Vietnam, Part 1, mostly cultural

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May 1, 2013 by Rokman61

Vietnam is officially “The Socialist Republic of Vietnam”, reflecting its one-time hardline Communist ideology.  As I will document below, those ideals have softened somewhat.

One of my first impressions of Vietnam is that there are an awful lot of Vietnamese.  This country has almost three times the population of Canada (90.3M vs. 35M), stuffed into about one-third the area of British Columbia!  We visited only the southernmost part of this very long country (1650 km north to south), and all the terrain we saw shows considerable imprint of human activity.

Our Tour began in Ho Chi Minh City, on March 9th.  Interestingly, the locals still prefer to call it Saigon.  This is a very large metropolis of about 9 million, with a modern and prosperous feel.  Here are a few shots from the fairly up-scale hotel we stayed at for the first two nights.

View from the open-air dining level.

Saigon breaky 2013.03.10 i1336

Breakfast fare – one of the aspects of the trip that was most appreciated.

breakfast fruit 2013.03.10 i1338

Modern sky-scraper.

Siagon 'scraper 2013.03.10 i1335

A bit of contrast.

electirc wires 2013.03.09 7880

Not many of those 9 million citizens own personal automobiles, but most of them apparently have scooters or small motorcycles.  The streets are virtually crammed with endless masses of humans on bikes.

(Please note: on a Tour one cannot stop on a whim to take photographs – many of these street images were shot through the window of a moving van).

Bikes many 3013.03.09 7892

GI-style helmets are occasionally seen.

Bikers many 2013.03.09 7886

Family SUV.

Bike family 2013.03.09 7916

On the left, another family of four on one bike.  Just right of centre, the fellow in black smoking a cigarette – not uncommon here.  Note also that quite a few wear masks, but others don’t even have any eye protection.

street bikers 2013.03.09 7887

Imagine the arm strength of this guy!

Bike-man-load 2013.03.09 7914

Perhaps these are the Vietnamese equivalent of our Hell’s Angels?  They do look a bit sinister, but my guess is that they are just regular young men.

Bikers three 2013.03.17 8561

In Asia it is quite common to see people going about wearing facial masks.  In Japan the masks are always pure white, and are worn mainly to block pathogens.  By contrast, in Vietnam and Cambodia, the masks come in colourful patterns, and are for blocking dust and sun.  The lady in the photo at right is particularly well protected.

MAsked bikers 2013.03.17 8562


Beyond the margins of the city, we saw that the highways were lined with almost endless chains of small capitalistic enterprises.  This is truly a land of entrepreneurs!

business strip 2013.03.09 7938

Nearly all of the ‘businesses’ are very small and highly specialized, each featuring a very limited and specific range of products or services.  Here are just a few examples that caught my eye, illustrating the amazing variety of merchandize offered.

Viet nerchant bikes 2013.03.09 7912

Viet merchant ventilators 2013.03.09 7924

Merchant produce 2013.03.17 8560

Food outlets abound – here a typical lunch stop.lunch stop 3013.03.09 7911

A fast-food cook in action.  Note the black blocks of sintered charcoal used for fuel.

Viet fast food cook 2013.03.09 7930

This lady doesn’t have a fixed stall, and sells her boiled peanuts from a patch of courtyard.  She was shooed off her ‘stand’ several times during the brief period we were present.  The traditional conical hats are fairly common, but I did not notice any men wearing them.

peanut sales 2013.03.15 i1388

The climate in Vietnam was HOT!  It figures that a fan store should do well.Viet merchant fans 2013.03.09 7919

Just what every neighbourhood should have – a bamboo specialty shop.Viet merchant bamboo 2013.03.09 7910

A high-end merchant such as this purveyor of fashion is likely to be tucked in between establishments that provide somewhat more basic or mundane fare – just as I have presented them here.

Viet merchant fashion 2013.03.09 7968

This merchant apparently specializes in fuel, presumably for cooking.  In Vietnam, no piece of wood seems to go unused.  Everything from huge logs, to milled planks, to large and small branches are offered for sale by numerous suppliers.

Viet merchant firewood 2013.03.09 7927

Here is something a bit more artistically refined – marble carvings!  Take your pick, according to religious preferences.

Viet merchant marble carving 2013.03.09 7913

Mechanical repair shops of all kinds.Viet garage 2013.03.09 7935


Vietnam has a unique style of architecture that sticks out like a sore thumb: namely tall and very long and narrow structures that seem to be the standard design for those who have the means.  Some such homes have a small business in front, with the residence behind.  The more deluxe examples are often fronted with fancy fenced courtyards and capped with luxuriant balconies.

Thin structure 2013.03.09 7947

The area that we passed through has a strong Roman Catholic presence, a gift from the days of French colonization.  Many of the high-rise homes are topped with shrines like this one.

Madonna shrine 2013.03.09 7953

Here is another style of dwelling – floating homes of fisher-people on the Saigon River.

Homes on Mekong 3013.03.09 7959


I mentioned above that the entire landscape we saw was extensively modified by human activity.  Most of this of course reflects long-term subsistence farming and logging.  More recently, big multi-national corporations have been acquiring large packages of land and planting huge monoculture blocks like the rubber trees in the next photo.  It brought to mind the endless blueberry fields that have become commonplace back home.

Rubber plantation 2013.03.09 7958


The written language of Vietnam is rather interesting.  They use the same alphabet as us, rather than a system of characters like in Japan, China, and Cambodia.  I never saw a word longer than six letters, but they sure use liberal amounts of accents.

roadside signs 2013.03.10 7940


On returning to Ho Chi Minh City, we caught a glimpse of the modern, prosperous aspect of the country.  This monolithic Buddha is the centrepiece of the Suoi Tien Theme Park, one of the largest amusement facilities in Southeast Asia.

Viet theme park 2013.03.17 8556


Overall impression:  Vietnam is a very interesting country, and it is easy to see why it has become a favourable destination for tourists seeking a venue a bit beyond the usual.  Adequate infrastructure, good food, interesting landscape, fascinating culture, . . . even good birds.  The people we met were always charming, polite, and friendly.

And colourful too.

Two ladies 2013.03.09 7937


Coming next . . . a few birds and other fare.


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