I was told Thailand is amazing, the people are so kind, it’s so beautiful, there’s untouched islands, just dirt cheap, the food so yumm. I was told Malaysia isn’t worthwhile, just stop in Kuala Lumpur and move on, the people are mean, Muslim countries are scary. I was told Vietnam is terrrrible, the people will scam you, you are a walking wallet, it’s the only place you’ll feel awful. And the list goes on.
So, you guessed it, I had completely opposite experiences in these countries. I pretty much hated Thailand, loved Malaysia, and Vietnam has my heart.
It’s all a matter of perception and everyone is really different. I thought if I have similar interests with people I can trust their recommendations, I mean we both go to the same yoga class, but this is wrong. Just wrong. All their travel recommendations and advice, wrong. I finally realized, you must take travel recommendations with a grain of salt. You cannot judge a country without going there yourself.
It’s been spinning my head lately. I walk down the beautiful, clean and swept streets of Ho Chi Minh city and there’s just smiling faces all around, people greeting us on every corner, children eager to learn. I stop by a street food cart, it’s shiny and hygienic unlike the street food carts elsewhere in South Esat Asia, and I order myself a 50 cent Bahn Mi, one delicious cheese, vegetable and egg baguette. Turn a corner and there’s the local cafe, I sip on the most delicious dark Vietnamese roast.
And I was told Vietnam was terrible.
I think back to just a few days ago we were in Thailand where the people have become jaded with all the tourists. The prices have skyrocketed, it’s not the dirt cheap country they made it out to be. The people are friendly only if you are a paying customer at a hotel or salon. The power lines dangle in the street like spiderwebs and stretch over the whole country; the most beautiful scenery is distracted by these unkept and messy lines. The food is overcooked and greasy,always leaving you with a MSG headache, to get a decent meal often times you must pay Western prices. The “untouched” island of Thailand, we visited one that had only been settled over the last 10 years, was just another party island with rows and rows of shops – tattoos, ice cream, massage, clothes, tattoos, ice cream, massage clothes, tattoos, ice cream, massage, clothes – endlessly around the circumference of the island.
And I was told Thailand was amazing.
Back in Malaysia, I was constantly surrounded by kind people. As volunteers, we got the opportunity to meet some great minds, a group of innovative young Malays and foreigners designing for a greener future. The food was great. The country was inexpensive. And I was never bored. Being in this friendly, open minded, and religiously tolerant Muslim country was a fascinating experience.
And I was told Malaysia wasn’t worthwhile.
I could go on but you get the point. We all have different perceptions and different objectives when we go on holiday so of course this changes the way we experience a place. One traveler told me that he hated Vietnam, but at the same time he wasn’t feeling 100% himself while he was there. Even your state of mind can make or break your travels. Putting off anger and anxiety into a country will bring that same energy back to you.
To sum it up, here’s my advice when trip planning and taking travel recommendations with a grain of salt:
If you’re interested in a certain destination, read your Lonely Planet but when it comes to reading reviews about all the attractions, hotels and restaurants, take it easy. Don’t get too bogged down in trying to make the right decision to have a great time. And! And, anddd don’t book and plan your whole itinerary. I’ve found that even with quick 2 week trips, it’s nice to leave things up in the air.
Make a rough itinerary, with suggested destinations, attractions, hotels and restaurants with room to change. Book a hotel for the first night or two, but not for the whole 2 weeks. Once you arrive, you’ll get a good impression of your destination. You’ll have the chance to stay for an extra day if you love it or move to a different hotel or city if you don’t. These days it’s incredibly easy to travel with these rough itineraries and last minute bookings, so just go for it!