Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Avoid the One-Pillar Pagoda

It's fun debating friendliest, prettiest, ugliest place in this world of travel. But some negative superlatives can strike me as particularly careless or hollow -- particularly when based on a quick, solitary visit.

It's what I call the 'one-pillar pagoda.'

No opinions should be built on the back of a lone observation or experience. But often they are. I can't say the number of times I've heard swipes at Vietnam -- 'greedy loud locals ripping off tourists' -- from visitors who stuck with the deeply rutted backpacker trail from cafe to cafe, travel agent to travel agent. Go a block or two in any direction -- away from the fly-paper tout zones of banana pancakes and Internet cafes -- it's another story.


I fight this urge to demean or overly sell a place all the time. In fact, one of the key things I've learned from updating a couple dozen Lonely Planet guidebooks has been to NOT trust yourself. At least not always. Particular giddiness or fortune in meeting/knowing locals that connect you to a place, or the presence of an untimely headache can greatly alter how one sees -- and talks of -- a destination for years to come.

This same principle, of course, works in life too. One-pillar structures exist (like the Hanoi pagoda above), but there's a reason most buildings are built on at least four supports.

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