Our not entirely positive (and very subjective!) impression of Laos was mainly due to the mixed experience we had with its people. The way the people treat us crucially forms our image and makes us liking or disliking a country.
To be honest, when we entered Vietnam we were a bit concerned in terms of people, too. Vietnam is supposed to be one of those ‘Marmite’ countries – either you like it or hate it (although its hard to generalize and can never ever be an objective assessing). What we read and heard wasn’t positive completely – rudeness, getting ripped-off, blunt and obtrusive curiosity, annoying honking are some of the things travelers complain about.
Now, after the first week in Vietnam, we were able to form our own picture – and it definitely calls our recently gained prejudices into question, especially people wise.
There was, for instance, that peasant who invited us to sit out a heavy shower in his house, serving us tea. Thanks to google-translate we were even able to have a basic conversation.
In two occasions we weren’t able to find a guesthouse (in the later case, everything was booked out due to a festival in the little town), but people unselfishly offered their help without being asked and finally found a place to stay for us.
Then, there was a group of (rather young) medical students in search for a conversation to practise their English skills. There are many more little nice incidents (e.g. not charging anything for drinking water) that make us feel quite welcome here. In general, the Vietnamese just like the Thais, tend to smile a lot, seem more vivid altogether, and we draw a lot of attention from people along the road. To be honest, however, we sometimes get a bit tired of all the waving and greeting ;).
And, indeed, Vietnamese are curious. For instance, we were being watched very attentively eating in some occasions. Or, in two occasions, our guest house mom entered our room without knocking. In one case she peered into our room just for fun and I had to tell her firmly, that everything is ok and I want to relax on my bed without further supervision.
Now, entering Vietnam did not only mean a change people wise but also in other aspects.
We, for instance, pretty much enjoyed our very first days in Vietnam cycling through lush green and gentle hills following the Ho Chi Minh-highway south for some kilometers. With the help of some showers and rain on the first days, we finally left the haze behind – hopefully forever – and were breathing fresh and clean air. Furthermore, when we turned eastwards and finally hit the coast, we were surprised by the idyllic picture we found: charming villages underneath palm trees with a lot of temple-like buildings, dunes rising in the background, and shining green rice paddies in front. Interestingly, among the village’s buildings and especially on top of the long dune were countless graves – quite large and elaborately shaped.
Unexpected was also the inviting city of Hue on the coast. Quite modern, yet without losing too much if its charm, so far.
The most important thing for cyclists, however, is the food. Well, there is that prejudice that Vietnamese eat almost everything, even dogs. Yet, our experiences, so far, were rather harmless: once we had a soup topped apparently with snake meat. And on a local market in a village, a woman was tearing out frogs legs – the frogs were still alive. Not sensational but for us distinctly pleasing: in Hue we had our best breakfast ever! By chance, we stumbled over a Vietnamese sign advertising a breakfast-buffet for about 4,50€. Apart from the outstanding food (there was even real cheese), it was served in a very decent hotel and we were treated with overwhelming politeness and attention – for us even a bit intimidating. For our second breakfast there, I got me at least a nice shirt …
And finally, there are little ‘curiosities’ we didn’t expect or can’t make sense of: the numerous newly built churches, the playing cards frequently lying on the ground (in front of café’s, on the road, in markets), the Chinese-like tombs and little temples (we saw them mainly at the coast near Hue), and why so many people on the road wear pyjamas.