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March, 1994

I arrived shortly before noon and it was hot, humid and quite hazy. I got a good view of the Mekong Delta as we descended for the landing into Ho Chi Minh. The delta area is very flat and the river takes many different tracks through the delta, plus a number of canals have been built. All the area appears to be rice paddies that are currently brown as it is the dry season. The only green is trees and other plants along the edge of the river channels and around the houses which are mostly along the water edge.

Ho Chi Minh airport is quite old and in a poor state of upkeep. Open areas are either dirt patches or un-kept weeds that are all burnt brown. It looks somewhat like West Texas. The US fighter plane bunkers are still there, as are partial remains of other buildings. Probably little has changed since the end of the war, except that everything is older and run down. There were only two planes on the tarmac and neither have any markings. One appears to be a Royal Brunei plane by the colors. Also, a few Vietnam Airlines planes are lined up closer to the terminal building. All are older model jets that don't look too well kept.

The plane was led to it's berth by a car with a "follow me" sign on the roof and passengers are loaded onto buses for the trip to the terminal. Immigration is not as bad as I had been told, although I was only second in line so that probably made it appear more efficient as it likely seems worse for the person at the end of the line because it was a very slow process. In addition to the visa in the passport and the Application for Entry and Exit Visa (in duplicate with photo) which had been prepared in Singapore, we were given a customs entry/exit form (in duplicate) and an internal movement pass, all of which had to be inspected, approved and stamped. Following immigration was customs where the officer had to check everything that was being brought into the country. This took some time as the inspector had to look at a few things that I had, make me change a couple of items on the form and then take my form to two different officials for approval. Everyone who had checked luggage had an additional 20 minute wait and ended up at the end of the customs line.
There was a very large crowd of people outside the terminal waiting for the arrivals and various touts offering rides, drinks etc. My first sights of Ho Chi Minh during the drive to the hotel showed a city that looked like it was from the fifties or sixties as far as architecture and almost all of the buildings were in desperate need of repair. Transportation was mostly by bike or motor scooter and they were everywhere. The few cars that were on the road were a combination of very old or very new, with little in between. Most new cars were Honda and Toyota and no luxury cars were visible. Most trucks were older ones, and the larger ones were mostly American and Russian army vehicles.

Following are various impressions, sights and sounds of Ho Chi Minh, Vung Tau (which is approximately 120 km from Ho Chi Minh and is a coastal port) and the country side in between:

  • ho_chi_minh_trafficBike and scooter riders are an equal mix of male and female and of every age.
  • A number of older school girls wear a traditional style costume which consists of a long sleeved, high necked top over ankle length pants. The top is close fitting and extends down to between the knees and ankles but is split up each side to just above the waist.
  • Various types of dress ranging from very clean to almost rags. There are many "traditional" type outfits and lots of hats. Many older ladies wear the traditional conical hat made from rice straw but a lot of younger women wear fancy sun hats, particularly those riding bikes and scooters. Some are wearing elbow length dress gloves and a lot of people have a piece of cloth covering their face because of the fumes and dust.    
  • There are lots of people sitting around, some sleeping on cots or mats on the sidewalk.
  • Sidewalk stalls are everywhere and selling everything. New and used motor bike parts, cigarettes, drinks, food, bike repair, etc.
  • Most sidewalk food areas offer a few small stools for the customers and some even have tables, but they are only about 18" high.
  • Traffic is very haphazard with no lines on the streets and lights only at major intersections. If there are no cars, it flows quite smoothly, as no one seems to be in a rush. The scooters go only slightly faster than the bikes but everything seems to blend together regardless of which way it is going. If there is more traffic going one way it will naturally take up more of the road.
  • Vehicles are left hand drive on the right side of the road which is different from most countries in the region.early_morning_street
  • Many people are obviously homeless because they are eating, sleeping and living on the streets and sidewalks. This was most apparent one morning when I took an early walk and everyone was just starting the day.
  • Morning exercises on a communal level are performed at every park or open area, primarily by the above 30 year old crowd which must be a lingering part of the communist system.
  • The motor scooter of choice is the Honda Cub which is based on the Honda scooters that were so popular in North America in the late sixties. The design is the same but the engines have been increased from 55cc to 70cc and 100cc. Judging from the numbers that are on the street, I wish I had a share of the franchise.
  • Everything is run-down and in disrepair, however, most areas are not dirty. Shopkeepers brush their storefront areas and other garbage is picked up regularly. The old age of everything and the dryness tend to add a "dirty" luster to everything because of the dust, smoke and fumes.building
  • I toured through several market areas and it appears that families live in the stores or stalls. I frequently seem to be waking up people when I stop to look at a display or counter of merchandise. I'm amazed at where people can hide a bed or chair and how they suddenly come to life if I stop to look at something.
  • Among the unusual things for sale were cages with dogs, monkeys and many types of birds. Pets or food? I'm not sure!
  • In some areas eating off a sidewalk table apparently is a luxury as I have seen some people squatting on the side walk with their bowl on the ground.
  • A family of 6 can easily fit on a scooter by putting a young child on the father's knee, the middle child between the mother and father, the baby held by the mother and the oldest child on the back holding on to the mother.
  • I saw scooters that were loaded down with several dozen dead chickens and saw a motorized cart with a couple of huge pigs on their way to market. The pigs were surrounded by branches full of leaves (to keep the heat and flies off?).
  • I saw a number of open-air butcher stalls where the meat was hanging out for all to see and smell. There were lots of flies, dust and dirt etc around and no visible means of keeping anything sanitary.
  • Water buffalo and oxen are still used out in the country. There were quite a few ox carts in the fields and on the road. I saw one man with a pair of oxen hauling a large log (about 1 meter diameter and about 4 meters long) along the side of the highway.
  • Blocks of ice are used by many hawkers and other people for cooling. Hand drawn and bicycle carts are loaded with large blocks which are cut into the required size for a customer.
  • Night driving, particularly in the country, is very dangerous because a lot of older vehicles have no lights, or what they have is inadequate.
  • Trucks and vans are used as buses. These and regular buses are packed full of people and goods. Bicycles, goods of every description and even people in one case, are also loaded on top of the buses. The crowding, along with the heat, humidity, and dust, must make traveling almost unbearable.     

After seeing daily life in Ho Chi Minh and Vung Tau (and China on previous visits there) it is impossible for me to have any sympathy for the left wing or socialist minded people who promote a communist or state run system.  It does not work! The poverty that exists and the abysmal living conditions of the "peasants" who are supposed to control and benefit from the system are the poorest people imaginable. The only salvation the people seem to have is their complete ignorance of what the rest of the world is doing and what possibilities exist in the outside world.

I believe that increased foreign visitors and the opening up of radio and television are going to create an amazing desire for personal wealth and possessions that has been suppressed for many years. The opportunities to meet the requirements are mind boggling if you have the right product or service, however, I fear that the possibility for civil unrest and upheaval is also enormous and should be a grave concern for anyone looking at investing heavily in the country.

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