May 26, 2011

A Final Word On Vietnam

Having both never been to Vietnam, we were extremely surprised by the country’s diversity in landscape and topography--no two places were even remotely alike.  And the variety of activities on offer, especially for a family with young children, kept everyone busy and entertained yet was extremely light on the wallet.  As with all of our other destinations so far on this trip, we’ve enjoyed ourselves in Vietnam, although some aspects more than others.  Here’s our recap of our likes and dislikes from our 29 days there:




Liked:

· The variety in the landscape throughout the country.  We experienced sand dunes, canyons, beautiful while sand beaches, marble mountains, limestone karsts, caves, rice paddies, rivers, ocean, busy cities, and quiet villages.
Strawberry Fields, Dalat

Tam Coc



·  Big range of activities on offer, especially for families with young kids.  In most towns, there were nightly amusement parks suitable for kids aged 18mo+ and the rides were very cheap (starting around 0.10 cents per ride/1,000 VND).  In some places they turned a central square into a children’s area to ride rented bicycles and electric motorized cars, again for a very nominal fee.  We were told that this is quite popular and common in Russia as well.  

  We also partook in alpine coaster rides, island boat trips, and indoor entertainment such as the circus and water puppet theatre.  For adults, lots of water sports like jet ski and parasailing rentals were available, as well as snorkelling, diving, and trekking.  Nha Trang also had a big water amusement theme park (Vinipark) for an all day experience.  Vietnam had activities for everyone, and affordable too. 

Roller Coaster in Hue

Water Park in Nha Trang

Nightly at Dalat Square

·  Soaked in history, ancient as well as recentLoads of cultural attractions to take in, from temples, to ancient palaces, and to locations relevant in the 20thC from the Vietnam war.  Abundant good quality museums too.  What was best about all of this is that about 5yrs ago, the government standardised all entry fees to national attractions to be the same for locals as well as for foreigners so now entry fees were the same low price for all. 

At Chu Chi Tunnel
· Great quality budget accommodation.  We usually paid between $15-20.00 USD for a room with either 2 double beds or 1 queen bed and 1 single bed, satellite tv, air conditioning, attached bathroom with hot water, and usually free wifi in the room, or in the lobby at least and sometimes we even had a pool. 

  Quite often the places that we stayed in, known as mini-hotels as they wouldn’t have as many rooms as a larger hotel, were quite new too and very well finished in the latest plumbing and electrical fittings; a few even had plasma televisions.  

Sea of Memory Hotel, Mui Ne, $22 US
· Legacies from the French colonialism daysWe especially enjoyed having fresh baguettes and eggs for breakfast, for usually no more than $1.00 US per serving.  And the French inspired gardens were evident in most public spaces, particularly in ‘South Vietnam’ (south of Hue), where intricate topiaries shaped as dragons, boats, and letters depicting the town’s name, would grace the median strips leading into and out of the central tourist district as well as adorn most round-abouts. 






Disliked:
· ATMs only allowed a maximum withdrawals of equivalent to $95.00 USD/2,000,000 VND per transactionAlmost all bank machines had this limit, although through a bit of research on the internet, we discovered that a couple of the banks did allow a higher $235.00 USD/5,000,000 VND per transaction limit, so we really had to make sure we used one of these machines (Agribank, DongA Bank; HSBC and ANZ allowed 5.6m VND but charged 2x the ATM fee)

·  Censorship on the internet.  For some reason, access to Facebook was restricted, although Twitter was allowed.  Also access to certain internet sites were also blocked, as well as to web browsers outside of Vietnam (ie only Google Vietnam and Mozilla Vietnam were available, and in Vietnamese!).  Use of a proxy server bypass site could sometimes get you access, and most Vietnamese seemed to use them anyway.

· Rude, dishonest and petty merchantsFrom the moment we entered Vietnam from Cambodia, we noticed this.  Bus drivers and their assistants were the worst, followed by hoteliers and restaurant workers/owners and small grocery store keepers (where you don’t normally have to bargain for staples like water and ice cream bars)—the very people whose livelihood involve working with the public and depending on their location, working with tourists specifically.  

Sometimes it went beyond rude and to plain trying to rip you off just because you are a ‘dumb tourist’, like trying to charge us 2x the normal amount for ice cream bars from a small grocery store because it was in a 'tourist area'.  Pettiness really got to us, like our hotelier in Hanoi wanted to charge 0.10 cents USD/5,000 VND to make a phone call to book a taxi to take us to the airport (when others have told us that mobile phone calls are practically free for everyone on a plan).
 
   More so than in Cambodia (which is a poorer country) and in Thailand, we found that the Vietnamese were really out to ‘make a buck’ from you however they could.  Even if you paid extra to be on a ‘premuim’ tourist bus, they would make you squeeze in like sardines at the back of the bus so that they could make extra money by picking up Vietnamese friends/relatives/random people wanting a ride along the way.  Nothing was for nothing and you being a tourist was not sacred to them. 
 
   We met so many other tourists who also felt this way.  Basically, if you have spent more than 2 weeks in the country and were travelling independently and not with a tour, then you would notice it.  It really took away from your good feeling about the country.  Of course, we only had these experiences about 50% of the time, but they did tended to overshadow the good ones.


The Nitty Gritty.

So how did we do on our budget in Vietnam?  By our calculations, we averaged about $61.00 USD per day for all of us, this goes up to $67 if you include the cost of our visas too ($45.00 USD x 4).   

This pretty much accounts for everything that we spent in the 29 days that we were there, including all transportation (taxis, buses), all food, all activities/excursions/tours (including Halong Bay), purchases and gifts, even bottled water.  

The extra tours and excursions were probably what drove up our daily average compared to Cambodia and Thailand, but it was well worth it.  

On the whole, Vietnam is a very inexpensive destination for tourists especially long term travellers and families.  Great country; shame about the attitude of some of its people.


29 comments:

  1. I enjoyed reading about your travels in Vietnam as I was there 9 years ago. What a great experience your kids are having (and the adults too!) I think your cost/day is great. I would agree about the people trying to make a buck off tourists any way they can. I can remember having to bargain for a loaf of bread and I still think I paid way too much for it. Beyond that, a stunning country it is.

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  2. It might have been way too much, in Vietnamese terms, but when you see how much they earn in a year (about $1,200/year), it is no wonder they try to make a buck where they can and tourists are the most likely prospects for this. We found quite a lot of Vietnamese to be very gentle and friendly. If they are brash, it's is just in imitation of the brash foreigners that they have come across during their long history who have tried to rip them off.

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    1. Here's an interesting article on the practice of 'ripping off tourists' in Vietnam --seems that we aren't the only ones who feel this way! http://www.tuoitrenews.vn/cmlink/tuoitrenews/business/foreign-tourists-robbed-everywhere-1.60809

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  3. Thanks for your comment, but as we've said in the post, we've been to much poorer countries than Vietnam and have not been treated this way. It's not really about how much they earn in a year, as the merchants and hoteliers would generally be considered at least a middle-class anyway, nor about the amount that you have been overcharged. It's about greed and dishonesty, and disrespect. Tourists get 'ripped off' everywhere, regardless of the wealth of the society, because people feel that they can, that they're just 'stupid tourists'. It doesn't make it right, nor does it make you feel proud that it happens to in our own countries. But when it does happen, both at home and elsewhere, it tends to be by the obvious taxi drivers, etc. For goods and services that you are expected to bargain, so be it for whatever price you agree on. Ditto if you are buying in places that are clearly higher priced like convenience stores. But at an everyday shop where prices are not marked so that it can be subject to vary depending on 'who you are' (ie stupid tourist), then we take objection to this and of course choose not to deal with them. Whatever their reasons for being 'brash', it still makes it unpleasant to deal with on a day to day basis for the basic necessities.

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  4. thanks for your feedback. We found northern india difficult for the same reason, but last time it was only the two of us travelling- we're hoping its not the same. Another question, were you happy with how you timed your visits- would you spend more/less time in various areas?
    thanks

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  5. we found northern india 'challenging' too, but cheating tourists was nothing compared to that in Vietnam...as one fellow backpacker put it: at least in india, the locals stick up for you if you ask them the correct price of things, etc or if they see that you are being cheated, but not so in Vietnam--the locals stay out of it. we found Lao to be along the same line as in Vietnam (on a previous trip) but not with the same arrogance and disdain as the Vietnamese.

    as for where we would spend more/less time (in vietnam i presume): we loved dalat and the climate was a nice change. we tried to stay an extra day there but with an upcoming holiday, it was quite difficult to secure accommodation. we also would have like to have spent more time in the country in general in order to have been able to visit phu quoc in the mekong delta. another 2 weeks would have been good to have not had to travel so quickly and also to cover the south. but having said that, after 29 days there, we were 'done' and not to mention warranting the cost of a visa extension/longer visa was still debatable. we generally spent 3 days/3 nights in each place and really, that was a minimum time required--wouldn't do less, but at the same time, we did cover most places pretty good, although more time in Hanoi and even HCMC would have enabled us to perhaps seen more of the 'sights' (we really didn't cover much in those cities) but then again, big cities and little children can be a tricky combination.

    so in conclusion, we were pretty satisfied with our itinerary and how it turned out.

    more time in cambodia and bali on the other hand would have been nice!

    Thanks for your visit!

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  6. Thank you for your advice

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  7. Always appreciate your honesty guys. I have really enjoyed watching you guys travel SE Asia as a family with youngsters. Sure, some of the stuff you come across is easy to deal with when you are not with kids, but when you have 2 kids in tow :)

    The adventures you have shown with your kids over the past few months are fantastic and not for the faint of heart. So when you express any level of impatience or frustration - I really trust your judgement. This makes your posts all the more valuable.

    Thanks again guys. In all, Vietnam sounds fabulous.

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  8. Thanks for your comment and your support Justin, especially since we don't know each other! We are pretty down to earth people and as such approach our blog the same way. we don't expect a lot (from people or places) except for honesty and respect and we like to think that we treat people the same way (and our blog too!). We don't expect to be treated any differently traveling with kids, but at the same time we do appreciate when we are given considerations which can make our lives easier (like special immigration queues!).

    We really liked vietnam, but our frustrations are definitely not soley limited to us. Human nature though tends to 'make everything rosy' ;)

    thanks again for stopping by.

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  9. "We don't expect a lot (from people or places) except for honesty and respect"

    That is a lot though. Charging you 2X for something is not indicative of either. In the US, heading to a theater drinks and popcorn are marked 2X more than outside. We are conditioned to accept this because of the idea that everyone gets ripped off equally. But in Vietnam, and other countries, where the prices aren't listed, people get charged different amount. Part of what's fun is in this bartering game of true free market, but I can see how it can also be wearisome. But you're in a different country, with different culture and mindset. Part of the charm of traveling. About the charge of $.10 to make a phone call, I think you're being unfair. Certain things in different hotels get charged and not charged in the US/Canada. Wifi, being one. Just because it's free elsewhere, even if this one establishment is the only one in Vietnam making that charge, it doesn't make it petty.

    "Nothing was for nothing and being you being a tourist was not sacred to them."

    I didn't realize that being a tourist was something sacred. If anything being a tourist always gives me a sense that I'm marked for price gouging, and a possible target of crime.

    "Of course, these experiences only accounted for about 50% of all our time, but they did tend to overshadow the good ones."
    50%? That 50% of the time dealing with people just within the tourist industry?

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  10. Maybe its just us, but paying more at the movies or at 7-11 is different to being overcharged based on the colour of your skin--the latter is usually known as discrimination.

    thanks for popping by, 'anonymous'.

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  11. I'm loving this blog!!

    I just wanted to say that i am also very widely travelled, to many countries poorer than Vietnam and spent a few weeks in Vietnam a few years ago. i completely agree with what you are saying about all the people trying to rip you off. This really ruined my trip to Vietnam and I couldnt wait to leave. it is certainly not just the blogger's experience, and I'm not sure what anon is really carrying on about. I found it hard to ever feel comfortable as I was constantly waiting for the next rip off. I couldnt even relax in reasonable hotels or restaurants as there would always be a sting about to happen. It is such a shame. I dont ever want to go back because of it.

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  12. thanks for your support and comment Sharon! we're currently in india, which is a much 'poorer' country and have not have that kind of treatment here at all. like i said, it's about respect. cheers.

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  13. This summary make me quite insecure about my decision to travel to vietnam in 2012 with my two kids (and the man of course)... since i tend to take rude behaviour and ripoffs very personal :-(
    Given that we did not book any flights yet, would you judge Cambodia or Bali a "better" place to go if you had about 4 weeks?
    Thanks for sharing! I really appreciate your honesty...
    Jenny from Germany

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  14. Hi Jenny
    Our summary is by no means 'the bible', although many many travellers that mentioned that they have come to the same conclusion. But having said that, i would still highly recommend Vietnam for families as there is just so much to do there and for so cheap (rip offs aside). We really did enjoy ourselves there, but by the end, we (especially hubby) had had enough of the attitude, etc and were really ready to go. Cambodia is a wonderful place too, but not as many 'activities' on offer other than angkor wat and other khmer rouge-related 'sites (have you seen our 'wrap up' on Cambodia and Bali??). but the people are really great. we are actually going back for a couple of weeks in january. we spent a month there, but we just got into the culture. many people, if just seeing the sights, can probably be 'done' in 1-2 weeks. bali is good, but more expensive by comparison. not as much to do for children either, depending on their ages (we only found 1 playground there!) but there is a popular waterpark in kuta. beaches not that great either. but if you go to bali, hire a car and get around to see the 'real' bali outside of the resort areas. At the end of the day, it really depends on the kind of holiday that you are after. good luck!

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  15. Dear W2KIT,

    What a Great Blog, and thanks for sharing your experiences. I felt compelled to share, coz your blog brings back similar memories when me and hubby, and 6 six yr old daughter went to Vietnam in Aug 2011. Your family must be very patient, because we were so ready to leave after 6 nights. We did the North-South route and by the time we were at Ho Chi Minh, we decided to take the earliest flight home.

    Perhaps we were there in a rush(4 cities in 8 nights), with all the constant hooting from motorbike horns; and we only visited the Standard places, but generally the feeling that "we will be charged more" looms, and i agree that it's not a nice feeling, after u find out that there is a local price tag or menu. So the lesson learned is: to look for alternatives, be it for food or souveniers, the next place will always be cheaper, based on our trip there.

    But i didnt regret our visit to Vietnam, because i will never be able to get the same awe whilst traveling amongst heavy traffic in a Cyclo in Hanoi(Hoan Kiem lake becomes magical at night), exploring the numerous Unesco Heritage Sites, getting my Hoi An tailor-made dresses & Ao Dai in 24 hours, and savouring Vietnamese Street Food in Hanoi & HCM(don't take those next to rivers). Vietnam should be experienced and enjoyed, and as South east Asia's fastest growing economy, many things will change in years to come.

    To Jenny, please do not miss Vietnam, as its different from Cambodia and Bali, with Bali being most expensive and touristy(my opinion).I would think the best way is to visit Vietnam with no expectations whatsoever, and let Vietnam awe you. Don't miss the Viet drip coffee and the amazing French-indochine Cuisine.

    As most of the Vietnamese locals do not speak English (some speak French fluently), they may seem to not use the right words, but they are generally kind and warm. Those "out to make a quick buck" type, i think exist everywhere on our planet, and we just have to concentrate on the other good things about the place. The 2 places that we will visit again: Hanoi & Hoi An. Amazing!

    Thanks again for your Vietnam Experience, W2KIT. Will definitely visit Vietnam again to visit those kid-friendly places that we missed.

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  16. Interesting read. My husband and l travelled Vietnam back in 2004 and had an absolutely fabulous time except for the same problems that you and your family have experienced. We thought this problem would get better as more tourists visited but obviously this is not the case. What an amazing country and people though! I love reading your blog as we are just planning to backpack SE Asia with our 2 children so thanks for sharing all this information it is very helpful.

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  17. Sadly, we believe that increased tourism seems to just fuel this attitude. Have you seen this recent article [http://www.tuoitrenews.vn/cmlink/tuoitrenews/business/foreign-tourists-robbed-everywhere-1.60809]

    We also recently found that Thailand is heading down this same path :(

    Thanks for visiting us and for your comment!

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  18. I'm loving this blog!

    I am from Argentina, we live en Patagonia, and We are planning to visit Vietnam with our 1 year old son. I want to know if you recommend Vietnam for such a young child. We are a little concern about health there (Food, illness, etc). What is your opinion of the country? Is it "safe" for a 1 year old child?

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    1. Hi Vivian,
      We'd totally recommend Vietnam with a toddler. We didn't find that there were any particular issues with food and health, other than the basic travel rules of hygiene that applies to travel in asia in general (bottled water, avoid being bitten by mosquitoes, etc).

      If you look closely in each town/city, at around 4:40pm everyday there is usually somewhere in a central square where vendors will set up rentals of ride-alongs/trikes, etc. The stuff they rent is all used so it's cheap and fun for the kiddies. Also, there's usually somewhere in town where they'll have a nightly amusement park with kiddie rides. We found lots of stuff for the under 6yrs set.

      thanks for stopping by and have fun if you do decide to go!

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  19. Thank you for the answer !! We are planning to go next March !!

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  20. Hi

    I went to Thailand/Laos/Cambodia in 2004 but ran out of time to visit Vietnam. Of the three countries I visited Cambodia was my favorite by a mile. I found the people to be so charming and open despite all the horrific (and relatively recent) history. I was taken to a village in the middle of nowhere by a motor cycle driver from my guest house where they had nothing and they did not expect a single thing from me. It was extremely humbling, i know that's a cliche, can't think of a more suitable words.
    The food in cambodia was also amazing, very important!
    Laos was unbelievably primitive in comparison to Thailand, for example, Cambodia was somewhere in between. I travelled around as a backpacker on a tight budget so I'm sure it's easier to do it in much more comfort if you wanted too and had kids. I now have a toddler and am not sure that I would go back, purely because I'd be worried about health care in the instance of any illness although I'm sure this is ignorance on my part and that the majority of hospitals and doctors would be great. It's that 'just in case' fear.
    But what I wanted to say that I agree with the above comments, it is really frustrating and horrible when locals in any country treat you as a walking wallet. When you visit somewhere with the best intentions and are polite and courteous and are there with an open mind and respectful of other customs and cultures - occasionally quite difficult when you don't believe/agree with them yourself. Of course you expect to pay a bit more for some things and maybe rightly so but there is a definite line and it's very offputting when it's crossed. It would be good if locals could appreciate this a bit more and also in their interests too.
    Have had the worst experiences with this kind of thing in Morroco (which I would never visit again!) where the haggling can be extremely aggressive. My friend was spat on in a shop because he didn't want to buy anything. All in all though travelling is great and the negative experiences are rarely outweighed by the positive ones.

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  21. Great to read the first half of the blog but sadness came along as I'm a Vietnamese who travelled a lot too.

    In Vietnam, there is a huge difference between the rich and poor people. Rich people take very small %, they go to expensive places, tip and allow rip-off to show off. But the majority of poor people get about 100$ monthly salary, working 30 days per months, 10 - 12 hours a day, no weekends. So every day they they try to rip off a few tourists to... double their salary. That's just too tempting.
    It's a known issues among all educated Vietnamese people but it's quite hard to make it disappear in a short time. So I do advice tourists to Vietnam to do a bit of research/reading before travelling:
    - Know the price range of things so you can bargain.
    - Learn a few Hi/Bye in Vietnamese so they think you are expats and treat you differently
    - Use famous taxi company like Mai Linh, Taxi group... a bit more expensive but the company do QA on the trips by tracking location and randomly check if the driver took the shortest route.
    - Do not ask/use hotelier in small hotel. They are guard, not hotelier in 4, 5* and don't expect them to do anything for you. Talk to receptionist only, or her boss.

    I hope your trips to Vietnam will be more pleasant with those tips.

    PS: And it's worth to mention that even at rip-off price, things are still cheap compare to Thailand and Cambodia. In my travel experience, Thais are warm and honest so it feels better. Cambodia offers about the same rip-off amount but they do rip you off in a better manner, feeling guilty about it, rather than rude and impolite as in Vietnam. If the attitude towards tourist can change, I believe Vietnam is the most diverse country to visit in South East Asia.


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    1. Hi Nga
      Thanks for your comment--it's great to have insight from a person who truly understands the nuances of the culture!

      I wholly agree that Vietnam is one of the most diverse countries to visit in SEA and that their attitudes need to change in order to become as 'popular' as neighbouring Thailand, who while is much friendlier, is not offering as good value these days. I beg to differ on Cambodia though--pretty cheap and i don't think they rip you off as much. In both Thailand and Cambodia, prices are fixed for things in the grocery stores, whereas it didn't seem the case in VN, thus enabling the merchant to take advantage of you more easily. of course, when it comes to bargaining, well...then it's 'free game' ;)

      thanks again for your comment.

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  22. I think you had an enjoyable trip to Vietnam.There is also a lot of things that you can explore.Hope to see you again one day in Vietnam.
    Vietnam Tours

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  23. I've just discovered this blog and it's amazing! I'm really enjoying reading all your posts, even though you've been home for a while! I'd love to hear more about your travels through Vietnam, I'll be living over there for 4 months in the middle of this year, and looking to travel some of SEA as well! I'm curious to hear how you think i'll go as a 20 year old Australian female, but the more I read the more excited I get! This blog is amazing, I've loved reading about your travels!
    Elle xx

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    1. Hi Elle
      I'm sure you'll be fine traveling/living in Vietnam as a lone female--just exercise a bit more of the usual common sense and personal safety practices that you would at home ;)

      Feel free to email me directly if you have anymore specific questions. Thanks for you comment! Good luck on your trip.

      Jess

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  24. Hi,
    I traveled with a 12 year old few months ago in north Vietnam
    and we heard and read a lot about how Vietnam is difficult to travel, maybe frustrating because of what you've described....
    I traveled in 3rd world countries before- and didn't found that to be much different. I believe that a knowledge of what is a reasonable price for yourself to pay- does help in preventing scams etc'. We even found some honest and nice people that work in tourism industry....
    I believe there are practices that can help one to have a less stressful, always on the guard experience of Vietnam...

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  25. Dressing as a local and knowing a few phrases goes a long way. I have traveled extensively in India and SE Asia, had the best experiences in places with the fewest tourists and when I tried to dress like the locals, also when you are overwhelmingly positive about their country. That goes a long way. :)

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