. We are pleased to be in the former camp, but we'd struggle to pinpoint exactly why. We've been surprised by the beautiful scenery, and how excellent the food has been. It has a perfect combination of colourful and vibrant Asian life and ease of tourism: most people speak some English but most important is how outgoing and confident and friendly they are. A lot of this must be down to good standards of education, and we are delighted when we see stall-holders in markets reading newspapers or books when it is quiet, rather than staring into space. Also you see far more women working here than in other places, particularly Indonesia. In fact it seems women do all the jobs connected with retail or tourism, with the exception of driving.
Another notable thing is that almost all the tourists here have been unusually well-informed and sensitive to local customs, and keen to have as full an experience here as possible. There are a great many French tourists; we don't know if they are keen travellers to Vietnam in particular, or if it's just because we are here in August when they traditionally take their holidays. Also lots of Spanish and Italians and English people too. We've also been very impressed by the Americans we've spoken to who have been determined to see the entire country in 2 weeks.
Anyway, we have a nice couple of days back in Hanoi to wander the streets and see the water puppets again, and after a great month here, we're excited and nervous about plunging into China.
Something we have often noticed on previous trips is how much your expections affect how you feel about a place. All the information available about every destination is undoubtedly very helpful in planning and getting the best out of your time somewhere, but it also gives you preconceptions, and denies you some of the excitement of discovery. One good thing about this trip is that we no longer bother to form these preconceptions. The guidebooks try to differentiate places but end up exaggerating their differences. Hanoi has by no means the 'refined European air' you might expect from the guidebooks, and far as we are concerned it is all the better for that. But if you had come feeling you needed a respite from busy Asian cities, you might well have been disappointed. We met quite a few people who hadn't liked Hanoi on first arriving and had moved on before giving it a chance, which is a shame. In fact, Vietnam as a whole seems to have polarised the opinions of many people we've spoken to here; some have loved it, and others are indifferent at best