copyright 1998, james waldron design,
by Jim Waldron
Eventually my curiosity, and a fellow traveler's insight that Vietnam
was perhaps the fastest-changing country in Asia, persuaded me to go.
What's it like to visit a place
that's got bad press your entire life
Mama the merry Prankster
Ha Long Bay, of pigs
Look at thumbnails of all the photographs from this country.
Each picture was made with the Agfa ePhoto 1280 digital camera.
N 10 deg. 45.977 min.
E 106 deg. 41.513 min.
The former capital of South Vietnam before it fell to the communists in 1975, Saigon is still the financial center of the re-unified country. First impressions consist of two things: the city is organized, tree lined, and the buildings still show traces of French influence, giving the place a nice comfortable feel. Next, you are overwhelmed by the vehicular traffic, consisting of mostly motorbikes. In a city of 7.5 million people there are over 2 million scooters. This makes crossing any street, especially the large thoroughfares, a life-threatening experience demanding a steely nerve and quick feet.
Finally, visitors are struck by the hugely commercial nature of the city. Billboards crowd the streets and buildings. Every roadside is crowded with shops selling items of all possible description. Though the major fast food enterprises haven't made it here yet, all the western consumer-brands have. Marlboro, Sony, Coca-cola, Pepsi, Honda, Hard Rock Cafe. This is the town that the Communists defeated?
Bikes - At a Rice noodle Factory.
Ferrygoers - Aacross the
A welcome respite from the tropical heat of Saigon, Dalat is a five hour bus ride into the mountains northeast of Saigon. This is a big tourist town for the Vietnamese, and especially for lovers and newlyweds, but aside from a few scenic waterfalls and temples, Dalat left me a little flat, being rather a ramshackle cement town with nothing very special. Maybe it's because the main tourist attraction, the lake, had been drained for dam repairs.
Crazy House Hotel
- Not all the architecture is primative.
With the exception of a few passing tourist busses this town is empty, despite it's pristine long beach. It is home, however, to nearly two thousand fishing boats that you can see plodding out to sea each evening at sunset, their neon fish-attracting lights bobbing along throughout the night. Tourism is coming though. In the hotel where I stayed they were knocking down 25 year old reinforced machine gun turrets and replacing them with beach bungalows.
On the way to Ca Na I ventured into the real world and took the local bus. For the first three hours I was crammed into an impossibly small seat with two others. Asian busses are not made for people of my dimension. On the second ride I sat up front on a bench. When a 75 year-old lady got on and sat next to me she leaned right over on me and used my leg as an armrest for three hours, just like I was her own grandchild. It made an interesting sight, but considering my traveling partner had already started a fight with the bus conductor I decided not to break out the cameras for the photo opportunity.
Basket Boat - Amazing form
of tar covered Bamboo boat, one oar.
This is what might be the future of the Vietnam seaside, and it would be a real shame. Nha Trang is a city filled with new hotels crowding the shoreline, mediocre food, and not much else. Granted it has a wonderful beach, nearly 6 kilometers long, but sitting there one is constantly harassed by people selling everything from chewing gum to live fish, making this place a little light in the interesting culture area.
Nha Trang is, however, home to the underground wonder, Mama Hahn's Boat trip, one of the single, and most compelling reasons to visit the city for a night.
Mama Hahn - In signature Green
Lovely Hoi An, home to the most tailors per square inch outside of Bangkok. Nestled on the Thu Bon river, the port is busy with local vendors for consumer and export of all sorts of fish delicasies. Most tourists, though, are here for the very cheap and reasonable quality custom clothes for sale in every nook and cranny of the city center, where some of the structures date back to the 19th century.
Just a few kilometers outside Hoi An the land reverts to thousands of acres of rice fields, corn fields, and tiny villages. The most rewarding days I spent in Vietnam were atop a rented motorbike far out in the farms, trying to communicate with the locals who were mostly interested in my extreme (for Vietnam) height and fancy watch. The portraits are great documents, if not good photographs.
Boaters - off to work at dusk.
Hue and the DMZ
Site of one of the fiercest battles in the American war Hue was captured by the North Vietnamese Army for 75 days where they focused on disposing of everyone they could find that was helping the South. Nearly 3000 people were captured and killed in those two and a half months.
Hue is close to the 17th parallel Demilitarized Zone, the demarcation point between the Communist North and Democratic South before the fall in 1975.
Dog Tags - from ten U.S. soldiers
at Khe Sanh.
The capital of Vietnam reflects years of occupation through it's surviving French architecture. The pace is slower than Saigon in the South, and a little less commercial, though the big brand names can always be found.
The primary Tourist attraction is Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum and home. Ho looks remarkably good after 15 years or so. And the attraction is certainly the most organized process in the entire country, ushered along by armed honor guards at every step. Sadly, photographs are not allowed.
I spent a lot of time cruising the local markets, still amazed at the activity, and lack of hygiene. You have to love a place though, where the live produce is only a foot from the ready to cook produce, and the ready to eat ones too.
City market overview - not the
Ha Long Bay
Read Ha Long Bay of Pigs for some insight on a bad tourist trip.
Boats and Rocks - what
everyone comes to see.