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copyright 1998, james waldron design,  
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Stories and images 
by Jim Waldron
This country was a recent addition to my trip. I had heard different views about coming here, that the people were concerned only with removing your U.S. dollars from you in any way they could, and I wasn't real sure I wanted to see the country I only knew of because of eight or nine years of negative television news reports when I was a kid. 

Eventually my curiosity, and a fellow traveler's insight that Vietnam was perhaps the fastest-changing country in Asia, persuaded me to go. 


The War away from me
What's it like to visit a place 
that's got bad press your entire life

Mama the merry Prankster
Isn't Communism great? 
A trip on the famous Green Hat party boat

Ha Long Bay, of pigs
A bad day on the bus 
and no rest for the weary


Some favorites

See them all at once
Look at thumbnails of all the photographs from this country. 
Each picture was made with the Agfa ePhoto 1280 digital camera. 
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
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. 
Church - The Caodai temple at Tay Ninh. 
Churchgoers - The Caodai temple at Tay Ninh. 
Service - The Caodai temple at Tay Ninh. 
Prayer. - The Caodai temple at Tay Ninh. 
Temple view - The Caodai temple at Tay Ninh. 
Traffic - Close your eyes and walk across 

Mekong Delta
This is where wealth is built in South Vietnam. Rice is the biggest cash crop and the seasons allow two crops a year, as opposed to only one in the North. The rice makes people prosperous, but still it's an agrarian culture.  Clusters of small wood and thatch houses dot the countryside, and simple brick structures in the more populated areas. There are tens of thousands of tributaries and canals off the Mekong river here, and where the land is not cultivated jungle grows thick and tangled. I was impressed at how simple the lifestyles are of the farmers here. Rarely did I see any mechanazied farm tools with the exception of air-cooled fantail boat motors. The rest of the place is quiet and covered with crops. 

Ferrygoers - Aacross the Mekong River. 
Floating Market - From Produce to fresh fuel. 
Market view - 7 a.m. at the floating market. 
Locomotion - Human power on the river. 
Rice Noodle Factory - Mostly handwork and rice husk fires. 
Noodles drying. - Solar power doing the work. 
River housing - Bamboo condominiums for all. 
Dinner on the way - Ducks raised for mealtime. 

N 11 deg. 56.595 min. 
E 108 deg. 26.065 min. 

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. 
Stairs - At the Crazy House. 
Dam Abstract - Controling floodwaters in the mountains. 
Farm View - No one said Vietnam looked like this. 
102 Years old - And still entertaining tourists. 

Ca Na
N 11 deg. 19.960 min. 
E 108 deg. 52.286 min. 

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. 
Fishwoman - Happy woman, nice fish, right from the sea to a truck. 
Machine gunnery Post - with a nice view. 
Pill box and Bungalows - Changing from wartime to tourist time. 
Sunrise over the rocks - Who thought I could get up at 4:45? 
More rocks - Looking the other way. 
River housing - Bamboo condominiums for all. 

Nha Trang
N 12 deg. 14.327 min. 
E 109 deg. 11.703 min. 

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 Hat. 
Crystal - Who knew Vietnam was a beach resort? 
Food frenzy. - Simply the best spread in Vietnam. 
Happy eaters - It just never ends 
Floating Bar - Wine for the weary. 
The Boats - Not high tech, but high-volume. 
Flags - Late afternoon view. 
Floating - for fun. 
Nice view - around the islands. 
Frying Women - Sunning after lunch. 

Hoi An
N 15 deg. 52.455 min. 
E 108 deg. 19.997 min. 

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. 
Happy Boatman - amazed to see the tall guy in his village. 
Happier Boatman - awesome face, nice teeth. 
Grim Boatman - not quite sure about this foriegner. 
Fishing Net - large and ready to work at night. 
Japanese Bridge abstract - Downtown. 
Kids - loved the camera and it's video screen 
Beach - Till 5 pm the beach is empty, then the locals storm in. 
Sunset melee - Everyone and their mother at the beach. 
Rice fields - Harvest time activity. 
Rice girl - Work clothes for harvesting. 
Rice Field Ladies - Called me down to say hello, by sign language. 

Hue and the DMZ
N 15 deg. 52.455 min. 
E 108 deg. 19.928 min. 

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. 
Viet Cong Soldiers - in full regalia. 
American Soldier - in full regalia. 
Helicopter machine gun - at the War Rmnants Muesum Saigon. 
Khe Sanh Today - landmines, low brush, and trinket salesmen. 
Tunnel entrance - Home for the Vinh Loc village for seven years. 
Tunnel Stairway - between one of three levels 
Tunnel Exit - Structured for maximum bomb hits. 

N 21 deg. 02.060 min. 
E 105 deg. 51.082 min. 

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 high-rent district. 
Cyclo - economical, ecological, city transport. 
Duck Dealer - ready to cook. 
Death Row for Ducks - a certain grim knowledge?. 
Frogs - large and ready to cook. 
Gravestones - Everything is available around the marketplace. 
Junk - cheap stuff abounds 
Naptime - Midday the market is quiet. 
Shopping Woman - what the stylish marketgoer wears today. 
Stampmaker - Handcarved woodblocks in a day. 
Handiwork - for five bucks a day. 

Ha Long Bay
Seven Hours north of hanoi by bus is the vacation destination of Ha Long Bay known for it's seafood and picturesque limestone mountains jutting from the sea. For me, it was two long bus journeys interrupted only by intense fear of bodily harm and rainy boat rides. 

Read Ha Long Bay of Pigs for some insight on a bad tourist trip. 

Boats and Rocks - what everyone comes to see. 
Caves - Thousands of years of rain and sea dot the islands with huge caves. 
Ceramic Factory - slow but efficient production, hand fired kilns too.. 
Ceramic painter - no machines here, handwork is cheaper. 
Dragon Boat - Excursions for tourists. 
What the tourist see - Must be great on a sunny day. 

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© (1998) James Waldron Design -- Waldron@interport.net