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First Thoughts on the Socialist Republic of Vietnam

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.

  • 12 Comments... What's your take?

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Comments

  1. that's not so different with my country Indonesia, lol :D

  2. radbadnomad says:

    Thanks for the response Gary.

  3. Mike Ralls says:

    Hey, me and the wife were thinking about going to Vietnam in December. Any web sites or books you would recommend to give us a good feel for what to do and where to go?

    Cheers,
    Mike

  4. radbadnomad says:

    Gary is it pretty easy to exchange currency while on the road? Do you exchange neighboring countries money or is it better to get dollars back before leaving a place and then exchanging those in the new country?

    • Gary Arndt says:

      Cambodia uses the US Dollar as a de facto currency. All the ATMs there give out USD, so that is why I have dollars.

      Usually, you want to get rid of most of your currency before you get to a place. I try to plan it so I don't have to exchange much if anything if possible. Airports are usually horrible places to exchange currency. There is more competition on the streets of major cities so you get better rates.

      Ultimately, the best rates are just via the ATM.

  5. Neil Duckett says:

    Very amusing reference to the Dong Gary, picked up on the tweet yesterday.

  6. Marshall says:

    I cast two votes for your blog, and you reward us with a “dong” joke?
    Thanks/

  7. jot says:

    You need to embrace a more Buddist attitude. Dong is everywhere, but most importantly, Dong is always with you. ;)

  8. lakshmi says:

    in india you would get rooms like these as well especially in smaller towns

  9. Makkyla says:

    How are the internet connections? Better than Cambodia, I'm assuming. How does the food compare? I like the idea of 75 cent beers at the minibar!

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About Gary Arndt

My name is Gary Arndt. In March 2007 I set out to travel around the world...
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