Daily Archives: October 19, 2008

First Thoughts on the Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Posted by on October 19, 2008

I made it to Saigon with little trouble (FYI, I’m going to call it Saigon, as most of the locals still do. It is my belief that at some point, it will revert back from Ho Chi Min City just like Lenningrad changed back to St. Petersburg). We took about a half hour to cross the Mekong on a ferry, which really was a stretch that could be easily spanned with a bridge. It also took about 45 minutes to get past immigration at the border, just because of the system they have for processing an entire bus.

As we went into Vietnam I began playing a mental game I always play when I enter a new country, trying to compare it to other places I’ve been. The first obvious comparison I tried to make was with Cambodia. I very quickly realized that that wasn’t fair to Vietnam. Vietnam is nothing like Cambodia. It is much more developed. The roads are nicer, they have actual traffic rules and signs, the electrical infrastructure seems much better, there evidence of industry which I never saw in Cambodia, shacks and corrugated tin shelters exist, but are the exception not the rule. Vietnam has much more in common with Thailand than Cambodia.

Saigon has a buzz which was completely lacking in Cambodia. Things are happening. Lots more activity on the streets, more construction, lights on storefronts, no beggars or tuk tuks. Saigon is a big city and has a population larger than Los Angles.

The place I’m staying is pretty nice. I got a bath tub, hot water, satellite TV, A/C and wireless…..all for $17/day. Even has a makeshift minibar in the room with $0.75 beers.

Lots of places to eat. I like Vietnamese food, so I’ll be taking full advantage of that in the coming days. I’m looking forward to seeing the difference between North and South Vietnam.

While Vietnam is technically a communist country, you’d never guess it. I’ve need a few Ho Chi Min posters and a few hammer and sickle flags on government buildings, but that’s about it.

The currency here is the dong, which has shown the worst inflation of any currency I’ve seen on my trip. It is about 16,000 dong to the US Dollar, beating out the Indonesian Rupiah which was about 10,000 to the dollar. I have yet to convert my dollars from Cambodia. It was humbling to realize I was walking around on the street with no dong.