Two cyclists Lauwe Pruim and Laurens Van Gutch who are going around the globe have chosen Vietnam as their starting point for a journey to Southeast Asia.
Despite having bad experiences with scams at first, the duo explored some interesting things in Vietnam that they could not find in other countries.
Every day is interesting
Lauwe Pruim said he was captivated by Vietnam during more than two months in the country, from his first sunny day in the north to the final hot day in the Mekong Delta.
“It was the peace in the air and the upbeat psyche of the people,” he said. “It was also the genuine interest, the easy chatter in marketplaces, the motorcycle drivers sleeping on their vehicles, the small roadside coffee places, the farmers checking their paddies before sunrise.”
The Dutchman was amazed by the peace and quietness of a simmering afternoon in the Mekong Delta, a misty morning in the Central Highlands city of Da Lat, and the rush hour in Ho Chi Minh City, where no traffic rule seems to be applied but everything just works in line with its own rhythm.
Lauwe Pruim and Laurens Van Gutch spent several months in Vietnam before they left it in March and April, respectively.
Laurens began cycling around the world in 2010 after finishing university on a Peugeot bicycle he bought from a man in his hometown, while Lauwe embarked on his journey in mid-2012.
Laurens and Lauwe have traveled to around 30 countries in Europe and Asia.
Lauwe said his best moments in the country happened while cycling on extremely quiet roads on Mekong Delta river islands, where he saw fruit orchards everywhere, canals, boats, and local children running after and yelling "Hello, hello!"
As a travel journalist, Lauwe often writes about places he has been to on his blog, social networking sites, or travel sites. “I write through a very personal scope, so if people take time to read my stories they'll taste a country that has not lost its authenticity. I will stimulate future travelers to go look for that instead of hooking on to tour groups or organized bus trips. It's the world that lies between the highlights that expose the real Vietnam,” he said.
Meanwhile, Laurens Van Gutch said the thing he loves most in Vietnam is its food. The Belgian man enjoyed eating pho, bun cha, and spring rolls but his favorite dish was bread with pâté. “Made-in-Vietnam bread is something special and it is hard to find it in these parts of the world,” he asserted.
The most unforgettable experience Laurens had in Vietnam was late last year, when he visited a village near Sa Pa, a beautiful spot in northern Vietnam. Laurens found that his wallet was lost upon arriving at the village. Feeling sympathy for him, the villagers gave him food and drinks, and even money to continue his journey.
The northern village near Sa Pa where Laurens was given food and drinks for four days after he lost his wallet. Photo coutersy of Laurens Van Gutch
“Northern Vietnam is awesome. Even losing my wallet couldn't ruin my mood. The villagers took great care of me for four days. Once, I even got reverse pick-pocketed as people secretly put money in my pocket,” Laurens recounted. “They turned my dark day into an unforgettable one.”
Providing tips to Vietnam’s tourism industry
Lauwe said during his first couple of days in Vietnam early this year, he paid VND100,000 (US$4.7) for a roadside meal that should have cost between VND20,000 to VND30,000 while Laurens complained that most goods in tourist areas were sold at higher prices than normal, except for beer products. However, both of them said that “rip-offs” are not bad things in general.
“As a traveler you just have to learn the prices of things, or even ask a local person,” Lauwe said. But he admitted that food prices are a part of the game between the vendor and the buyer to get a price that suits both people.
Lauwe also complained that arranging bus tickets can be a bit shady, with lots of agents working for high commissions, making him feel fleeced sometimes after learning of the real price.
He said most public transport in China is really organized and therefore passengers hardly get confused about what to pay. With regard to tourist scams, Lauwe advised authorities in Vietnam to place warning signs to protect foreign tourists as well as the reputation of the country. He said he saw a lot of such signs in Beijing and Bangkok.
Lauwe said the Vietnamese tourism industry should turn towards small scale, community-based ecotourism in varying degrees of luxury for each type of traveler because most people still would rather spend time in a well set up, small scale eco-lodge than a package hotel without any character next to a big road.
Lauwe Pruim cycles to Phu Quoc Island District off southern Vietnam's Kien Giang Province. Photo coutersy of Lauwe Pruim.
“I think people truly want to give something back to the community instead of only to the hotel owner. I think this new form of tourism could benefit small communities, the protection of nature and wild animals, and the experience for tourists,” he said.
Lauwe promised that he will return to Vietnam. “The friendliness of the people, the small and remote places that I can still discover and the great variety of landscapes, the ease of getting around here, the stunning food... Vietnam had it all for me,” he said.