Along with 12 travelers from the Southlake area, we visited Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand. Gloria and I have been traversing this world with various Shangri-La Travel Club members for 11 years, we average 2 hosted destinations per year. There have been some "mind-stretching" adventures along the way, we remember the sights of Egypt, East African safari, Galápagos Islands and the interiors of China. This trip to Indochina will move into the top tier of our adventures. I leave this most interesting region not just visioning the great sights, but feeling emotionally immersed. My lasting memories will be of the faces, their thoughts behind the faces and their continuous smiles.
Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam have so much in common historically, yet so different in cultural progression today. Here's my approach:
World travelers, much smarter than myself, believe to properly experience a destination you should consider 3 broad characteristics ...
- Religion - How important is practicing religious preferences to everyday living?
- Socioeconomic conditions - Over the past century, how has man treated their fellow man to influence their progress politically, economically and socially. On an everyday basis, do they care for each other's sustainability and core requirements ... food, shelter and overall well-being/happiness.
- Education - Is the priority for an individual's educational development valued at the family level, prioritized among the political hierarchy, and indoctrinated within the religious culture.
Within these observations, we gain insight into every day within the culture, and of the people that share it.
All tourists say they seek out social experiences and understanding of the local culture. Yet, we tend to compare our findings to our "known" benchmarks ... our own life in our own country, state, and hometown. Travelers, it can be argued, seek out the stories behind culture and envision themselves among them. Indochina locals tell us not only what they have learned from university and their elders, but they also share their personal stories that evolved in this culture with us, brilliant! Taking the above characteristics into consideration, listening to the local educators and top-level tour guides were a key contributor this time to observing and hopefully understanding the insightfulness of their country.
Here are my personal observations:
Cambodia is 100 years behind the progress of Western societies. Remember, during the Khmer Rouge and Killing Fields, the Pol Pot regime nearly exterminated one or two generations. You must respect a historically superior society that lost EVERYTHING and is now having a coming out party with 40% of their people 15 years of age or younger. They are energized, happy and focused people that have seen the worst in fellow man and yet, value the next day as the best of times for all Cambodian's. The look in their eyes and the welcome they extend to visitors of all nations is so contagious, we are SMILING all-day for them and while we are with them, we feel better for us.
Vietnam is seriously 50 years back in time for everyday street life, and for an Asian culture, it is somewhat frozen in time. Hanoi in the North remains very influenced by their French occupation during the 19th Century. Saigon, in the South, is growing as a progressive middle-class economy, based on current technologies, but is socially and politically frozen. This country has been continuously at war for 2 centuries, with China, France, USA, and Cambodia. When not at war, they do not seem to have the "next plan". Their pride today is all about the past regime that either fought with or against the American's. I felt like I was back in the turbulent and confused 60's.
Thailand is comparable to American standards when in the cities, and would be competitor internationally in many ways if they valued that rating like we do. While they can compete globally and the ability to be on the forefront of something, like China and the US, they respectfully choose not to. Buddhism and Buddhist family values are so important to their approach to this life, this is not something they value.
Bottom line, this was a long trip, 16 days including travel days. Our hotels, transfers, river cruise, and tours were first rate which made it easier to travel to strange and differing cultures as a group. Sightseeing is informational and pleasing, but what really stretches the mind is taking the time to walk, talk and understand these cultures, why other human beings are what they are, it stretches the soul!
Thank you, Indochina, I am today, a better person having met you.