlich!

    Gruß Iwer

  • Laura on 1. Juli 2016

    Schöne Geschichte, viele Gedanken, die ich auch hatte. Und doch insgesamt so anders als meine Vietnam-Erfahrungen. Ich werde nämlich gleich ganz sehnsüchtig, wenn ich die Videos sehe. Deinen Eindruck von Hoi An unterschreibe ich aber sofort. Und diese ewige Suche nach Authentizität, das ist auch so eine Sache, die ich versuche mir abzugewöhnen. Vielleicht braucht Vietnam auch mehr Zeit als 2 Wochen? Ach, keine Ahnung. Kann man beim Reisen nicht einfach auch das Reisen genießen? Eben mit allen nicht-schönen Dingen, einfach, weil sie so sind, wie sie sind und nicht wie „erwartet“ oder wie „Zuhause“?

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