Vietnam January 2006

Some photos from my recent trip to Vietnam. It was especially interesting for me, because the last time I was in Vietnam was just over a decade ago. Back then, the country was one of the least developed I had ever visited. Since then, it has changed dramatically. You can see the work and progress everywhere: paved roads, new buildings, new parks, bright lights, cafes for leisure time, and my friends got a washing machine. A real infrastructue is being built and the cities feel so much more alive than before. Also, the overwhelming feeling of intrusion on tourists by the government has been significantly reduced.

10 years ago I made friends there, and the highlight of the trip was visiting them again and seeing how much the changes have meant for them. We also took some time off and traveled outside the city together.

Typical street scenes from Saigon. The city is a busy sprawl of shophouses. The downtown area is also seeing the rise of some skyscrapers. There are still almost no cars in Vietnam. Four wheeled vehicles are pretty much limited to buses, mini-vans, and trucks. As before, Saigon streets are endless rivers of motorcycles, flowing and merging through the intersections. You just have to hop on the back of one and go with the flow. Fortunately, the car is not quite as much of a status symbol as it is in Thailand. (My friends say Vietnamese prefer bigger homes.) Hence, traffic moves in Saigon, unlike Bangkok. The last picture is from a park on the edge of Saigon.

The motorcycles traffic is really unbelieavable. Click below for a QuickTime video that gives a better idea, taken on a typical busy road. They never stop. (1.6 Mb)

Vietnam is still very communist. Statues of Ho Chi Minh are everywhere. This one is in Can Tho.

I spent about a week in the south in the Mekong Delta region. There are a lot of rivers and canals around there. Below is a bakery. The oven is fired with coal. You can get good baguettes anywhere in the country, and sandwiches are just as normal to the Vietnamese as rice or noodles.

The buddhist temples in the south are often Khmer style, due to the high concentration of people of Cambodian ancestry. They look a lot like Thai temples. The top one is old and nice, the bottom one is new and not as subtle.

This used to be the mansion of one of the wealthiest Vietnamese before the communists took over. It is now a hotel and a national symbol of playboy decadence. I stayed the night... there wasn't much else to do in Bac Lieu as the large bird sanctuary was closed for fears of flu.

Near the main round-about in Bac Lieu. Notice the road construction; the government is actively developing infrastructure even in smaller towns like this one. Below is the night market area, where lots of good things were available to eat at the stalls. I had delicious flan with caramel and coffee sauce, another national dish adopted from the French.

After the Delta, I went up in to the hills. I heard the old french hill station Dalat was already overrun with tourists, so we went to Buan Ma Thuot. It was still hot by day, but cool in the evenings. We went to some national park areas. It seems every town wants to show you their waterfalls, but in this one they really were spectacular. The region is also famous for coffee, which you can see growing everywhere.

My friends had no fear of bird flu at this restaurant.

From the hills, we went back down to the coastal area. Catholic churches can be seen in many towns, like this one near the beach. We then went to Mui Ne Beach, which is more developed than many Thai beaches, and priced accordingly. Quite windy, the place attracted a lot of kite surfers. Finally, on the edge of town is an area which has developed desert-like sand dunes, popular for photographers.
I really like the traditional colonial style floor tiles I see in Vietnam. They seem so much better designed and more complex than what I see in Thailand or other countries. Click here. (1 Mb) to see a page full of these designs.

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