The big Indochina Trip: final reflections

I’ve been at home for a while now and had time to reflect a bit about the trip and the countries I visited.

Though the region is called Indochina (from the two main cultural influences on the region), it’s much less homogeneous than you might think at first glance. Geographically they are of course very similar, with jungles and mountains and very similar climates, the difference lies in the people and culture. In my experience Laos and Cambodia are very similar and Thailand, though more developed, is culturally close to them as well.  Vietnam sticks out  as very different from the other three, which I believe must be down to a heavier Chinese influence as compared to a more Indian influence in the other countries.

Thailand is the most developed, or at least the most westernized of the four countries, with modern buildings, good infrastructure and plenty of western fast food restaurants. It is also the most expensive country when it comes to food and accommodation. For me it wasn’t that exciting to see Thailand, perhaps because the other places I went to were much less touristic. Had I started in Thailand I might have liked it more. If you’re less experienced with independent travel, I think Thailand is a good starting point for a backpacking trip in south east Asia.

Vietnam is the second most developed country in the region, with several large, modern cities and decent infrastructure. Up in the mountains or out in the really rural areas however, the country is still pretty wild with small villages connected by bad roads. There are some touristic areas like Halong Bay or the backpacker ghetto in HCMC with plenty of bars and restaurants but it not as over exploited as Thailand. Of the countries I visited, Vietnam is my favorite, it has a great mix of big cities, relaxed small towns, ancient palaces, war remnants and beautiful nature. I guess I’m a bit biased because it’s where I started my trip but still, it’s the country I would recommend the most.

Cambodia is a strange mix between poor rural areas and small towns where the people have barely ever seen a foreigner, and modern, developed tourist hot spots like Sihanoukville and Siem Reap. The cities are just like the ones in more developed countries but out in the countryside you only have to leave the main road to find little villages consisting of wooden shacks along a dirt road. Though it’s the smallest country in the region I felt like I didn’t see as much of it as i would have wanted, and I’m likely to go back in the future.

Laos is by far the poorest and least developed country in the region, partly because of the vast amount of UXO still littering the countryside, keeping people from developing the land. If you want comfort, you should probably avoid Laos as the roads are bad, the buses in a pretty poor state and many of the guesthouses lack air conditioning. If you want adventure however, then Laos is the place for you. There is plenty of wild nature just waiting to be explored but even if you stick to the more well trodden paths, you can avoid the hordes of other tourists that you get at more popular destinations.

Despite all those differences, there is one thing that I found to be true for the whole region: the people of south east Asia seem to be allergic to shower curtains. It didn’t matter where I was, except for a few fancy hotels, the places I stayed never had anything to prevent the water from splashing all over the bathroom. OK, these countries are less developed than the west but they don’t live in a vacuum, they have access to the internet and western media so they must know shower curtains exist. Still, they don’t install them for some reason, I just can’t figure out why.

During my first days in Vietnam I started to notice some communist propaganda billboards here and there. I didn’t mention it in my post then because I didn’t see it as very interesting, but the further I went I realized they are all over the country. The style is very classic communist, depicting farmers, workers and soldiers together. I wonder what the purpose of this kind of billboard is, do the Vietnamese need to be reminded that it is a socialist republic?  I decided to mention it in one of my posts but I wanted to wait until I left the country.

When I got to Laos the communist propaganda disappeared but I noticed that nearly all the restaurants and guesthouses had big yellow Beerloa signs, displaying their name. I thought it was interesting that one sponsor could have such a strong hold on the market and I decided to expand my post to include it.

In Cambodia the beer signs are a bit more varied but I soon noticed that The Cambodian Peoples Party had signs by the roadside all over the country, similar to the communist billboards in Vietnam. What I find interesting is that there are several political parties in Cambodia, but the Cambodian Peoples Party has by far the biggest presence as far as sign are concerned.

I really didn’t think I would see anything similar to this when I got to Thailand but since their much beloved king Bhumibol Adulyadej passed away just two months earlier, there were a lot of memorial displays all around the cities I visited. Most of them show a picture of the king, surrounded by black and white ribbons, sometimes with a quote or some words of remembrance.That these displays are everywhere shows just how beloved he was. I took far more of these pictures than in the other countries because they were so easy to find even inside the cities. I will say though, that I think the others, especially the communist billboards in Vietnam, are more interesting to me.

That explanation was a bit longer than I had hoped but it’s necessary to give context to the pictures below. So without further ado, I present to you, the signs posters of south east Asia:

Communist propaganda billboards in Vietnam

 

 

Beerlao dominates the restaurant sign market in Laos 

 

 

The Cambodian Peoples Party have sign all over the country, other parties have a few signs here and there but they are few and far between.

 

Memorial displays of  king Bhumibol Adulyadej

 

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