Having been to SE Asia twice now, I've come to some conclusions:
I am not attracted to either Cambodia or Vietnam as a vacation destination. It doesn't matter to me that they are inexpensive once I get there. Feels like I've only worked (not true) the last 2 trips and now need a real vacation!
Granted I have not been to the more popular beach areas of either country (Kep, Da Nang) so that might have swayed things? Not sure/convinced as I'm not a lie down on the beach, eat and drink my face off or go trolling for a companion for a week type of person.
I am griped by the level of suffering and would return to help out (Cambodia, not Vietnam, may consider writing about it another time), for the right project. Having seen first hand some great organizations made me feel better about where my money was going. Would also go back to visit the people I met. And on this trip, my best memories ended up being all about the people.
Overall, I would not describe the places I saw this time around to be all that relaxing. I met and were told by people who lived nearby (Singapore, Kuala Lumpur), that they chose these areas to vacation in because they are close, inexpensive and easy to do over a long weekend.
I get that but for me, the noise pollution, the chaos, might be amusing the first couple of days, but afterwards, don't know how people find peace? I like to be able to hear myself think. Hard to decompress with all the random, distracting inputs and worry about self preservation.
For those who are accustomed to busy Asian cities it probably wouldn't register much of a difference. And you obviously do adapt. I kicked into gear right away though it took me a solid week at home to get myself back to normal.
For me it is upwards of 20 hours in the air alone to get there and what I experienced wasn't enough for me to chose it over Europe. Heck, I don't even go for cheap packages to the Caribbean and it would be way closer! Had been doing some serious research on yet another developing SE Asia country prior to my arrival but have since shelved plans to return to the region later this year. I need a break!
Because I react to MSG, missing significant amounts of sleep didn't help matters. Once I stopped eating noodle soup, I was able to get about 6 broken hours of sleep a night. Not great but better than nothing. And one thing about Vietnamese people, they will tell you in a kind and caring way if you are looking tired!
I kept summing it up to jet lag. Wasn't going to get into the food thing and start some sort of international incident. We love Vietnamese food and eat a lot of it here in Canada. And I was not going to miss out on opportunities to participate in street food tours. So I just dealt with it.
Plus MSG/food additives isn't a wholly Asian thing. Remember I had a similar but worst experience in Prague? Because of that, I clued into it much earlier this time around. It was a super great thing that I found Vietnamese coffee to be pretty awesome -- Cold, hot, made with egg, loaded up with condensed milk and ice, I drank it all! And I'm not a daily coffee drinker at home. I feel part of the difficulties I experienced getting back into the swing of things upon my return is detoxing from all of that.
One thing about being totally awake, you get a lot done! I figured out where that extra flight I was looking to take is going to be and booked an entire adventure around it, at 4:30 am one morning using my phone. Then it was the perfect timing to call D to see how his work day went (13 hours difference). And after chatting for an hour, the morning public announcements and songs would start, signally the start of another day.
You don't have to venture far beyond the old gates of the Old Quarter or the Long Bien bridge to see how most people really live. The density in the Old Quarter is nearly 8 times what NYC is and costs upwards of 15000 USD per square meter...