Vietnam Part 1: The Good and Bad

Well, I’ve waited to write this post for quite some time because I didn’t like the place. Then, I ended up writing so much that I have to cut it into two parts to make it more digestible. So, part 1 is about the positives and negatives of Vietnam. Part 2 is about an eventful day during my last week in the country.

Simply put, Vietnam would be better without the people. Let me clarify, it would be better without the people who work with tourists, especially the hawkers, the hotel managers with “Great suggestions”, persistent tuk-tuk and moto drivers (who, without a misstep in their English, go from offering rides on a motorcycle to rides from a woman to marijuana), and finally, the constant dread of getting ripped-off or robbed everywhere just because I am white and APPEAR to have the money to travel.

Didn’t like it.

To be fair, I’d heard about the annoyances in Vietnam before going, but nothing can prepare you for the real thing. Since I’d been in Thailand and Cambodia, I thought I could handle Vietnam. The big problem, however, is that Vietnam, unlike neighbouring Cambodia, Laos or even Thailand, the price hardly budges on most things. If the seller says something is 50,000 Dong, then that’s the price and good luck trying to get it down. When you do, they whine and complain about the low price. It would be okay if the price were fair to begin with, but it often isn’t. They see a foreigner and they think “ATM! Let’s make a withdrawal!” It seemed as if Vietnamese folks are not friendly unless you have a wad of cash in your hand, or the look of a foreigner (who are supposed to have a wad of cash in his pocket).

There are some positives to Vietnam. Great scenery, amazing coffee, cheap suits, and a chance to learn some history from the non-American view. Personally, the day trip I took to the former DMZ was probably the best one. The scenery was gorgeous and the guide we had was very good at informing us at the current situation of Vietnam (it’s shit). Basically, under all that wonderful scenery lay about 10,000 unexploded ordinances, meaning if you step off the bus and wander into the bush to piss or fuck, you run the risk of losing a limb.

The coffee is simply great. It was hard to find great coffee in Bangkok and southern Thailand, except for the American brand names and Italian copies. The only coffee worth mentioning in Cambodia is at the FCC. But Vietnamese coffee is astounding in most places. Costing just over $1 per cup (and a very small cup), you don’t need the Starbucks grande dark roast to feel alive. Nope, one cup of Vietnamese coffee is sufficiently strong to get you going. Any more and you’re wondering how to use all of your energy (a few suggestions come to mind, none clean).

We’ll see how the suits hold up, but I bought a couple of suits in Hoi An. They looked great and were apparently made from “Italian” wool (is it really Italian?). I needed some suits for the next couple of years (yes, I don’t buy them often) and something that looks good. So, two 3-piece suits, shoes, ties, cufflinks, and 6 shirts later, I realize I now have to cut my southeast Asia trip a little short. Pinstrip, one is double-breasted which is damn hard to find these days in regular suit shops. It was great though, they have CATALOGUES of stuff to choose from. Pick what you want, fabric and they’ll have it made within 24 hours. They’ll even help you ship it home (mine have yet to arrive, and so I’ve got to thinking about the BRILLIANT scam it would be to operate a clothing business that then swipes the clothing from the post office and pays out only the maximum insurance of $500… I’ve been in Vietnam for too long.) I’ll let you know how those suits hold up.

Most of all, Vietnam was a two and a half week history lesson. Go to the War Remnants Museum in Saigon and you won’t hold the tears and disgust back. The pictures aren’t viewer-friendly, this is history as it happened. Complete with a box that holds two fetuses deformed by Agent Orange, a multitude of pictures showing body parts and other remains of dead people, the museum left an indelible mark on my mind. My experience at the War Remnants Museum was followed up about a week later in Hoi An when I took a day trip with a moto-driver who wouldn’t leave me alone during my morning breakfast. Finally agreeing to the price of $25 for him to take me around for the day, I talked to him about how many people are just barely scraping a living since property taxes are so high in Vietnam (which is why many of the buildings are tall and narrow, something to do with the frontage costs). To add to that sob story, I met an ex-American Ranger while on the moto ride. It was his 4th or 5th time that he’d back to the country, revisiting the places that he’d been as a soldier. He told me some stories and talked about the book he’s writing. The entire story was fascinating, and it was really interesting to be between two Vietnamese moto drivers whose fathers were probably maimed, wounded, or horribly scarred by the war, and this American military dude doing the rounds to come to terms with what he had done during the war. So, at the end of the day, I felt so bad about being a “well to-do tourist” that I gave the moto-driver an extra 100,000 VND (~$5).

And that sums up the good and bad of Vietnam. Next, I hope to share a laugh at my expense by sharing with you one of the events that happened to me during my last week in the country.

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One Response to “Vietnam Part 1: The Good and Bad”

  1. Coffee and Coffee Shops in Asia « S.O. Blog Says:

    […] Vietnam: […]

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