About 85% of the Vietnam people are rural. If Hanoi is an impressive, busy metropolis, the rural areas of Vietnam might be said to be impressive, busy grasslands. A joke about SE Asia may illustrate what I mean:
The Vietnamese plant and grow rice.
The Cambodians watch the Vietnamese plant and grow rice.
The Laotians watch the rice grow after the Vietnamese have planted it.
The Thai sell tickets through the rice fields that the Vietnamese planted to unsuspecting tourists.
Rural Vietnam is filled with bustling farmers and incredible beauty. There is very little pollution, and the rivers actually reflect the sky. The large industrial complexes have a great measure of pride, and are accompanied by propaganda and such.
Central Vietnam and the DMZ is the site of the Tet Offensive and everything bloody and destructive from the Vietnam war. Some of these old bombed buildings have been preserved, others completely renovated, and it’s interesting to see the changes in the last thirty years.
Hue, the old Imperial Capital, is now a popular tourist destination, with its own “Forbidden City” (like Beijing’s) and large markets. Like all of Vietnam so far, it’s filled with incredibly annoying solicitors, as well as uber-friendly Vietnamese who “love America” and invite me, off the cuff, to eat dinner with their families–something no traveler can ever reject.
One of the reasons I came to Hue besides the other eco-tourist cities, was that this was the site of one of the largest atrocities of the war, performed by the Communist regime against thousands of intellectuals, monks and bourgeois. After the Tet Offensive, the Vietnamese took Hue for a month. When America won it back, they discovered mass graves full of the intellectual class that they had known and protected throughout the war, most of the bodies tortured and many buried alive.
The Vietnam War was so unpopular at the time, that few newspapers bothered to print the atrocity, and only later, after the war, did it get its deserved publicity, in which most Vietnam Vets confessed that they would have stuck to the war, had the newspapers published the mass grave cites.
It’s the same story in Vietnam, only moreso, since I am in a totalitarian country. There is no acknowledgement at all that the Hue Massacre even occurred, though the monks and intellectuals no longer exist. I would have appreciated a grave site, or something. As totalitarian as the government is, it still seems more liberal than China, since there seems no limit to Internet access.
At any rate, the beaches here are deserted, except for the fruit shakes and beer. I spent one afternoon completely alone on one of the most gorgeous beaches I’ve ever been to. Splash spalsh!
Hoi An is a UNESCO world heritage site, because of the age of its “old city”. Actually, it’s not all that old by European standards, but with the amount of bombing and such, having buildings only a century old or more means a great deal.
Remnants from the past colonial eras are everywhere, and I don’t mean from the French or English or American eras. The Japanese and Chinese also colonized Vietnam, and there are still Japanese and Chinese mansions throughout this city, as well as government offices and volatile infrastructure.
Nha Trang, where I only spent a couple hours, has architecture akin to a “poor man’s” Vancouver or Victoria. It’s surprisingly modern for being so small, and has classy green emerald designs in the architecture. It seems like a perfect beach town, more for the Vietnamese on vacation rather than for outsider tourists.
Before I forget, last memory of Hanoi:
Going through a “propaganda” museum and seeing thousands of depictions of “evil” Frenchmen using the Vietnamese as their slaves, being fanned, carried about and served hand and foot by their colonial “others”–then me, walking out of the museum only to be harassed endlessly by Vietnamese people trying to fan me, carry me about and serve me hand and foot.