Thankfully, the boat oozed personality. The traditional Indochinese wooden boats that dart around these waters with their high sterns and square sails are known as junks. The term would prove entirely appropriate for our vessel, the Cong Nhia. After kicking open the door (the wood of which had swollen and warped in the sea air), we found a cabin the size of a bathroom and a bathroom the size of a shower cubicle. The cabin’s solitary bulb didn’t cast enough light to read by, which turned out to be a blessing, since it also meant one was spared a close examination of the bed sheets. There was no choice but to socialise with the other passengers, a gaggle of cheerful British gap year students and three travellers.
While I’m all for seeing the world, it must be said that I loathe professional travellers. You know who I mean, Europe’s unwashed masses that set out to see the ‘real’ Vietnam/India/Brazil. You find them at the seediest dives in town, trying earnestly to following local customs, eating food that beggars would pass up, bathing sporadically at best – imagining they’re enjoying the ‘real’ city. They wouldn’t dare visit Hanoi’s exquisite French colonial opera house, despite the fact that actual Vietnamese people sometimes do that too. Other than the condescending assumption that one has to live like a pig in order to understand the third world, I hate the falseness of the whole exercise. European travellers only speak to other travellers, they sleep rough but have $1,200 medical insurance. They want the appearance of hardship with none of the consequences.
The insights of the travellers on our boat were limited to calling places 'beautiful' or 'commercial' and referring to entire populations as ‘nice’ or ‘very nice’ (apparently the Burmese are all lovely, quick, someone tell the United Nations). Travellers aren’t interested in reality, they don’t travel to experience countries as locals do, they come for a quick fix of Poverty: The Theme Park and then leave satisfied that it’s lived down to their expectations.