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The original world nomad "Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance." - Confucius.

Are you a tourist or a traveller?

VIETNAM | Tuesday, 1 April 2008 | Views [1633] | Comments [1]

Flowers by the river at sunset, Hue, 1991.

Flowers by the river at sunset, Hue, 1991.

This argument seems to have been around certainly for as long as I have been travelling, with people who define themselves as 'travellers' usually feeling they are somehow superior to 'tourists'. I know Tony Wheeler from Lonely Planet for one doesn't think there is any difference and we are all just tourists of different kinds.

When we were discussing it again recently however, Yuki, with that annoyingly fine intellect of hers, identified and articulated better than anyone else I have ever heard that there is a difference; that is that tourists generally go to see 'sights' and travellers generally go for the 'experience'.

When we first went to Vietnam at the beginning of 1991 it was incredibly hard: there was nothing much to 'see', there was no infrastructure and travelling around was plain hard and unpleasant, even if it was one hell of a memorable experience. Wandering around the Cholon bus station, full of 1940's Cadillacs and old Renault buses bursting at the seams with live geese, nobody could tell us where to go or what to see, so we just chose one at random and headed out down into the Delta ... somewhere. There was nowhere to stay as hotels needed a foreign tourist permit and nobody had one. Even once we eventually persuaded somewhere to let us take a room, the police turned up an hour later and put us back on the bus to Saigon.

Later, past Hue, wandering around the DMZ late one afternoon, a young boy rushed up, presented us with a large bunch of flowers freshly picked from the fields, grinned shyly and dashed off once more. Other memories surface too: wandering around a dusty village in Burma followed by hoards of excited screaming children in places nobody would ever have heard of as there was nothing to particularly see or do there.

Yet these and other memories of unpredictable experiences remain some of the sharpest from my travels, rather than the spectacular sights (although we did those too of course!) which leaves us with the fact that you can be both a tourist and a traveller even on the same trip. Nothing wrong with that.

Now we are headed back to Saigon with our young family, this time firmly as tourists. There are loads of places to stay and we want it to be easy, fun, pleasant and interesting. With just a little bit of luck we'll still find some tiny gems of travel experience and still just by wandering.

Tags: dmz, mekong, memory, saigon, tourist, traveller




Nomadic philosophy!
We can only speak personally. Our experience is also walking this fine line between both worlds. Albert takes quick snaps of everything. He takes out his guide book without a quick glance to see if anyone will smirk at him. He loves to add to his location list. He is the happiest tourist I have ever met.
On the other hand, I have never bought a guide to any destination. I didn't take photos of anything. I was too paranoid about fittiing into the crowd than showing my ignorance and asking for help about anything. I've walked in the opposite direction of the crowd around buskers and concerts, just so I wasn't labeled a 'gig' (Aussie dialect).
But honestly, I've had more fun and learnt so much more traveling as a tourist with Albert.
I think its the locals that have to change their attitude to the strange fish they see in their pond.
ahh... love to chat...
take care,

  allwelcome Apr 6, 2008 8:24 PM

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