San Francisco Travel Blog› entry 25 of 25 › view all entries
I made it home! While it's all still fresh in my mind I'd like to reflect back on my Asian adventure. Since every place was so different, I feel like it would be best to comment on each country individually.
Korea: This wasn't much of an adventure, but it felt great to be back in a city that I know so well. Seoul is like mayonnaise, you either love it or hate it (yes that's my simile haha). If you go there without knowing anyone, you could easily become lost in the hustle and bustle of Korean life. It's tough to make friends and acquaintances, but once you do, a whole new world opens up to you. I was happy to see that the city has become even more modern and the economy seems to be doing well. This was a stark contrast compared to what I've seen in America (when I say America I mean the US) and Europe. It was wonderful to see old friends, eat at my favorite restaurants and even speak a bit of Korean. My single complaint was the heat, as with most East Asian countries, the summer is hot and humid. Unfortunately, Koreans are extremely stingy with the A/C. If you don't mind that type of weather, then summer is a fine time to visit. Personally, I'd much prefer late fall or spring.
Trip rating: 9/10.
Vietnam: Vietnam was like no place I have ever visited. I had heard that the economy was growing and a lot of development was occurring. I saw none of this. What I saw was a dirty, over-crowded and dilapidated city in Hanoi. This could have been charming, but the general attitude of the people I met only made the previously mentioned flaws more apparent. Everyone is out to make a quick buck, nobody cares about customer service and deception is rampant. I've heard that people in the countryside are extremely hospitable, but during my travels, I saw none of this so-called hospitality. As a man from France told me, "Vietnamese always say yes, even if they have no intention of actually helping you". I'm sure at one point Hanoi was a charming colonial city. Now with a population of 7 million, including 4 million motorbikes, the city is polluted and worn down. There seems to be little effort to rehabilitate the city and the people are receiving no help from their government. As one local explained to me, "Our government can't decide if its communist or capitalist". Maybe they are communist capitalists, or even capitalist communists... Even the natural beauty of Halong Bay was partially spoiled by overcrowding and ruthless tour guides. Go to Guilin, China instead (According to Michelle it's equally beautiful). I was shocked by all the foreigners I saw in Hanoi, why they would chose to visit or live there is beyond me. Then again, I made the mistake of visiting the Vietnamese capital too. If you are a hardcore backpacker who is on a tight budget then Hanoi might be the place for you. Personally, I can't envision visiting again. Add it all up: pollution, filth, cheating and unbearable heat, Hanoi is not a place that I would recommend to anyone.
Trip rating: 2/10.
Hong Kong: As I said in my blog, Hong Kong is where East meets West. When I arrived in Kowloon I immediately felt like I was back in New York. People were friendly, cosmopolitan and air conditioning was readily available. I know readers are probably thinking, "Kyle you knew Asia was going to be hot!". It's true, I did know, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate Hong Kong's plentiful A/C! With so many people crammed in to such a small area, the only place to build is up. The skyline is packed with sky scrapers and tall apartment complexes. Combined with a mountainous landscape, Hong Kong offers some of the nicest urban vistas of any city in the world. Prices are decent, international cuisine options are plentiful (the local food is delicious also) and there is plenty of shopping. If, in the future, an employer asked me to move to Hong Kong for a time, I would gladly accept. For any traveler making their first trip to Asia, I would highly recommend Hong Kong as it makes for a very smooth transition. I can't wait for my next opportunity to visit this world-class city.
Trip rating: 8/10.
China: After Vietnam, my expectations for China were low. My concerns were also enhanced after having visited the Beijing airport in July, 2009. During my brief stay I was absolutely shocked by bad the pollution was. When I arrived in Guangzhou however, all of these expectations and concerns were shattered. China has one of, if not the, fastest growing economy in the world. This was evident in all areas. Construction is going on everywhere, and unlike many of the buildings in Korea, I was impressed by the architectural style in China. Guangzhou and Shanghai boast some of the most beautiful sky scrapers on the planet. People were generally polite, the food was delicious and the Expo was one of the coolest things I have seen in my life. Contrast to the hustle and bustle of the cities, Huangshan was a stunning natural spectacle. As I mentioned previously, I have a conflicted relationship with natural beauty. Having grown up with the Grand Tetons in my back yard, and Yellowstone only an hour away, I'm not easily impressed. Huangshan however, blew me away. I was ooing and awwing at almost every turn. This large country can impress any traveler. If you prefer trekking or back backing, there are many areas that rarely see foreigners. If you want stunning natural sites, Huangshan is a great place to start. For people who like to travel in comfort, Shanghai and Guangzhou offer some of the most modern and decadent hotels on the planet. Literally the only drawback I noticed, is that China is completely overcrowded. No matter how efficient the transportation system may be, 1 billion people is just too much. If you can get past the pushing and shoving though, China is a wondrous country with a rich history and culture. As the Greeks and Romans were to the west, China has been a dominate force in the east for thousands of years. After a dormant period, the country is blossoming again. If they can control their population growth, and do something about the horrible pollution, I have no doubt that China will be the most powerful nation in the world by the end of the 21st century. Yes, China has its problems, but it is well worth a visit.
Trip rating: 10/10
Best Airline: Asiana
Worst Airline: Shanghai Airlines
Best Hotel: Shangri-La Guangzhou
Worst Hotel: Hanoi New Day
Best site visited: The Shanghai Expo
Worst site visited: Most of Hanoi
A very special thanks to all the friends and acquaintances who made my travels more enjoyable.
I hope everyone has enjoyed this blog! If you ever have any questions or want to share travel experiences you know how to get in touch.