Some people prefer the life in the big city and some people prefer the relaxed life in the countryside and the province. Both have their advantages and disadvantages and the same goes for these two when traveling. As I have wandered across Southeast Asia but also during previous journeys, I visited not only off the beaten track destinations but also major metropolitan cities. A lot of people tend to not like them and are happy to leave them rather sooner than later. The call of beaches, palm trees, high mountains and picturesque villages is just too intriguing. However, I think to really get an understanding of a country, its culture and its people, you should see both. City and countryside, both very distinct, very different and both offering totally different aspects of traveling. But both representing their country in their own unique way.
Life in the City
In terms of modern culture and the development of a country, the big cities act like a magnifying glass. Everything seems to be condensed, dynamic and ones impressions can be very diverse. Especially the Southeast Asian cityscapes can be a constant source of contrast and diversity due to the ever-present clash of old and new and the advance of modernity. This usually makes for a great mix and offers us tourists interesting opportunities to explore and discover.
Markets of every kind can usually be found in every bigger city. Let it be markets for food only or markets for literally everything like the Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok for example. The hustle and bustle, the locals bargaining, the new and exotic smells, and foods which you maybe have never seen before all make for a unique experience. And they are usually a great a source for finding unique souvenirs for friends and family at home.
History and Culture
The big cities are usually the place to be if you are into culture and history. The biggest temples and best museums are found there. Especially if you travel to a foreign country, checking out a couple of museums to learn a little bit about the country’s history is never wrong. It’ll not only help you understand the past but the present as well. And if you had enough of history and culture, a nice café or a quiet park to unwind are usually never too far away.
People in the cities are usually very busy. They have no time to deal with that foreigner stopping by. That is a great chance to observe the locals’ daily lives and can also make for some great photo opportunities. People who are preoccupied with what they do, won’t take notice of you, which will allow you to take interesting photographs. These street scenes, as I call it, are the essence of good street photography.
The big cities usually offer a great variety of nightlife. Bars, restaurants and clubs and so much more. The way the locals go out at night is also part of the local culture and always worth to check out at least once. Sitting at a street corner on a small plastic stool in busy Hanoi, Vietnam and drinking an ice cold Bia Hoi among locals is sure an experience in itself. It is also great to unwind in a bar after a busy day of walking around or a long museum tour and reminisce about the day’s events.
The province or the countryside usually offer what the tourist is really after. Pristine beaches, impressive mountains, the unique local life and just that picture perfect place you have seen on the internet before. Whereas cities are always a little bit alike, the rural regions of a country display its true identity. Life how it used to be and life how it still is in most parts of the country. Apart from the touristic attractions themselves the provinces offer, there are certain factors which make exploring them so special.
Getting in touch with locals
In those regions not yet influenced by the effects of mass tourism, the locals seem to be more open and welcoming towards tourists. Meeting a foreigner is something that maybe doesn’t happen too often and is hence interesting. The tourists are not seen as a source of income but as guests. That alone can make for a great experience. In the end, traveling is not only about the touristic attractions but also about the interactions with the people, especially the locals. And those interactions I found a lot easier to come by and more rewarding in the countryside.
I found people in the province being very hospitable. Maybe also due to the fact, that tourism didn’t have that much of an influence yet. The chances are high, that you might get an invitation for lunch or that someone invites you into their home. At the same time, accommodations tend to be much more localized. Small guest houses or even better, homestays can make for an authentic and very different experience.
The simple Life
Finally, what I love about roaming around the countryside is that you can set your perception of things straight again. You see how people go about their lives with the essentials, no luxuries and none of the things we might find necessary. And you know what, they are still happy, and probably even happier than a lot of other people out there. The simple life is the best life and a few days in the province help to again become aware of that. Return revived and inspired and with new appreciation of your life back home.
The countryside and the cities – sometimes two different worlds within one country. But both represent it’s culture in their own way. If you are exploring a new country or even your own, you should take time to see both. In the end, taking the time to enjoy one of them makes you appreciate the other even more. It is a good mix of both that makes traveling most enjoyable. And don’t get put off by other people’s opinions about places, you have to go and see for yourself.
What do you think? Do you prefer big city life or roaming around in the provinces? And which is your favorite big city. Mine is probably Phnom Penh in Cambodia and Bangkok in Thailand.