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Published: November 11th 2007
MJ at the Citadel in Hue
Did we mention that we had some rain in Vietnam?
We sent this blog out on Veterans Day and have recently learned that the travel blog server went down so we are republishing. Sorry for the delay.
First off, it’s really great hearing from everyone! Thank you for your e-mails. We are a long way from home and it is great hearing from you and keeping in touch. If you are one of those people who haven’t replied to the blog, it’s easy….at the bottom of the page is a spot to write a quick note. We would love to hear from you!
We’ve been in Vietnam for the past two weeks; we have spent our time in Hanoi, Hue, north of Nha Trang, and Ho Chi Minh City.
After our wonderful time in Laos, it was time to head to a new country and we flew from Vientiane to Hanoi. It was a two hour flight. Hanoi is the bustling capital of Vietnam and is in the extreme northern portion of the country. It is a mixture of French colonialism and communist style edifices. What makes Hanoi stand out among other Asian cities that we have been to is the colorful
View from our hotel window
buildings and the constant honking of car and motorcycle horns!
Honk, honk, honk is heard all day and all night long. They use the horn much more in Hanoi than any other city we have been in. It is a defensive mechanism to say….”look out here I come!”
We stayed near the old quarter in the heart of the city, and found it to be quite enjoyable. The weather was a marked change from the hot and sunny experiences of other places visited so far. It was generally cloudy with occasional showers in the low 70’s.
We discovered that Ho Chi Minh has almost cult like status in this country as he is regarded as the one who lead Vietnam to become an independent communist nation. His picture is on all the money as well as many paintings and buildings. His sarcophagus is in a mausoleum and people come by the thousands each day to pay their respects. It was closed to the public the day we were there as it is for three months each year for cleaning of the marble building. Oddly enough, Ho Chi Minh wanted to be cremated after death, but the
Dave in Hanoi
Considering new job options
people decided that they would rather keep his body on display, not unlike Stalin in the former U.S.S.R.
Once again our trusty $3 calculator came in handy as $1 equaled 16,000 Vietnamese dongs. It can still be a bit unnerving when your dinner bill comes to over 170,000 dong until you realize that it is a bit over $10.
Vietnam is a country where communism and capitalism constantly collide, and I doubt that Ho Chi Minh would recognize the current government model that is Vietnam. It is a rapidly growing economy focusing on many foreign investments. You need to remember that it is very young as nations go, only a little over 30 years old. The 80 million plus people may be an economic force to be reckoned with in 20 to 30 years from now.
One of the most noticeable things is the way the Vietnamese people drive. The motorbikes outnumber cars by about 15 to 1 and the roads are clogged with them. Cars continually honk their horns as a defensive driving measure. I believe that there are different ways to honk your horn depending on the message being sent. There is also an astounding
Citadel in Hue
One of the entrances
absence of stoplights at intersections, which puts into play a different set of driving rules: first, size matters; the bigger the vehicle, the more you yield. Second; you need to be a bit fearless, especially if you’re the one riding a bike on a four lane road.
Motorcycles constantly amaze us in that sometimes you see up to four people on one, and then just down the road, you see someone with something huge like a bundle of lumber strapped to a 100cc motorbike. It is quite a site to behold.
Hanoi is worth the visit because they have a couple of nice museums and we also went to Hoa Lo Prison, infamously known in the U.S. as the “Hanoi Hilton”, where several of our young pilots spent time in prison. Among them was Senator John Mc Cain who spent 7 years there. It was a somber event to walk through this prison. For many years before the Vietnam War, this was used as a prison and many times housed people who wished Vietnamese independence from the French. The prisoners were treated horribly. We are always amazed at how human beings treat other human beings. We do not
Citadel in Hue
understand that kind of anger or hatred.
We were interested in participating in the arts while we were gone so we went to the theatre to see the famous Water Puppets. We really enjoyed ourselves. The band played traditional Vietnamese instruments while accompanied by two female vocalists. The water puppets tell tails of local folklore during their performance. Imagine marionettes controlled by people standing in water with long poles instead of strings to control the puppets.
We knew going in that Vietnam was a big country, well very long. From end to end it covers about 1000 miles. We decided to take a one hour flight to our next destination instead of a 13 hour bus ride during the night time hours.
Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam is a small town of 250,000 people. We heard prior to arriving in Hue that they had been receiving a lot of rain for about 10 days. When we arrived the taxi let us out 50 yards before we got to our hotel as the street was completely flooded in front of our hotel. As the taxi drove off we picked up our things and headed down the street.
Bridge to the temple
The bellman came up the street to meet us and helped us with our luggage.
Early the next morning it was still drizzling but the street water had receded so we ventured out to explore. We toured the Citadel and several tombs of ancient Emperors. We observed some very nice architecture. Hue is a nice town and can easily keep you busy for a couple of days.
While in Hue we had dinner one night with two European businessmen, one from Germany and one from the Netherlands. They have been to Vietnam 6 times in the past year. They are trying to assist the government with developing this country. The project they are working on was scheduled for one year and they are at the end of that time and beginning to think that it will be extended by two years as things move slowly. With 83 million people in this country it is seen as a country with unlimited potential. These two gentlemen said that Vietnam is 20 years behind but they can be very competitive in the world economy. It was very interesting to hear from a business perspective how Vietnam is developing, or projected to
Are you tired of seeing Pagodas yet?
We also learned from them that Vietnam has wonderful and up to date medical facilities and equipment. Their weakness comes in that they do not understand basic clean and sterile techniques. We were told they don’t understand the importance of handing and proper cleaning of instruments; the result is a high infection rate.
Central Vietnam Floods- many perish in floods
From Hue, we headed south to Nha Trang via the train. It was a 12 hour ride and it allowed us to see a lot of countryside, waterfalls, rice paddies and mountains. This area has been hit very hard by the rain. The countryside is flooded and our 12 hour train ride turned into a 36 hour ordeal. When we arrived in Qui On, which is about 2/3 the way to Nha Tran our train stopped at the station. We thought we were picking up passengers or refueling. After about an hour we realized something must be up. The sun set and we were still waiting. Another hour passed when an announcement came on in Vietnamese and English saying that the railroad tracks were flooded and we could not leave the station. The announcement also told
From Emporer's tomb in Hue
us not to stray far from the train because they hoped we would be leaving soon. As the evening wore on, we realized that we were not leaving that night, so we tried to sleep. Unfortunately, our berth had a man who snored very loudly, and we lost a considerable amount of sleep that night.
The next morning, hope was renewed, as we were first told we would leave about 10 o’clock. This soon turned to noon, then 1:00, then possibly 3:00. In the interim, Dave inquired about taxis and even a train back north in the hope that we could make any progress. Alas….to no avail. After 3:00 that day, John from England who Dave had befriended earlier had found a cab driver that would take us to Nha Trang. We leaped at the chance. Almost 5 hours later, we were at our next hotel, which was a resort on the South China Sea. It was a lovely beach front resort.
We try to spend most of our time in low end hotels or guest houses but every couple of weeks we book something a little nicer. The timing on this could not have been any better.
Vietnamese business woman
Working in Ho Chi Minh City ( Saigon)
We spent the next few days recovering from this trauma while relaxing, taking a massage, walking on the beach, and generally not doing much. It was grand.
From there, we were supposed to take a 10 hour bus ride to Ho Chi Minh City, but decided we were not up to riding the bus, and took a flight instead. We landed in HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City) and went to our new hotel, which was located in the heart of it all. It was a great location. The next day we toured the city. The highlights of the tour included the War Museum- which is very difficult to tour, the Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Reunification Palace. We had a wonderful day talking to the tour guide that we hired. He was an older gentleman and provided an interesting perspective on life before and after the fall of Saigon in 1975. He gave us too much information to share in our blog but we will happy to discuss these things with you in the future.
HCMC is a bustling city of over 6 million. There are also 5 million motorbikes, 2 million bicycles, 200,000 cars, and
1st thing we passed in our cab in Hanoi
20,000 taxis! Needless to say, the traffic is a bit much.
The people of HCMC are quite friendly and the food is wonderful.
Overall we have found Vietnam to be dirtier than the other Asian countries that we have visited, that may be directly related to the enormous numbers of people in this country and the lack of basic infrastructure regarding garbage collection and recycling.
A note from Merry Jo~ It is with great sadness in my heart and a lump in my throat that I write this note. Thirty-six years ago my life and the life of everyone in my family changed enormously when my brother did not return from the Vietnam War. Since that time I’ve known that I would make a trip to Vietnam but I wasn’t sure when the time would be right. My friends ask me if I am going to Vietnam to seek closure, and the answer to that question is no.
When you brother loses his life in war there is only so much closure that you get… and whatever closure and acceptance I have it came for me about 20 years ago. I miss him terribly. My reason
for wanting to come to Vietnam is to see where he spent the last year of his life. I was only 14 when he died and didn’t have a good understanding of the war- not that anyone did….and certainly I don’t pretend to now. I wanted to come here and look at this place, this land and these people. I wanted to see where he spent his time. I am glad that I have come. In a strange way I feel closer to him and having a better understanding. I am very thankful to have my husband Dave at my side during this trip. I realize now that I could not, would not have wanted to make this trip without him.
Well………on to Cambodia…..but first a few factoids and thoughts on the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
Vietnam: A little background information and the obligatory observations…..
Vietnam , officially Socialist Republic of Vietnam, republic (v), 128,400 sq mi (332,642 sq km), Southeast Asia. Occupying the eastern coastline of the Southeast Asian peninsula, Vietnam is bounded by China on the north, by Laos and Cambodia on the west, and by the Gulf of Tonkin and the South China
Sea on the east and south. The capital is Hanoi and the largest city is Ho Chi Minh City , formerly Saigon.
The northern and western parts of Vietnam are mountainous- reaching elevations of more than 8,000 ft. The Central Highlands are sparsely populated but contains rubber, coffee, and tea plantations. The Red River delta empties into the Gulf of Tonkin. In the south are the Central Lowlands and the Mekong River delta. The population is concentrated in the two main river deltas. The Vietnamese account for more than 85% of the population, although there are more than 50 minority groups located in the highlands.
Although the Communist government has discouraged religious practice, it is tolerated within the context of government-regulated Buddhist and Catholic groups.
Agriculture remains the main employer and rice is the by far the leading crop. Peanuts, corn, sweet potatoes, and beans are secondary food crops.
Vietnam has a long and sometimes brutal history of occupation, first by the Chinese, then the French before finally emerging as an independent nation in 1975. It is a one party communist country, which means the land is owned by the government. It is also a very long
Street flooded in front of our hotel
country as it borders China at the 33rd parallel and continues south to the 7th parallel, a distance of over 1000 miles.
Most people in America are painfully aware of their country’s involvement in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, but few are aware that the U.S. funded the French’s military forces after WWII and well into the 1950’s.
The people of Vietnam have differing views about their current state. Some older ones, like the tour guide we met will tell you that it is worse since the communist revolution. The younger ones probably don’t see it quite that way, but do not have the perspective that comes with age and wisdom. One thing is certain: here in the 21st century, Vietnam has a lot of potential. The question is whether the current type of government can realize that potential, or stifle it.
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