As we’ve travelled around a lot of the Asian continent, you are really struck by all the similarities. Of course some countries just simply have common heritage so you would expect them to be similar. Then there’s the investment of the richer Asian countries in the poorer ones e.g. Indian and Japanese investment in Bhutan, Japanese and South Korean investment in Laos and Vietnam etc. And let’s not forget the Chinese building roads and railways apparently wherever they can no matter what nation it is in.
Finally there’s the flow of tourists and other people from one country to another. Clearly given India’s almost “Big Brother” Status in Nepal and Bhutan, there are a lot of Indians in these countries and then you have the communities in the Indian states of Sikkim and Darjeeling with their strong Nepali (or “mountain”) heritage with the locals identifying far more closely with this than their status as an Indian national.
And although we had thought we were taking a slightly odd route from Japan via Seoul to Laos, it turned out that that was a very well plotted route: I’ve previously commented on the similarities between Japan and Seoul and all the Japanese restaurants you find in Seoul. Having then taken a full T’way plane from Seoul to Vientiane (no other westerners) it is obvious that Koreans see Laos as their holiday destination of choice in the same was as perhaps the Australians go to Bali (or at least used to) or the Brits to Costa del Sol. Korean BBQ restaurants and tours set up for Korean nationals are everywhere and the numbers of Koreans outnumbered western tourists massively (although whether this is just a wet season phenomenon I don’t know). And there are also a number of Japanese restaurants too. It was a similar picture in Vietnam too: here both Korean and Chinese tourists were in the majority and in Ho Chi Minh, we saw our old friends, Family Mart and 7/11 Japanese style convenience stores again.
The story, however, was slightly different in Nhatrang (Vietnam): instead of Far East Asian tourists, this is a mini Moscow with lots of shops displaying signs only in Russian and Vietnamese with English often displaced into third place on the language scale. In one place, I was first given a menu which was all in Russian. However, when I saw the English language version, I was quick to note that the prices on the Russian menu were cheaper! Interesting.
It’s not really that surprising that it all gets a bit mixed up but sometimes it can be a little hard to remember exactly where you are: at one point the sight of a carp streamer flying above a guest-house gate completely threw me: it took a moment or two to realise that far from being in Japan (where carp streamers are very popular), I was in fact in Vang Vieng in Laos. And of course many of the trinkets and souvenirs that you see in many of these countries are already readily available at home: it really is hard to find something truly unique while being 100% confident that the country in which you are is its true origin.