You may have read the latest blog post from my business partner, John Salveson: What I Learned in Bangkok (Part 1). We traveled to Bangkok in October for the annual meeting of IIC Partners, a group of independent executive search firms across 39 countries. This gathering provided us with an opportunity to better understand global business issues, share common practices and learn from one another.
John gave several interesting – and humorous – reflections on our trip in his blog entry. I thought I’d give a bit of a different perspective. Since I last traveled to Bangkok more than 20 years ago, some things have changed dramatically and others have stayed relatively the same.
What has changed? The city has grown and the infrastructure has expanded – there is a more complex and paved highway system today than two decades prior. But because of this, traffic has become so congested that it’s challenging to navigate the city except via its waterways.
What has stayed the same? The people continue to be gentle, kind and generally happy – you can tell their sense of joy just by looking at their faces. They are incredibly friendly and have a wonderful sense of humor. If you smile first, they will smile even more broadly. They are simply happy, regardless of their financial circumstances. It was a breath of fresh air.
After visiting Bangkok, my husband and I traveled on to Ho Chi Minh City – or Saigon – in Vietnam. I thought there would be many similarities between the two cities, but in actuality, there were far more differences. Compared to Bangkok, here are some of the biggest cultural differentiators of Ho Chi Minh:
- Ho Chi Minh is a city with 50% of its population under the age of 25. It is a busy, hip and fast-moving culture.
- People work from sun up to sun down. This makes for a very entrepreneurial and industrious region, encompassing every business imaginable. Shops sell everything from handmade toy boats to leather goods, motorcycle parts, clothing and flowers. Many are organized by what they sell, so entire streets are designated to sell specific products – an incredible sight to see!
- The traffic consists mostly of motor bikes, making the roads difficult to cross. In fact, I was clipped by one and realized I better be more observant if I wanted to return home.
- Students are proud to share their knowledge of U.S. history. They shared stories of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and the Declaration of Independence. They had an insatiable interest in learning more.
Ho Chi Minh City was vibrant, more sophisticated than I anticipated and its goods were reasonably priced. Merchants were eager to sell and bargain with customers. I would definitely return to this city.
Traveling abroad is a gift. It broadens my thinking and makes me challenge my views and perspectives. It is heartening to meet so many interesting people with different ways of life. At the same time, as much as I enjoy traveling, I really look forward to coming home with wonderful memories.
What city have you found most interesting when traveling abroad?