Getting an accurate feel for a place

By: Mary Ann Peterson
This item appears on page 32 of the November 2017 issue.

I read the subscriber’s article about a “180-day ’round-the-world cruise” (Aug. ’17, pg. 46). My husband, Don, and I visited Vietnam as part of a small-group land tour in February 2006, starting in Hanoi and beautiful Ha Long Bay, and we had a more positive impression of the country.

For example, the author wrote, “Our next endeavor, to visit Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, further revealed the atmosphere that exists in that part of the country. Everywhere we went, we felt that we were under militaristic control. There were guards everywhere as well as soldiers controlling the area of the mausoleum demanding that visitors leave all cameras behind, keep their hands out of their pockets, not speak loudly and stand two-by-two in straight lines. The atmosphere around the mausoleum was tense, almost like being in the army.”

We visited the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, in addition to the “Hanoi Hilton” [Hoa Lo Prison, used for prisoners of war during the Vietnam War — Editor], and nowhere did we feel the atmosphere to be “tense” or “militaristic.” We were met by friendly locals everywhere. There were several retired Vietnam War veterans in our group, and they were amazed by the friendliness of the people toward them.

We observed no difference between Hanoi, in the north, and Ho Chi Minh City, in the south, regarding friendliness. The only differences were in the food and architecture. 

Traveling worldwide to all the continents and 100-plus countries, it has been our experience that it is quite common to have guards at significant sites (think Buckingham Palace), and it’s not uncommon to have to leave cameras, purses and wallets at the entrances to many places.

Also, we’ve noticed more people traveling these days, causing a lot of congestion at popular sites and a need for “organization” that can be considered obtrusive. Traveling with a shore-excursion group can be frustrating, as well.

Of course, visiting anyplace on a cruise ship’s shore excursion does not necessarily afford an accurate feel for the place or its people. An around-the-world cruise does allow one to visit many ports of call without having to suffer through airports, but there are alternative ways to do this while overcoming some of the drawbacks. 

When Don and I travel on a cruise, we often hire a local guide at the port or set it up online beforehand, or we do our homework and walk around the town on our own — a great way to interact with locals.

One of my favorite memories is of the college students who took us on a tour of Mumbai, India. We got around using a train and a bus and walking and enjoyed eating the street food — an example of going with the flow when traveling.

MARY ANN PETERSON

Chelan, WA & Palm Springs, CA