If I take my mind back to the 20th century when a callow youth with two friends boarded the 747 for SE Asia, planning a trip was fairly simple. You bought the cheapest ticket available, grabbed the relevant Lonely Planet guide, and that was it. Advanced travelers read the guide on the flight, others, such as my own small party, were seduced by the phenomenon of free drinks, and arrived, in our case in Kuala Lumpur, with acute headaches and no clear idea where to stay. We were easy targets for the avaricious taxi drivers of whom Lonely Planet repeatedly warned.
Holidays, once started, were easy. You read the guide, looked at the maps, found a train or bus to whatever spot seemed attractive, and off you went. On arrival, you went to the recommended hotel, booked a room, then headed out to eat and explore, usually in that order. Of course, the reality was different. The recommended hotel was fully booked with other Lonely Planet wielding backpackers, as were all the others in descending order of recommendation, ending up in a sleazy but cheap hotel recommended in the guide which the writer had surely never visited. Restaurants or food stalls were easier, in that there was no need to look at the book, since all the places in it were thronging with western backpackers.
That was then, but the internet changed all that. More precisely, internet booking agencies, TripAdvisor and AirBNB changed all that. Not only has booking online become almost compulsory, since apparently everything from the luxury resort to the humblest of homestays can be booked, but nearly everything is rated by travelers from all over the world so you can know exactly what to expect. The same goes for buses, aircraft and trains. This, to my mind anyway, removes a little of the glorious anticipation that is a holiday, but times change. I’m reasonably sceptical about ratings in general, but there’s no denying the information available can save a morning in the tropical heat traipsing around trying to find a half-decent place to stay. The travel information is a major plus, too, as there’s little worse than finding you have to stay another night in some god-forsaken hole because there was no afternoon train any more. Sites like www.seat61.com are worth their weight in gold.
It was with these thoughts that I sat down and commenced planning. Being a little old-fashioned, I’d also bought a real map, plus had some knowledge of Vietnam since I’d already been to the twin capitals. In other words, I had more than a vague idea of what I wanted to do: the train trip up the coast, Son My, Ha Long bay and the Cham ruins. Needless to say, the moment I sat down at the computer, the internet struck . An idea in the back of my mind said that a rare breed of dog, one with a ridge on the back, came from Vietnam, so I googled it. Indeed, there was such a breed originating in an island near the Cambodian border. Intrigued, I googled the island, which is why the first step of the trip now starts in the Mekong Delta and Phu Quoc. In many ways the spontaneity of travel has transferred to the internet.