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Published: February 22nd 2017
We, as travellers, often look for the scenic, the beauty spots, the ancient monuments but as we leave the port of Haiphong on a road far worse than any they could hope for I wonder if we ever 'see' the real country warts and all.
Haiphong is the country's third largest city, a jumble of container terminals, refineries and factories. Having suffered drastically in the war it is now in the process of being connected by high speed motorway to Hanoi and beyond. Hence the potholes or rather the crevices in the road into which small cars disappear. The road is yet to be surfaced, concrete towers loom out of the dusk as precursors to multiple flyovers which disappear into the distance - a new spaghetti junction in the making.
Through the rain showered windows of the bus the scenery is somewhat Armageddon, somewhat Mad Max. Not what I had come to Vietnam to experience but never the less a true part of Vietnam's resurgence and growth as a developing nation with communication routes leading into China and possibly Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. You hope that mistakes the West has made would not be repeated here but the belching
towers tell me otherwise, so do the piles of rubbish and plastic. Fast, fast, ever faster the concrete is poured, the scaffolding is erected and buildings are built.
Something has been done well though. Since the start of the freeing of economic restrictions in 1986 and the move to a market based economy the poverty level has been substantially reduced. According to the most recent progress report published in 2005, the percentage of households below the poverty line (assessed as the cost of adequate food plus non-food essentials) fell from 58%!i(MISSING)n 1993 to less than 24%!i(MISSING)n 2004, whilst extreme poverty (food costs alone) dropped from 25%!t(MISSING)o below 8%! (MISSING)Global Exchange, 2015
We were told this several times by proud Vietnamese and in these times of troubled economies a remarkable achievement.
What else did I take away from Vietnam? A sense of deep underlying religious faith - whether it be Buddhist, Christian, Taoist or Caodai we noticed a remarkable number of shrines and incense sticks burning at alley corners, outside shops and at dusk the ritual burning of printed pages or printed money. I found out that in fact 45%!o(MISSING)f the population participate
in what is euphemistically called folk religions. This includes ancestor worship and the worship or petitioning of protection from spirits.
Early morning walks saw old men and women with handfuls of incense sticks waving in silent prayer in front of their shops. Temples were busy; whether from appealing to Buddha or white horses they were crowded most times of the day. We bowed our heads in silent acknowledgement of good spirits in the world.
How could I not reflect on the food in Vietnam? Fresh flavours, crisp and clean. Fresh lettuces and green vegetables, chopped and added to your liking. Fresh seafood, fish hot pots and prawns as big as small lobsters! Markets and street vendors displaying their bright produce.
We did see a lot of rain in Vietnam although our route found us skirting the worst of it apart from Phong Na where it rained heavily every day and checking the forecast on our phones since doesn’t seem to have changed much! January is probably a good time to visit, usually not much rain, hot in the South and comfortable elsewhere before the monsoon hits and the temperatures soar.
Vietnamese people, in our opinion, were
all very friendly, with a keen desire to learn English. Foreigners can find work easily, teaching in private academies or in government schools. Many teachers we spoke to said that it was very well paid against such a lower cost of living. $USD 25 -30 per hour.
We were surprised to find that Airbnb and Uber are thriving in Vietnam! A great way to get around Hanoi at a fraction of the relatively high taxi fares and to find hotels with a more Western view of standards of cleanliness! I must add, we are not fussy travellers but even we have our limits and having to go out to find scourers and cleansers before even setting foot in the bathroom is not our preferred option.
Will we return for yet another trip to Vietnam? Absolutely. Even though Graeme has achieved his goal of seeing Ho Chi Minh at the mausoleum after being thwarted twice before there is a lot of unexplored countryside in the North to see plus the French colonial town of Dalat still on our to-do list.
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