A BREATHER & A HARD TRIP
The past several months have been busy for me — finishing up maps for the website, tracking the Central Vietnam floods, and finishing up the last text for the free Vietnam guidebook. I’ve also been talking with a publisher about making a pocket-sized ‘alternative guidebook’ to Vietnam, which I’d like to see IF it can be made for dirt-cheap prices.
So many of the travelers I see in Vietnam have a good time. Still I’m a bit worried most are falling into a trap. Whether they’re carrying backpacks or Gucci roller suitcases, they pretty much see Vietnam the same way. Hopping up or down the coast, staying in the same places (Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue), and taking variants of the same group tours — Halong Bay cruises, Mekong Delta boat tours, Sapa treks. Nothing wrong with that of course. All three places are wonderful, and sometimes it’s just as well going on a tour, but I hope — with this guide — to push travelers JUST a bit beyond the usual travel ways of the country. It’s a lot more rewarding to get just a taste of what’s on the next block.
I just wrote about how to see the Mekong Delta on your own in ‘DIY Mekong Delta Adventures’ for Transitions Abroad’s new Nov/Dec issue (in print version only). Somewhere over the years, no one’s noticed how easy it is to go and around the famed boat trips on your own — and get more out of the trip. Also, the good folks at GoNomad.com recently posted an excerpt from my blog about how to find the best Hue food away from the traveler’s guesthouse ghetto.
Next Up: Burma
I’m heading off tomorrow night for a research trip updating Lonely Planet’s Myanmar (Burma) guide. I was last in the troubled country three years ago for LP and have been following the military crackdown closely. Because of the military government’s brutal regime, many outsiders believe travelers shouldn’t visit (to money out of the government’s hands), others — including most Burmese people you meet in the country — want ‘independent travelers’ to come. Just not on group tours or staying in high-end hotels. Tourism has fallen by 90% to the country during its high season, mostly affecting small privately run businesses. Every year, off-shore oil reserves — not to mention the trade of rubies (and heroin) — brings in hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to a select few up top; an average traveler staying in family guesthouses for a couple weeks spends about $300 — with all but a fraction staying in private hands.
I’ll be gone through mid to late January, and will try to post on-the-ground reports of what’s going on in destination areas like Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and other places in between.
Robert, in snowy Brooklyn