Hello again, everyone. It’s been awhile since I’ve written, so I thought I’d finally try to make a new posting. There is a reason, however, why I have not written for this time. I am now in Vietnam.
Yes, I am indeed back in southeast Asia. My last visit here was three years ago, when I went to Laos and Cambodia. It’s been five years since I’ve been in Vietnam. So how has the trip gone so far?
Well, it did get off to a rough start, I have to admit. I flew from New York to San Francisco, San Francisco to Hong Kong and then Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon). In Hong Kong, I got off the plane, waited about two hours and then got back on the same plane, which continued on to Vietnam.
Unfortunately, the airline took my suitcase off the plane in Hong Kong and didn’t put it back – so when I got to Saigon, it was nowhere to be seen. Even worse was that it took another three days to get to me, so I had to live without my bag and its contents for that time. Add to that a stomach bug that bothered me for a few days beginning around the time my suitcase arrived, and you can see how things could have started off better.
Still, the bag is with me now and I’m starting to feel better, so hopefully things will go well from now on.
As to Vietnam, after spending a night in Saigon, my group flew north to the capital city, Hanoi. I had spent two nights in Hanoi on my last visit, but as we had arrived late and left very early the next morning, I really didn’t see much of the city. This time, with two full days in the city, I did.
The first day was with the tour group, and we went to the requisite places such as the Temple of Literature, dedicated to the philosophy of Confucius, and the mausoleum and homes of Vietnam’s national hero, Ho Chi Minh. A highlight was a performance of water puppets, a unique form of puppetry in Vietnam in which the puppets ‘perform’ in a large pool of water.
The best part of the day, though, was a cyclo ride through the Old Quarter of the city, a dense warren of commercial streets that was laid out centuries ago. I was on my own the next day and returned to that part of the city to try to make some photos, after spending some time around Hanoi’s central Hoan Kiem lake.
This part of the city is a bit like Venice in that its interesting to just get lost and wander about from street to street. It is very unlike Venice, though, in two respects: it is very noisy and you’ve got to be careful not to get run over by the non-stop parade of motorbikes and other vehicles driving by.
That same non-stop parade of traffic is also what makes crossing the street a harrowing adventure. There aren’t that many traffic lights in the city, so if you want to cross the street, you’ve just got to say your prayers, walk out into the traffic with a steady pace and hope that nobody hits you. In fact, it’s probably best to look straight ahead as you walk and to not look at the traffic coming at you, least you be scared out of your wits. (In this way, I guess, Hanoi and other Vietnamese cities are a bit like Rome.)
The following night, after leaving Hanoi, was spent on a boat. The boat was a small but nicely appointed vessel that was cruising on Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site that features thousands of limestone outcropings jutting out of the water like miniature mountains in a multitude of interesting forms.
Yesterday was a long travel day, as we rode back to Hanoi and then took an evening flight to the city of Hue (pronounced ‘Hway’) in central Vietnam. That’s where I am right now. Hue was the imperial capital of Vietnam from 1802 to 1945 (though much of it was during the time of French colonization), and the remnants of the huge imperial Citadel are also a World Heritage site.
Of course, a trip to Vietnam cannot avoid referances to what the Vietnamese call the ‘American War’ of the 1960’s, and it was during the Tet offensive of 1968 that Hue, which was south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), was captured by North Vietnamese forces and held for several weeks.
Our guide gave us a good explanation of those events – plus his own family’s history with that event – and as our group includes a former U.S. Army officer who was stationed in Saigon during the Tet offensive (and where the U.S. Embassy was captured by Viet Cong forces for several hours), it was all very informative.
It’s getting late and I’m getting tired, but before I finish, I’ll write a few notes on the what I see of the current situation here. First of all, getting into the country is a bit easier now, as one does not need to fill out an immigration form on the plane as I had to do last time.
Vietnam is still a Communist country run by the Communist party, but I have to say that one doesn’t notice is that much. Like China, Vietnam has entered the global economy and its economic system is basically capitalist, with the bulk of companies and businesses owned by private Vietnamese or foreign investors. There are plenty of high end shops to be seen in cities, and even smaller places are selling mobile phones and SIM cards, though it can be a bit incongruous to see a shop selling beautiful women’s traditional dresses located right next to a machine shop, as I saw here this afternoon.
Pretty much the only signs of the Communist rulers are the red and yellow signs seen around extolling the party’s virtues, and the fact that one cannot photograph military or police personnel, important government buildings or buildings of a political nature. (Jee, being prohibited from photographing governmental buildings from the street. Where have I heard that before???)
Note: I had planned to post some photos I made with my pocket digital camera, but for some reason this computer just will not permit it. Sorry.