I spent most of the last two weeks in Hanoi and north Vietnam, with a short stop in Singapore. Singapore is as efficient as usual, Hanoi was an eye-opener. Malaysia is not as advanced as we think it is. Or put another way, the rest of Asia is far catching up.
The experience starts with the taxis. Getting one is a breeze, even at the airport. No need to brave touts, nor buy coupons and endure long waits for “official airport taxis”. Just walk straight out and into a regular cab. The cab, by the way, is a nice, spacious newish 1.6-litre Japanese car. Not a cramped, rattling Proton which should have been long-retired.
To help keep cabbies honest, the taxi meters don’t just click off the increasing Dong fare, they also show the distance traveled and time taken, so you know if you’re being taken for a ride. Such a simple solution to meter-rigging. I wonder why we don’t implement this in Malaysia.
The hotel was a pleasant surprise. We’d booked the 3-star Classic Hotel for US$35 (RM130) per night. It looked pretty good on the website, but we were prepared to be disappointed. We weren’t. We got a nice, clean spacious room complete with minibar and flat-screen tv. But what took the cake was a computer, together with free internet access!
I couldn’t help but think of my last local 3-star experience, at an exotically-named hotel in Langkawi. It was so exotic, there was no washbasin in the bathroom! We had to spit straight onto the bathroom floor. One wonders how a ‘hotel’ like that got final operating approvals. Malaysia boleh.
Moving on to the food, any hesitancies we had about street food vanished when we saw the hawkers. The stalls and surroundings were generally cleaner than in Malaysia. Little litter, no obvious rats or cockroaches. And that goes for their markets too.
There are issues of course, including rogue taxi drivers. We were advised to use only a few specific taxi companies. We did, and encountered no problems. Service in the shops and cafes was, in our experience, generally surly or at best, not friendly. But there were gems, including one nice hole-in-the-wall café-owner who took a dish back and waived the charge when we said it wasn’t to our liking.
I can’t help but think it won’t be long before the tables are turned, and travel guide-books to Malaysia become fraught with the warnings we’d become accustomed to when visiting our our less-developed neighbours. Beware of the taxi drivers; street crime is a problem – don’t carry handbags; be very careful with the local food and water – eat only well-cooked food and drink bottled water ….
And one final observation - while some Malaysians are still uncomfortable with the English language, many Vietnamese are eager to pick it up. One cannot accuse them of being unnationalistic. This is a nation that defeated invaders ranging from the Chinese to the French and the Americans. Yet it is enthusiastically embracing the language of its most recent enemy. There is no emotional baggage associated with English. It is the language of commerce and science, and if you want to pursue the path of material success mastery of English is the way to go.