Welcome to Viet Nam
 

 

Vietnam flagPhoto essay:
Vietnam Cultural Bicycle Tour: Imperial Roots

  A few introductory thoughts (scroll down for links to travelogue pages):

My first and most lasting image of Vietnam is the dozens, which grew to hundreds, which grew to thousands, which grew to tens of thousands of warm smiles, enthusiastic waves and friendly greetings.  While this is my lasting image, and it is the image that is between all the images in the essay, it is mysteriously Typical Vietnamese smilelacking from the pictures -- it was to heart-warming enjoying all the hospitality to want to try and pull a camera out and change the event.  So as you look through the pages, remember that between each pictures there are 1000 wave, smiles and greetings (there are about 400 pictures so that means 400,000 waves, smiles and greetings.)  You'll have to go there yourself to enjoy this wonder experience.

Second, so much of what Vietnam has to offer is not along Highway 1 (the road the runs the length of the country from Hanoi to Saigon, mostly on the coastal plains.)  It is unfortunate (or fortunate for those willing to break away) that so much of so many tour programs are concentrated on Highway 1.  But this did mean that we could spend a week traveling without hardly seeing another tourist and seeing little that had been skewed for tourism.

Perhaps it my generation, but prior to visiting Vietnam my strongest images were from 1960s broadcasts of the war and Hollywood movies, supplemented by additional images I conjured from the rhetoric of politicians of the era.  All those image need to evaporate -- there is hardly ghost of it in contemporary Vietnam. The waste and litter of war has been collected, rebuilt or overgrown. While the South Vietnamese and American participation is almost invisible, the Viet Cong activities are heavily marked by monuments and memorials, but seemed to be largely ignored by the general public -- close to three-quarters of the population wasn't alive at the end of the war.

I kept trying to figure out who the enemy was and what the war meant but there was virtually nothing to substantiate it.  We heard a few stories about the imprisonment and re-education immediately after unification, and there are the facts of atrocities on the rural populations by both sides.  The most lasting legacy of the war seems to be the damage and destruction it caused to cultural and heritage sites like Hue and My Son, and environmental damage (with some associated health issues.)  But mostly, thirty years later people seemed to move around at will, free-enterprise is thriving , foreigners are welcomed unequivocally and there isn't a strong personality cult for the leaders -- often it is hard to tell what is "communist" about the country.  Typical Vietnamese smileThe Vietnamese carry less baggage from the conflict than middle-aged and older Americans.  In the end, so much of Vietnam seems to be about smiles.

Please enjoy the essay.  Comments, corrections, clarification and supplemental information are welcome.
 

 

Click on a Globe to Explore Vietnam with Us

Go to Saigon Go to Hue Go to Lang Co Go to Hoi An Go to Tam Ky Go to Quang Ngai Go to Kon Tum Go to An Khe Go to Pleibroum Go to Tuy Hoa
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