When my wife and I traveled Bangkok and Chiang Mai, there was nothing that outstanding about the famous Thai food and traffic infrastructure. While their transport system is indeed years ahead of Vietnam, I don’t think that’s the reason why tourism in Vietnam pales compared to our regional neighbor.
What impressed me the most was the hospitality and friendliness of Thai people. When we crossed the street, cars always made way for us in the politest ways. We spent six days in Thailand, but I barely heard horns honking, even though traffic jams were a frequent occurrence.
I love traveling, so I have already been to many places in Vietnam. I have met so many good people. Some were willing to let me trail behind them on my motorbike as I didn’t know the way to Ha Giang. There was one time when I traveled to Dien Bien and I stopped by a small restaurant for a bowl of plain rice. The owner did not charge me for the meal as there were no side dishes available. And there was the time I biked from Saigon to Go Cong, where the people gave me bananas as gifts and told the kids to get me a stool to rest my legs.
I say this to demonstrate that Vietnamese people are not bad at all. It’s just that good words don’t get around enough, so people don’t always learn about others’ good behaviors.
But Vietnamese people’s sense of community duty is not always high, and that leads to bad behaviors like overpricing for short-term gains, instead of working towards the long-term goals that serve the interest of the whole nation. This needs to be fixed through education and strong-enough deterrents from bad behaviors.
Another good thing about Thai tourism is consistent pricing. When I traveled from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, I barely saw prices increase because Thai people are already used to doing business with foreigners. After over a week of traveling by myself had passed, I had spent barely ฿10,000 ($290.05).
Meanwhile, when I traveled from north to south of Vietnam, I saw the mess we were making of local tourism. Businesses try to force customers buy their products, and prices are not controlled. That’s a bad look, for both domestic and international travelers.
In 2014, when I went to Hanoi and bought a loaf of bread by the roadside, I was charged VND25,000 (US$1.20 then), which was awfully expensive at the time. There was nothing special about that bread. That way of doing business causes more harm than good in the long run. That is why Vietnam’s tourism has such a bad reputation, even with our own people.
We all know such things won’t change overnight, not when our foundation for education remains undeveloped and uncoordinated. Vietnam has all the resources we need to stand side by side with other countries when it comes to doing tourism. The only thing that matters is whether we are willing to make bold changes to the way we do things.