Thursday, October 26, 2006

The rankings

DISCLAIMER: This is my personal opinion based on 3 weeks of travel in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. As always, I reserve the right to change my opinion!!!

NOTE: These rankings don't include Thailand, because if you've never visited SE Asia, you must first go to Thailand. It's a gorgeous country, the tourist infrastructure is well developed, plenty enough people speak English (for those English-speaking readers), and the prices are very, very reasonable due to competition. Also, Myanmar is not included in this ranking because I haven't yet visited. It's in my future plans, so I'll fill you in on that in a future year.

1 = top

NATURE:
1=Laos
2=Cambodia
3=Vietnam
Commentary: Laos is the most undeveloped and therefore the most natural.

CITIES:
1=Cambodia / Phnom Penh
2=Vietnam / Ho Chi Minh City
3=Laos / Vientiane
Commentary: PP slightly edges out HCMC by a smidge. PP and HCMC are alive and vibrant! HCMC has a lively arts scene and beautiful people (particularly the women), but there are too many motos, much polution and a lot of hassle from the touts. PP is less touristy and tourist places are not all concentrated in one area -- a plus in my book. Vientiane is more like a small town, many roads and sidewalks even in the central part of town are unpaved. Consequently, Vientiane is a lot less poluted and a lot quieter.

ARCHITECTURE:
1=Cambodia
3=Laos
unranked=Vietnam
Commentary: There is very little traditional Vietnamese architecture in Vietnam -- much of this was wiped out by the French colonialists and the communists who believed that keeping tradition was backward thinking. Cambodia has plenty of fabulous, fanciful architecture, and even modern buildings retain elements of Khmer design. Laos has more traditional flavor than Vietnam, but being such a poor country the buildings are relatively few.

TEMPLES (WATS):
1=Cambodia
unranked= Laos
unranked=Vietnam
Commentary: For these 3 countries, nothing compares to Angkor Wat. The Laos temples are not particularly special and the Vietnamese temples are few and far between, relics of a pre-communist era.

FOOD:
1=Vietnam
2=Cambodia
3=Laos
Commentary: There's no contest here, Vietnamese food rocks! But Cambodian food is a close second, the influence of India (which lasted for over 1000 years) means that there are very good curries to be found here, and then there's clay pot, and you already know how I feel about that! http://christene-rtw.blogspot.com/2006/10/sometimes-traveling-is-like-eating.html
Laotian food doesn't compare (it quite often ends up being bad food named after Thai or Vietnamese dishes but not necessarily resembling them!)

ACCOMMODATION:
1=Cambodia
2=Vietnam
3=Laos
Commentary: Vietnamese accommodations are overpriced. Laos can be very cheap, but the 'upscale' accomodations are overpriced for what they are. Cambodian accommodations were cheap and very, very clean!

EASE OF OBTAINING VISAS:
1=Laos
1=Cambodia
3=Vietnam
Commentary: Vietnam requires advance purchase from outside the country.

AGGRESSION OF TOUTS:
1=Vietnam
2=Cambodia
3=Laos
Commentary: The Vietnamese touts are by far the worse, even sometimes blocking your way so you can't walk if you refuse to take their moto or tuk-tuk. Laos is so laid back, generally one 'no thank you' suffices.

ENGLISH-SPEAKING PEOPLE:
1=Vietnam
2=Cambodia
3=Laos
Commentary: Not an attribute I consider extremely essential (when people want to communicate despite different languages they find a way!), so this does not figure into my overall ranking. Both Vietnam and Cambodia have plenty of English-speaking people in the major cities, slightly more in Vietnam. (Of course, sometimes when they are touts, you wish they didn't speak English!) The children vendors in Cambodia are amazing, they can converse in English quite well at 6 or 7 years of age! I didn't see so many children vendors in Vietnam.

TRAVELING PRICE AND VALUE:
1=Cambodia
3=Vietnam
3=Laos
Commentary: Vietnam can be overpriced for what you get, for example, there are a lot of cheap, bogus tours around. Laos can be supercheap but anything nice is overpriced.

OVERALL RANKING:
1=Cambodia
2=Vietnam
3=Laos
Commentary: I'm glad I visited all these places to get a beginning of a sense, but I liked Cambodia the most! If someone told me I would have come to this conclusion before I went, I wouldn't have believed the person!

My future travel plans include another visit to Angkor Wat and a visit to Myanmar (future as in a future year). I'll keep you posted!

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