by Julio Benedetti *
|Rowdy guests: Young tourists take a break in Ha Noi. Some of their contemporaries show a lack of respect for local customs. — VNP Photo
(VNS) It's 7.30am when the first backpackers leave clad in beach outfits and sombreros, shaking off the effects of last night's party to shout loudly to each other while carrying beers, volleyballs and buckets of enthusiasm. No, it's not spring break in Mexico, but rather Ngo Huyen Street, Ha Noi, one of the Vietnamese capital's main tourism hotspots. And the destination is Ha Long Bay.
My Vietnamese is far from fluent, but I watch as a policeman passes the group before entering one of the most popular backpacker hostels to inform the Vietnamese staff what they might be tired of hearing already: "Your tourists are too loud, tell them not to shout, people are still sleeping in this street".
The Vietnamese staff, however, find themselves in the tricky situation of deciding between respecting the police and locals or taking care not to ruin the backpacker party mood they have carefully cultivated to ensure their business survives.
I watch on in shock before explaining to one of the backpackers what is happening around him – and because of him. The guy seems surprised and confused, either by the situation itself or by the fact that I'm telling him what to do, wondering to whom to apologise or if even to apologise at all.
So much is written and discussed in tourism guides and online forums about the cost – sometimes higher for foreigners – of backpacking in Viet Nam.
But after (too) many cases where I had to rescue drunk backpackers who couldn't find their way back to their hostels or were hurt by their own fellow backpackers during outlandish party antics, I think it's also time to discuss a different topic.
What is the price paid by the Vietnamese people who tolerate these tourists using their country as their all-you-can-do holiday playground?
Now let's make it clear: I know not all backpackers are like those mentioned above and I know young western people like to party. I don't want to judge their over-excitement when they fly to developing countries filled with cheap beer, accommodation and non-stop party opportunities far from their families and their stressful lives back home.
As a tourism consultant with extensive knowledge about how global tourism functions, I also don't want to ignore or undervalue their contribution to small businesses, hotels and....let's say, the beer and sombrero vendors.
But I know it's high time these backpackers made use of their senses and learn how to have fun without disrespecting the locals, their culture and their daily lives.
By now it's 8am and, as if on a factory conveyor belt, another horde of backpackers leave the hostel – again, shouting loudly in beach outfits and sombreros with beer bottles and volleyballs in hand. I ask one of the Vietnamese staff (the same one who was scolded by police half an hour ago) why she does not tell them to try to be quiet and does nothing to stop them when they break Vietnamese boundaries of acceptability.
I realise that I already know the answer to my question when I remember a very recent episode that happened in a popular backpacker bar. When the Vietnamese bar staff tried to help a very drunk backpacker in his 20s, who could barely walk and was starting to disturb everyone around him, get a cab and return to his hostel safely, the backpacker shouted: "Are you kicking me out of your bar? I'm still buying drinks here, don't you want my dollars?"
Back in Ngo Huyen Street, the hostel worker doesn't answer me as to why she (as well as other Vietnamese working in the industry) can't make the backpackers show a bit more respect.
But as I look at her facial expression, I get the impression we are both sharing the same thought: "When will they finish (back)packing and finally go home?" — VNS
* Julio Benedetti is a Tourism Consultant and blogger from Brazil who has lived, studied and worked in many different countries, including Brazil, India, Italy, USA, the Netherlands, Viet Nam and Laos.