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Reflections from Vietnam

I’m writing from the tiny lobby of the house/hotel that is our home when in Ho Chi Minh City (also commonly still called Saigon but I think mostly by people from the city).
Tomorrow we’ll begin an organized tour and head north to Hanoi, two national parks (both are UNESCO World Heritage sites like Cinque Terre, Italy) , the historic areas of Hoi An and Hue, and I think spend some time around what in America you’ll know as the “DMZ” around Danang.
I’ll be walking around alone for the first time but no worries – Saigon generally feels safer to me than any big American City (pop here is 7 million but it feels like a billion as thousands of scooters and taxis swirl, honk, and beep from about 4am to 2am (ie maybe 2 quiet hours per day in a city where the hotels and homes don’t have insulated walls.
So far I’m struck by several things:
Great food, usually cheap, enjoyed enthusiastically by the people
Friendly people, quick to engage and happy to help
NOISE as in constant loudness almost around the clock.   Even in the small town of Sa Dec the swirl and beeping was disconcerting, though considerably calmer than here in Saigon.
Square houses – narrow and open to the street at floor level.   Construction here is very different from USA.
Fairly low international tourism infrastructure (as you’d kind of expect).  I may revise this later after we visit more tourism hots pots,  I get the feeling foreign people don’t visit here much though that appears to be changing fairly fast.   As Americans we are an oddity, esp. in Sa Dec, though the friendliness makes that OK.   Australia is, I think, the big intl market for tourism but still small.   As a tourism “professional”  I keep thinking of ways simple changes could really help the economy bring a lot more folks here.   e.g.  effective use of sidewalks (which now serve as scooter parking, forcing everybody to walk in the crazy streets and a street cleaning program with the many idle hands would have trivial cost but do a lot to improve the look and feel of the city and – perhaps most importantly – make it navigable by walking which is how most Europeans and many Americans get around for short distances.
The push of the free market, which always seems strongest … in the most unlikely places.

Religion in Vietnam


Although Buddhism and I think “no religion” are the common belief systems here in Vietnam, there appears to be a notable Christian minority as we’ve seen large Christian churches in both Ho Chi Minh City and Sa Dec.

…. more later on this topic …

Streets of Saigon


Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon is a swirl of streets, shops, and noise. It’s as if you took thousands of small neighborhoods and pulled them together into one huge sprawl. The noise and commotion is a bit overwhelming but we are learning to tune out the din from the street and focus on the task at hand.

Unlike in the USA, there’s not much attention to picking up trash *outside* but people really value the tidyness of their living spaces, even to the extent you often remove shoes before entering the house, slipping on sandals for that purpose.

This picture aside, along the streets the sidewalks are generally NOT used for walking. Rather they are filled with tables and chairs and kids and scooters and you walk in the street as the scooters and cars zoom past.

Sa Dec, Mekong River Fishing, Vietnam 021


Sa Dec Vietnam 021

Originally uploaded by JoeDuck

The Mekong River is one of Vietnam’s key features, and here in Sa Dec the Mekong is a source of food as well as a transportation route.

While viewing the river our host simply called over to a restaurant on the nearby street and they quickly brought over a table and stools so we could sip coffee and enjoy the river where some people were fishing, so we go online to learn about various fishes and the activity they were doing. Our waitress stayed nearby to make sure everything was swell.

The pace of life here in Sa Dec – and I think in the nation as well – is somewhat more relaxed and seems far less focused on “jobs” and productivity than on “hanging out”, though it’s far too early to understand a culture that is more than 1000 years older than mine.

Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon Vietnam. Pho Le Restaurant


An important Vietnam “theme” for this trip is sampling the “Pho” at many places. Pho is a soup made usually of a delicious and carefully spiced beef broth though other bases like chicken are sometimes used. Rice noodles are added and then you garnish your own soup with Thai Basil, other herbs, bean sprouts, hoisin sauce,and more. Pho makes a great meal anytime and there are many styles and places all over the country.

At a cost of 1-2 for a large bowl, it’s a wonderful meal anytime.

We are now in Sa Dec where we enjoyed Pho for dinner last night at the Vietnamese equivalent of a “drive in” where scooters would pull up to the tables and folks would hop off and order their soup. (not pictured here – this is Pho Le in Saigon).

Saigon Streets 139


Saigon 139

Originally uploaded by JoeDuck

Ho Chi Minh City, more commonly called “Saigon” here in the south, is the sprawling busy economic hub of Vietnam and remains the largest city in the country and one of the key centers of commerce for Asia. Here, over seven million Vietnamese live and work in mostly small family run enterprises that line miles and miles of urban landscape. Unlike Shanghai and Beijing, you don’t see massive construction here – yet. The cityscape is dominated by the small shops and restaurants and homes where scooters are often parked in the downstairs street access room for safekeeping.

Wikipedia for Ho Chi Minh CIty:

“Live from Vietnam” features start Feb 3


Here at Travel and History, starting next weeek, we’ll be featuring a month of reporting live from Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia.

For most Americans over about forty years old,  “Vietnam” conjures up stark images of jungle warfare, destruction and political turmoil.    This is unfortunate because the war is long past and the nation of Vietnam is a beautiful and friendly place that welcomes tourists from around the world.    Most of the people of Vietnam have no memory of the American part of the war – they were born after it ended in 1975.    We’ll be focusing mostly on topics of interest to the traveler on this trip though we’ll also review some of the history of Southeast Asia, reflecting a complex journey of hundreds of millions of people over thousands of years.

During the trip we’ll be adding a Vietnam Section to Online Highways Travel site, adding pictures to Flickr, and posting regular updates on the trip at Twitter.

Maui, Hawaii Travel Guide

Go Hawaii from Hawaii’s tourism board is one of your best resources for travel to the Hawaiian Islands, and following are links from their excellent feature for Maui travelers, especially those visiting for the first time, and if they’re planning to do activities as surfing or skiing getting equipment from sites as MyProScooter just before is also a great option.   Note that Maui – and any of the Hawaiian islands for that matter – is probably not as large as you are thinking.    In fact even the “Big Island” of Hawaii – the largest of the Hawaiian Islands – can be circumnavigated by car in a single day.
Lahaina, Maui – a historic whaling village and lively hot spot.
Haleakala National Park – A US National Park on the island of Maui.  Haleakala Park contains Maui’s highest peak.  MORE
Hana – small quaint city on the eastern coast of Maui.  Take the VERY scenic drive to Hana.  MORE

Rick Steves TV Shows


Rick Steves is probably your best source for European Travel tips and I was happy to find transcripts of most (all?) of his shows at the excellent website.    Before your trip to any of these destinations I’d recommend you review the transcript and take notes or even print it out for the trip.

Rick Steves’ TV Show Transcripts:

Travel Destinations on Twitter


Destination Marketing Organizations.   The source for this was   These have been alphabetized with hyperlinks to make a really useful tool to contact DMOs.      Eventually I may add the place names, but I think most are clear from this list.   Notice however that many begin with “Visit” so you’ll want to check the “Vs” if you can’t find your region here.

DMOs are usually the most authoritative tourism resources for USA regions though the term can refer to many different types of organizations from State groups to regional promotion groups to local Chambers of Commerce, VCBs, etc.

“DMOs” are the groups most actively engaged in handling tourism information requests.

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