Vietnam Trip, Feb 2011: We returned to Saigon / Ho Chi Minh CIty after three quiet days in Sa Dec. It’s impossible in photos to capture the frenzy of Saigon’s busy streets, teaming with scooters, taxis, carts and people and about as noisy as you can imagine from very early until very late at night. Yet by the end of the trip we’d learned to tune out the hustle and bustle and focus on the charming sites and sounds as millions of residents go about their daily routines.
Some of the frenzy is simply what you find in most big cities, but I’d have to say that Saigon “felt” much busier to me than Los Angeles, Paris, Rome, or even Beijing or Shanghai. Unlike European and American cities I think Saigon / HCMC is growing very fast and changing reapidly, and unlike China’s megalopolises there’s not a lot of funding or guidance or enforcement of traffic and planning rules to channel the rapid development.
One last market picture from Sa Dec Vietnam before we move along on our tour of Vietnam based on my February 2011 trip that took us from Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon to the Mekong delta and fairly small city of Sa Dec. Sa Dec is known in Europe mostly as the backdrop for the story and film “The Lover”, Marguerite Duras’ semi autobiographical novel about the experiences of her youth in French Colonial Vietnam.
After an eventful bus ride from Sa Dec back to Saigon / HCMC we spent a few more days in Saigon, Vietnam’s economic powerhouse, experiencing a very interesting take on the Vietnam War in the Presidential Palace and War Artifacts Museums – extensive pictures from their are here at Flickr in my collection, though note that some are graphic and may be disturbing to you. We took a day trip on old Russian-made hydrophoil boats to Vung Tao Island, a popular resort area. Next we headed north to Hanoi, Da Nang, Hue, Ha Long Bay, and the amazing caves at Phong Ke Ban National Park. More on all that in upcoming posts.
Vietnam, especially Ho Chi Minh City aka “Saigon” (a very interesting historical naming issue for later), is modernizing quickly like most of communist Asia. For me there’s huge irony here as communism’s centralized economies blend with western-style capitalism, but I get the idea that for most of the folks in Vietnam (and also China) this is NOT ironic at all. Rather, those governments are now responding better to the natural forces of economics such as entrepreneurship and free enterprise.
The upside of this are much higher standards of living for many of the folks in Vietnam. The downside as a traveler is that the charming tiny shops and restaurants that line the city streets are giving way to bigger and brighter lights of department stores and massive signs you could find in any western city. As we sat with some of our new table tennis pals at a nice restaurant in downtown Saigon one of them pointed across the street to a huge store with bright lights, proudly showing me the beauty of the new Vietnam. The older generation seems less enthusiastic about the changes sweeping the country, although I think they understand that the rising tide of capitalism is lifting most of the boats here, giving their children opportunities, health, and prosperity they could only have dreamed about only a few decades ago.
This post begins my summary of the three weeks I spent traveling in Vietnam last February with two Table Tennis friends – one who grew up there and one expert player from California. The trip was an amazing introduction to a beautiful country with wonderful people. Unlike the “Vietnam War” imagery that still haunts most of us in the USA, the “new” Vietnam is teaming with energy and enthusiasm as the economy blossoms and relations with the rest of the world improve. Some would say that Vietnam is not yet ready for “prime time” in terms of the tourism amenities (for example a boat much like ours sunk in Halong Bay during our trip, killing several tourists), but I’d encourage all but the faint of heart to venture into this amazing country.
Here, in Sa Dec near the Mekong River, we sampled fruits I’d never seen before that we bought on the street from the vendors.
Sa Dec is not on most tourism itineraries, making my California friend and I something of celebrities there as we walked along with kids yelled “hello, hello!” or coming up to practice their very spotty English, now required in most Vietnamese grade schools. As we found throughout the country the people throughout Vietnam were both warm and friendly, and the war that figures so prominently in American memories seemed almost like a historical footnote to most of the people here. More on that American war history later when we visit the “Hanoi Hilton” in Hanoi and the “War Crimes Room” of the Presidential Palace Museum in Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City.
The best way to explore Canada is by visiting its gorgeous outdoors. And if you go camping you’ll get to stay right in the heart of it all. Campgrounds of Canada is a fairly new website that offers an extensive list of campgrounds and RV parks all over Canada. Campground and RV park owners can update their own latest information and pictures and can even provide their vacancy info, making this website a valuable source of information.
The owner (a camping enthusiast and outdoor lover himself) is continually working to add more features to the site. He appreciates suggestions and turns feedback into action. www.Campgroundsofcanada.com/
Shanghai is now, arguably, the world’s most important metropolis, and it is certainly an incredible crossroads of global culture and influence. Here we find almost every nation on earth represented and we see a lot of the intersection of the world’s two most significan economies – the USA and China.
Check out the new site “The Famous Daily” for a daily dose of history in the form of articles about events that happened on a particular day in history. Today’s Famous Daily for January 15th covers three big historical events on this date: the dedication of the Pentagon, The Democratic Donkey symbol, and the founding of the University of Notre Dame.
Check out the articles at the Famous Daily and join their email list to get daily updates on history and other topics.
Travel and History will be in historical and amazing Las Vegas next week to cover the Consumer Electronics Show for our sister blog “Technology Report”. Here’s an early view of downtown Las Vegas with the Sal Segev Hotel in the foreground (that’s “las vegas” spelled backwards. The Sal Segev was home to the Golden Gate Casino. The property is now known as the Golden Gate Casino and Hotel and it maintains a claim as the oldest of the Las Vegas Hotels, still on the property where you could say the city of Las Vegas began – One Fremont Street. The Golden Gate recently underwent a multimillion dollar renovation. See more about the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino at http://www.GoldenGateCasino.com