Friday, January 16, 2015

Vietnam 2014-15




A Vietnam Holiday. 30/12/2014-11/01/2015


From a cold and miserable London via Hong Kong we arrived in Hanoi early on 30th to a (somewhat) warmer climate and a very warm welcome from our tour operator Vidotour (chosen by Audley Travel) who have been looking after us splendidly throughout our journeys.

Like other nominally ‘socialist’ republics still run by a Communist party, Vietnam is a mixture of centralised political direction and laissez-faire capitalism with its accoutrements of increasing inequality, a welfare state that might make many in the UK count their blessings, and a seemingly happy lack of concern with environmental issues. Ho Chi Minh is still, of course, revered, but I think as the national hero who drove out the French and defeated the US, rather than as an architect of socialism. His official biography is quite an interesting (though fairly unreadable) account of how he was influenced in the 1920s and 1930s by the Soviet dominated Cominterm and later on how he ensured that the Vietnamese communists were able to command the leadership of the successful liberation movement.
Anyway, enough of that – this is a lovely country, beautiful, with very friendly people. Over 12 days we moved, by car and plane from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and the following is a short travelogue in pictures.

Hanoi

Old Hanoi with new Hanoi growing out of it. 



We actually stayed in a modest hotel on the edge of the old city. Eminently walkable so long as you can avoid the motorbikes, cycles and cars that drive wherever they see a space on the crumbling roads (pavements exist in theory but in practice act as parking places for the motorbikes). Went to see the skilful water puppets one evening – a tour of the markets and cafes another morning and visits to shrines and parks the rest of our 2 days there.

The power distribution network!



Laid back in the market.


Colour on a bike

Buddhist Temple gate


and inside


Confucius also

And of course Ho’s mausoleum


On to Mai Chau

Leaving Hanoi with Long our guide we drove 4 hours to Mai Chau a valley west of Hanoi, where the largely White Thai and also Mong inhabitants increasingly cater for tourists amid the farmers tending their rice paddies. Very picturesque and pleasant relaxing walks. We decided that riding bikes involving dodging the motorbikes and people even along ‘quiet’ paths would be just too stressful, and anyway you see more interesting detail just walking. Here are some views:

Riding to work
Free range
Every house has a loom and every girl has to learn to use it
Water buffalo ploughing
Traditional house on stilts = protection from wild animals and floods.
Cattle












From Mai Chau to Hue


We flew from Hanoi in the north to the ancient (19-20C Nuygen dynasty) capital in the centre of Vietnam. A rather more elegant city with colonial influences and with the enormous royal citadel slowly being restored after a lot of destruction during the Tet offensive against the US during the ‘American war’.  A very relaxing 3 days spent seeing the royal artifacts, tombs etc and good food.

Here are a few images.

Our excellent hotel – training students for tourism
A boat trip along the perfume river
A sacred pagoda
A gate in the citadel
Dragon
Emperor’s guardians
Canon to resist the French colonialists!







From Hue to Hoi An


Another 4 hour car journey with our great Hue guide Son for a couple of nights in this small town with a very unspoilt old part – that all the world’s tour operators know about! Pleasant enough but nothing special, so just one or two snaps.



Up early on 8th to fly to Ho Chi Min City to board a Bassac boat for an overnight trip on the Mekong.


From HCMC airport was 3 hours to Cai Bei and onto a ferry to take us to the Bassac Boat past riverside  dwellings, stores, workshops etc.

The boat, a converted rice and general merchandise carrier was splendid, with a pleasant set of 11 other couples:


With a delightful hostess, Tam, to look after us along with a crew of 10 who prepared a set of splendid meals – some of the best we have had.

Tam took us on a walk through a village along a small stream, where we had a splendid sunset.

The next morning a superb sunrise and a boat ride among the floating vegetable market boats.



And a pineapple with a stick for everyone.

Delivering logs:

Then back to the car and guide, Thang, to HCMC for the last two days.

Ho Chi Minh City and farewell to Vietnam.


Bigger and busier than Hanoi, hotter and a lot of the French colonialist atmosphere still, with the opera house (Mozart and Brahms concerts) though modern skyscrapers are beginning to dominate.
You realise coming into the south how Vietnam is still in many ways two countries. And there is still resentment on both sides of the old DMZ. Some northernors who settle in the South are still regarded with suspicion, and the South seems to be driving the economy. HCMC, at least in the ‘French Quarter’ is fairly indistinguishable from other major world cities with the usual glitzy stores and depressing fast food locations. The people of course are still delightful and friendly. We visited the ‘must see’ sights of the reconciliation palace – which dictator Diem remodelled and has been restored to show the grand  style lifestyle he surrounded himself with. The war remnants (formerly ‘crimes’) museum is a haunting catalogue of French and especially US atrocities – though silent about any misdemeanours perpetrated by the Vietminh or Vietcong. Perhaps most surprisingly (or perhaps not) not a word about the material support received from China and especially the Soviet Union which supplied the missiles used against the B52 bombing attack on Hanoi in December 1972 that led up to the final peace treaty in Jan 1973.
So – some pictures of HCMC today:
Constructing the new metro (with help from Japan)

Exhorting the people to build the country and also to consume foreign beer

Colonial era general post office

Captured US hardware

Some  Diem luxury


Empty buses – almost everyone has a m/bike

End.

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