Vietnam, land of Communism?

Trip Start Aug 25, 2003
Trip End Jul 18, 2004

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Wednesday, November 5, 2003

I know that Vietnam is Communist. Really I do, but never before have we met with such fierce "sales persistance." We have been through many places where hawking is the norm, this is nothing new for this trip. But I have never before seen Sarah physically dragged into a shop - we didn't even know what they were selling! That, of course, didn't last long: clothes. OK maybe I shouldn't generalize all of Vietnam, our time in the Mekong Delta (Chau Doc) was very pleasent. Even in Ho Chi Minh City the people were not that persistent. Maybe it's that Hoi An is a tourist center. Still, the town maintains a pleasant atmosphere. Just a few hours ago Sarah and I were wandering about town taking in the sights; Hoi An has charming architecture - yellow stucco looking buildings with colorful wooden shutters and doors. As we were walking I spotted a pretty cool painting. When the artist came up he invited us in his store, showed us pictures of his family, pulled out what looked like a open pickle jar filled with rocks and a watery liquid, and poured us each a shot. He called it rice wine but it was more like rice whiskey - "good for the back!" he assured us as he pounded his back. My shot came with a pebble (at least it looked like a pebble. Nevermind that it ended up sticking to the side of my glass, I'm calling it a pebble!). From the smell (and later the taste) I was sure the alcohol would kill anything that may've wanted to live in that jar. He offered to cook us dinner tomorrow, I don't think we'll take him up on that - I'm not sure I want to deal with more "rice wine." OK, so hawking isn't all bad.

As I said, we didn't experience this persistance in the south, it was another phenomenon altogether - driving. For that Ho Chi Minh City is definitely the worst. The staggering amount of motorcycles is the worst we've seen yet, but what's really scary is that at intersections they don't even seem to slow down, it's just "beep beep" and through. Roundabouts are even worse because genereally there's not much to "go 'round." Maybe something the size of a refrigerator. This seems to cause more confusion than a normal intersection. Of course the whole thing baffles me so what do I know? In Dalat, we saw one person actually walking through a insanely busy roundabout while reading a book.

We did manage to catch a few interesting sights around Ho Chi Minh City, the most memorable being the War Remnants Museaum and the other being the tunnels of Cu Chi. The War Remnants Museaum gave another view into the what I know of the Vietnam war. Much of it was focused on journalists that covered the war - from both sides. Sarah and I continue to marvel at the fact that we have recieved no bad feelings from any Vietnamese(we get more from western travelers!) especially given the portrayal the museaum (and I would imagine some Vietnamese) has of the US. People that we've encountered freely offer the hardships they had due to the war and still proclaim they love Americans.

The Cu Chi tunnels were built and maintained from 1947 through the beginning of the Vietnam War. They were mostly destroyed during the war, but some were rebuilt to show the living conditions of the people who used these tunnels. My view of the confusion during the war became more real as our guide explained that these tunnels were built by southern Vietnameese who supported the north. These tunnels were only 65 km out of Saigon! After a short "documentary" (the winners write the history books, right?) on the people of Cu Chi's efforts in the war we not only go to see these tunnels, but crawl through them ourselves - of course they had been widened for tourists! After a few forays into some shorter (and wider) tunnels we saw the method they had for entry. A Vietnamese man demonstrated the entry method - slowly stepping into this tiny hole in the ground with the lid over his head - and then gave us a chance to try. I fit all the way to my shoulders and then I was stuck. Despite the fact that I write about food alot, I really haven't gained any weight - honestly! Next time we have a good connection I'll post the picture. Our final trek was throught a tunnel 120 meters long, as deep as 10 meters, and, we were told, much closer to original size. We had the option to get out at 60 meters, but neither Sarah nor I heard the guide correctly and ended up crawling the whole length! Even knowing that we could've turned around (well, gone backwards) I couldn't escape that feeling of claustrophobia. It is cramped, hot, humid, and extremely dark. Putting out of my head the fear of being trapped under 10 meters of earth down there was hard to do. It was an experience I definitely won't forget (even if I wanted to). Fresh air never felt so good!

In travelling from Phnom Penh to Hoi An we also got to see some incredible landscape through the Mekong Delta (by boat and bus). The trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Hoi An has taken us through cool mountain towns (we stopped off in Dalat for a few days) and through some beautiful country side with mountains walling it in. I know I have written before about the scenery in SE Asia, but Vietnam has some of the best we've seen. (I think I have a problem, I really could look at rice fields all day).
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