Thursday, February 10, 2011

Haaaapppy New Year Vietnam!

vs. "Good Morning Vietnam" from the famous movie with Robin Williams of which you can see a clip here.

Mike and I spent the Lunar New Year Holiday travelling in Vietnam, better know as "Tet" in Vietnam. It marks the arrival of the new year based on the Lunar Calendar as well as the arrival of Spring. You can read more about the Vietnameses Lunar New Year here and I will save you from my plagerism of wikipedia It is the largest holiday in Vietnam and we had the awesome opporuntunity of sharing in these celebrations with parties in the streets, lights, parades, dragons, lantern festivals, music, fireworks, flowers and...did I say lights?!

In one week we did a quick tour of Vietnam from the South to the North, starting in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), then Danang (stayed on China Beach) in Central Vietnam and then up North to Hanoi in Northern Vietnam. Here is map to acquaint yourself with the geography. Note: Korea is off the map, up to the Northeast of Taiwan.

Some questions we usually get:
  • Yes, it is pretty close to Thailand, which is where we just were less than 1 month prior.
  • Ho Chi Minh is ~5 hour plane ride, Hanoi is closer and ~4 hours from Seoul
  • Yes, Vietnam is one country and is communist and is officially called the Socialist Republic of Vietnam...since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, that is.
  • It doesn't need to be said that Vietnam and the U.S. have a tough recent history, but fortunately the Vietnamese are extremely gracious and beautiful people and we never felt unwelcome or unsafe during our visit. In general, Vietnam currently has good international relations with most countries around the world.
  • Vietnamese currency is the Viet Nam Dong (VND) or the "dong" and $1USD = 20,000VND approx. 
  • Yes, Vietnam is very poor but has seen tremendous growth since the end of the Vietnam War. The average annual income is ~$1500 USD/ year. The cost of living is lower, but let's put this in perspective. Think of the clothes you are wearing today including jewelry, shoes and coat and many of us might reach $1500 in three, two or just one outfit...and they survive on, and are expected to save on that for 365 days. Yikes!
So, with all this background floating around our heads, let me take you into Vietnam.

We have to start with the Motorbikes...there is nothing I have seen in Southeast Asia quite like the motorbikes in Vietnam. They are everywhere and easily outnumber cars 20:1 (and that is in the cities). The only cars you usually see are taxis or high-end cars for those very small portion of wealthy in Vietnam.

Motorbikes are used for everything, from the family mini-van to motorized stores...let me show you a few.

During out Visit to Ho Chi Minh City, we visited the War Remnants Museum, which contains memorabilia from the Vietnam War (which the Vietnamese Govt calls the American War). Outside the museum were dozens of old U.S. Military vehicles that were left after the Vietnam War.

Inside the museum, there was a good deal of anti-war and anti-U.S. propoganda. American history books don't exactly tell you this side of the story.

Here are other things left in Vietnam after the war...U.S. soldier's dog tags for sale (sadly) for $4USD and the gas masks used by soldiers to protect them from the effects of agent orange during the war.

But, the Vietnam War is just the recent history in Vietnam. For many decades prior, the French occupied Vietnam, so there is alot of French influence in the architecture which has been preserved, especially in Central Vietnam and Northern Vietnam.

Hoi An is a small town that was just 15 minutes from our resort in Danang. As a UNESCO-protected town, they have been able to preserve it as it once was. It reminds you of a small European city. Our night in Hoi An town was New Years Eve, so there were many tourists, parties, lights and some of the stores were clothes so that the Vietnamese could celebrate with their families.

Here are some picture of Hoi An Town.

The eastern coast of Central Vietnam is mostly undeveloped. In Danang, we stayed on China Beach, where there are miles of privately owned coast-line, but only 3 or 4 resorts. It made for a very private beach. Unfortunately, these private investors ar Hyatt, Hilton, and intercontinental. Vietnam is shooting to become the next big tourist destination in Southeast Asia.

Here are some views of the beaches.

Someone described Hanoi and Ho Chi Mihn to me the following way and, after bring there, it matches my experience. Hanoi is San Francisco and Ho Chi Minh is LA. Hanoi is the cultural and political center of Vietnam.

The "Hanoi Hilton" that is not, or never has been a hilton, but was nicknamed that during the Vietnam war when it was a prison where U.S. captured soldiers were held.

And...finally the food and the beer. Vietnamese food is mostly noodle, rice, vegetables, lots of fresh herbs and sauces. The staple of Vietnam is Pho, a noodle dish in a light broth served with lots of fresh herbs and lime...yum!

There is so much more to Vietnam, but didn't want to overwhelm you in this blog. We had a wonderful time and may go back one day to adventure into some of the smaller towns. You can see many more pictures on our Picassa Page

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