Saturday, April 3, 2010

Follow-up on Vietnam trip

Thought I would finish writing about our trip to Vietnam with random thoughts about various parts of the country.

I loved the women's traditional dress seen predominantly in the south.....the loose fitting trousers covered with a long tunic split on the sides to the waist, with tight-fitting high-neck bodice and tight long sleeves. In the rural areas this was normally plain white tunic-dress over black trousers. In the cities the women wore more colorful outfits, often made from high quality silk. This was the normal dress seen in Saigon, fairly common in Hue, and not at all in Hanoi or the surrounding northern countryside. The common mode of female dress in the northern part of the country was loose fitting trousers with a loose jacket or loose pullover top....very much like the old black Viet Cong outfits during the war.

Upon arrival by plane at Ho Chi Minh City airport, the first things we saw were the concrete quonset hut shaped bunkers and U-shaped concrete bunkers all around the airstrip. These were very obviously left over from when the US occupied these airstrips during the war and are no longer used for anything. How fitting to be the first thing seen. Maybe they should tear these things down since Vietnam now focuses on promoting tourism.

For what it is worth, for anyone interested in refreshing their memory about the war, the best website I have seen for discussion of the Vietnam War is

As mentioned in a previous posting, a plaque in the Army Museum in Hanoi stated that 33,181 US planes had been shot down by the North Vietnamese during the war. That number sounded absurdly high to us. A quick internet search provided the following on Wikipedia:
"All told, the U.S. Air Force flew 5.25 million sorties over South Vietnam, North Vietnam, northern and southern Laos, and Cambodia, losing 2,251 aircraft: 1,737 to hostile action, and 514 to operational causes. 110 of the losses were helicopters and the rest fixed-wing. A ratio of roughly 0.4 losses per 1,000 sorties compared favorably with a 2.0 rate in Korea and the 9.7 figure during World War II."
Wonder how many tourists and locals believe what they read on that Army Museum plaque.

There was an article in the airplane magazine about the place we visited in the Mekong Delta. Ben Tre consists of 3 islands -- An Hoa, Bao, and Minh -- and today all 3 are connected via bridges to the mainland. Fifty years ago the islands became the home of the 1960's Uprising Movement in which around 10,000 people from the Mo Cay district initiated a politically motivated armed struggle against a similar number of Vietnamese and American soldiers. The movement is believed to be one of the original attacks that initiated the Vietnam War. The Long Haired Army was formed -- an all-female group of soldiers. Their courage represented the people of Ben Tre. Each year on a day of remembrance thousands of candles are lit and floated down the river to honor the region's revolutionary martyrs. They would have been part of the Viet Cong......South Vietnamese fighting for communist rule.

In the Ho Chi Minh City airport while we were waiting for our flight to Hue, 2 women from Singapore stopped to talk with us. They had been on the same flight with us from Singapore to Saigon. As soon as they realized we were Americans, one of the women pulled out a $100 US bill that she wanted us to change into either Vietnamese dong or Singapore dollars. Yeah, sure. Like we are going to fall for that old trick. That $100 bill was obviously counterfeit. Bill told her that we can't use any US currency right now because we won't be back in the US for years.

There are 2 areas of Vietnam that I have abivalent feelings about missing. Hoi An is a coastal village about 2 hours south of Hue by car or motorcycyle. There is no airplane service to Hoi An and the nearest railroad service is quite some distance away. So this very traditional coastal village is only accessible by car or motorcycle, and those vehicles are banned from the village roads. Life in Hoi An is supposed to be as it was 100 years ago. Hoi An is considered a must-see place by backpacking tourists. We probably should have gone down there by car one day while in Hue, but didn't bother.

The other area that I sort of wish we had seen is the northern Lung Cu region, sometimes called the Long Cu region. Long Cu means dragon settlement or dragon cave. This area is accessible by car on one main road and there is train access to parts of this mountainous region. The northernmost village of Seo Lung is near the Nho Que River, which flows into China and into Vietnam. Seo Lung is inhabited by Mong people. The nearby villages are inhabited by the ethnic Lo Lo people and by the Giay people. This sounds like it would have been a very special place to visit and the photos I have seen of the very mountainous area are beautiful. The dress of the various ethnic peoples is striking and the customs and language vary by ethnic group.

The 1,000 year old city of Hanoi is very different from the cities in south Vietnam. Hanoi is much more like one would expect to find in China. The city streets are very narrow and the buildings are hodge-podge together, very narrow buildings adjoined continuously on every block. There are very dark, very narrow, low-ceilinged alleyways every so often between the buildings and opening onto the sidewalks. Looking down these alleyways one can see even more buildings in the interior of each block. So you have the buildings facing the streets on all four sides of a city block; and then you have the buildings in the interior of each block. There are buildings on top of buildings everywhere. Not an inch of land space is left unoccupied. Those alleyways scared the bejeesus out of me. One can only imagine the damage and loss of life in the event of a fire.

We saw one KFC in Hanoi....right in the heart of the area where most of the western style hotels were located in the Old Quarter. We saw several KFC locations in Saigon. KFC is the one fast-food business that we have seen worldwide so far. And most people think McDonald's is the king of franchises. I think KFC far outperforms McDonald's for international stores.

Asians eat snack foods that would never satisfy the palate of most Westerners. Popular flavors of Pringles potato chips in SE Asia are Seaweed and Shrimp and Soft Shell Crab. Bet these are not the flavors you might find in local supermarkets in the States.

There was some discussion with other passengers on the Ha'Long Bay cruise about the population of the 2 major cities in Vietnam. Seems the guide books differ on which city has the greater population. According to Wikipedia, Hanoi has a population of 6,500,000 with a density of 4,856 per square mile. Ho Chi Minh City has a population of 7,123,340 with a density of 8,805 per square mile. So I guess Ho Chi Minh city still wins the prize as the largest city in Vietnam even though Hanoi is the capital. Ho Chi Minh City certainly is the most densely populated. Traffic was definitely heavier in Saigon than in Hanoi.

And my final random thought is for my brother, Boyd. I believe he was stationed in or near Da'Nang during the Vietnam War. (I may be getting him confused with the guy I was engaged to at the time, but I think Boyd was also stationed at Da'Nang. No doubt he will correct me if I am wrong.) Boyd is an avid golfer. The Da'Nang Golf Club will be opening The Dunes Course in April 2010. The Dunes Course is designed by Greg Norman and will have characteristics that will make the course be considered one of the best links layouts in the world. Wonder if the opportunity to play golf would make Boyd willing to visit Da'Nang again? Certainly the country is very different than when he was here in the late 1960s.

The photos from our Vietnam trip have been uploaded to all the blog postings. You can click on Vietnam on the left side of this page under 'Places We Have Visited' to see the blogs with photos. Only 4 or 5 postings will show up at a time, so will need to click on 'Older Posts' at the bottom to see previous postings. I am also attempting to upload additional trip photos to our Picassa albums, although I so rarely use Picassa that it will be a minor miracle if photos get uploaded successfully to the correct album. Might take another day or two to get those uploaded. To view the additional photos in that album, click here

It is time now for me to get my head around our next trip. Leaving for Hong Kong, China and Macau on April 21.

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