Hanoi or Kuala Lumpur- Where should I go on exchange?

As part of my degree, an opportunity has come up to spend a month or two overseas working in independent (as in, non-Government owned, not “radical” or “alternative”) local media. The two frontrunners at the moment are media outlets in Hanoi (Vietnam, in case you didn’t know) and Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia).

Now, I know a bit about Malaysia’s media and the conditions they work under. I know several people (including my wife) who have all been to KL and they love the place, say it’s very modern, lots to do, etc.

But Vietnam is a lot cheaper to go to, and the outlet is (slightly) closer to my interests than the one currently available in KL.

The thing is, I only know one or two people who’ve been to Vietnam, and that was as tourists, so they had a great time drinking and eating weird food and chasing girls and lying on the beach and generally living it up. But I’m not much of a drinker, I don’t do drugs, and I’m happily married, so I’m not really interested in the nightlife.

I have a couple of friends at uni on exchange from Vietnam, but they’re all from [del]Saigon[/del] [del]Ho Chi Minh City[/del] The Big City In The South That Didn’t Get Bombed Around The Clock By The Americans During The Unpleasantness, and don’t really know much about Hanoi.

One of them said “You should come to Vietnam. Is very nice, friendly people, pretty country. You would like very much.” but also looked like they were worried that people in black pyjamas with coolie hats on would leap out from behind a lampost and beat them with sticks if they said anything different.

I’ve tried reading up on modern-day Hanoi and half the stuff I see says “Fantastic French-Colonial city with vibrant culture” and the other half says “Dirty, unsafe hell-hole”.

Kuala Lumpur is, of course, well-positioned for side-trips to Singapore and Thailand, and everyone I know who has been there has had a good time- even if they aren’t a party animal.

So, I’m trying to work out which posting would be the best- Hanoi or Kuala Lumpur?

The whole thing is still only at the “preliminary vague possibility” stage at the moment, but if it goes ahead it will likely be sometime between late November and February.

So, has anyone spent any time in either of those places, and if so, can you offer some insights as to what they’re like for a non-tourist on limited funds?

I’ve never been to Vietnam but I have visited KL on a number of occasions. It’s an amazing city and a place I (and my wife) would live in a heartbeat. It’s very modern and beautiful but also has some lovely old world charm. And yes, it’s a fantastic hub. Not only Singapore and Thailand but Dubai, Sri Lanka, etc and the rest of Southeast Asia. (Plus direct flights to Europe - a strange concept for us folks living down under).

Jetstar has some super cheap flights to KL - if you can, take a few days and visit. I think you’ll be impressed.

I’ve been to Kuala Lumpur and to be honest I didn’t feel like I’d left western civilization. I stayed in a Hilton hotel and took the Bombardier train into town. I went to local markets and the like and although it was impressive I had no sense of displacement, although seeing the deplorable living conditions outside of the city was kind of sad, the inner city, transportation etc. was very western.

I ate in local restaurants but being from a very cosmopolitan city (Ottawa) none of the food was remarkably different than what I could find here.

So, I know nothing of Hanoi. Perhaps it would feel the same? I’m not sure. I know I would opt for Hanoi because I think it would be substantially different than Malaysia, which to me, felt like a trip to South Carolina or something like that.

I spent a week in Hanoi as a tourist. The people were very friendly and it was cheap to live, eat and get around. It was in parts lovely, crazy, dangerous, ugly and interesting. I had a great time there just walking around, eating and watching the craziness around me.

People were interesting to talk to and spoke quite freely. Although most people can’t speak English, there were plenty of well educated people who were eager to talk to foreigners.

But transport can be tricky - many streets are choked up with motorbikes and bicycles. You would have to be very brave to drive or ride yourself. There are taxis and motorbike taxis though.

There are restaurants where you can escape back to western comfort at an affordable price, but only in tourist areas. It will depend where you are staying.

Hanoi = crazy but fun.

ETA: You are also close to some really beautiful places: Halong Bay, Sapa, southern China. Not too far from Laos, Cambodia and Thailand too.

Just chiming in from the food point of view:

Malaysian food - 10/10
Vietnamese food - 8/10

(I’m sure everyone has different preferences, of course, but that’s just MHO)

You probably will have an easier time at KL. English is the language of commerce, it is an international city and so on. Hanoi - I have a couple of Vietnamese colleagues I could ask them for you, but considering that you are working at a media firm I would imagine there may be a bit of a culture shock depending on where you are from.

(Same for KL too, but less. Both countries don’t exactly have the most liberal (as in freedom) media)

Hmmm… Interesting thoughts so far!

I’m currently in Australia, and I realise there are significant restrictions on Press Freedom in both those countries. That’s part of the interest in going- to get an idea what it’s like to work in a country where you can’t print whatever you like.

I’ve spent considerable time in both cities. I have travelled and done business in KL, and visited Hanoi twice as a tourist (the first time spending several weeks there, trying to buy motorcycles on the black market).

As said, KL is as modern as you like, sleek, glossy, but with colonial history and slum-like facets. You could live the life of Riley there, but compared to Hanoi it is a bit staid. Which might suit you to the ground.

Hanoi is chaotic as anything, frenetic and crazy, with a lot of modern conveniences if you look, but a lot of squalor. And a different colonial legacy. I absolutely adore the place, particularly over Saigon, but I think it wouldn’t be for everyone.

The press restrictions would be interesting in both places. Vietnam you’d have the Soviet-style system oppressing the truth, whereas in KL you’re dealing with rank hypocrisy of a fake democracy, with Islamic firebrands poking their nose in too. Fascinating to see each one I’d say - can’t you do both and compare and contrast?

(And this wouldn’t interest you, being married, but the Vietnamese girls are stunning.)

Hanoi simply because it’s a lot more interesting and challenging that KL. You won’t be there that long.

FWIW, some journo buddies of mine thought that it was much easier and open to be a journalist in China than in Malaysia. They had much more overt and probably covert control in Malaysia than in China…

Hanoi without a dobut. How many people ever visited a Communist state much less are given the opportunity to exprience living in one for a while.

If you go to Vietnam, I for one would be very interested in hearing your views on the situation there and even how different you feel toward America now that you’ve lived in a Communist regime.

Kuala Lumpur is probably nicer, but you’re after an education.

Am I correct in saying that KL is a first world city while Hanoi is a third world one?

I’d like to but it would depend on A) how that would fit into my course and B) finances. I’m on a fairly limited budget, unfortunately. But the journalistic restrictions in both places really interest me- I was at a seminar recently where the Editor of a well-known Malaysian independent newspaper discussed the challenges he faced and I found it fascinating. But I’ve never been to a Communist country and I think it’d be interesting to spend a bit of time there- especially, as has been mentioned, since it’s not somewhere a lot of people go, and whatever I learn there is likely to have more value (in some respects) as a result.

Malaysia is offically 2nd world. Mahathir Mohammed set up a program called “Vision 2020” with the goal of Malaysia being a first-world nation by 2020. Having said that, KL is pretty much there already.

Hanoi is definitely 3rd world, though it’s brimming with thriving trade and loaded with potential, but also grinding poverty too.

Thanks for the info jjimm.

I guess it comes down to what sort of experience you want to have, Martini. Since it’s only a few months I would say, if you want adventurous go for Hanoi; if you want “civilised” go for KL.

Just that if you to go to Hanoi, be sure to stay out of trouble (like what happened to three journalists detained at North Korea). Vietnam is pretty stable nowadays though - there are a lot of Vietnamese students in Singapore and they are able to fly back and forth without much problems.

I guess I’m a big chicken, but I would ask myself what would be the worst thing that could happen to me if I piss off “The Powers that Be” in each country as a foreign journalist. I.e. 8 years of hard labor for the journalists detained in North Korea (they were Americans, so that may have been a main factor).

Maybe that would be the thrill of it. “Can I work as a foreign journalist in this country and come out alive?”

I would vote for Hanoi for several reasons:

  1. Pho Bo.
  2. Hanoi is cheaper for someone on a limited budget.
  3. Hanoi feels like the exotic far east, whereas KL feels like the west.
  4. Hanoi has far more interesting/historic places than KL.
  5. Go to VN/Hanoi now, before it changes and loses that colonial feeling.

I’ve never been anywhere in Asia, but if it were me I’d pick Hanoi in a second. You’re only going to be there for a little while, you’ve got a position all set for you, and how many chances do you get to go to Vietnam? (I mean, maybe other people get a lot of chances, what do I know?) Anyway, I hear it’s beautiful there.

Hanoi … if you are young, healthy and have the brains to NOT piss off the government that is.

Honestly…if you can put a sock in it if you see something outragous and NOT publish it and get the government pissed off, go for it. If you have this amazingly strong impulse to report something that you just know the government does not want in the paper go to KL. Or dont go anywhere…

[i have absolutely no sympathy for people who deliberately go and piss off a government then whinge about being flogged or put in prison…]

I’m inclined to agree with you on the last part, to an extent. The practice is called “Development Journalism”, whereby nothing excessively critical of the Government is published in the media, so that 2nd and 3rd world countries can focus their energies on becoming 1st World countries without people getting sidetracked by scandals and so forth.

Naturally my tutors tend to go on about “Press Freedom” and “Erosion of the Fourth Estate” and so forth, but really, IMHO, what the Minister For Swimming Pools does in his spare time is nobody’s business but his own (for the most part) and I think there’s a lot to be said for not reporting on politics that doesn’t actually directly affect the average person.

I’m going to talk to the course convenor next week to see what each posting involves- once I’ve got a better idea what I’ll be doing when I’m there, I’ll be in a better position to start doing some preliminary planning, I think…