It's one of only a handful of one party communist states in the world and is best known in the west for two very violent wars that were fought in the territory in 20th century.
There is no doubt the Vietnamese people have had a rough couple of hundred years. After first being colonised by the French, they were then overrun by the Japanese during the Second World War. Two bloody wars of freedom followed, first defeating the French, and then defeating the Americans.
The country was, for decades, an international pariah. However, a shift to a more markets based economy has seen the country post impressive growth figures and is now one of the fastest growing economies in the world. In addition, a tourism sector that was destroyed by war is also thriving. I paid a visit to two of the major cities in Vietnam; Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), capturing the life of these two distinct areas of the country; two areas that were once bitter enemies, now reunited as one Vietnam.
The 20th century saw large scale decolonisation throughout the world. Whilst some transfers happened relatively peacefully (Hong Kong, Macau) others happened more violently. One of the most violent struggles for freedom occurred in Vietnam. After fighting the Japanese, French and Americans, Vietnam entered the second half of the 20th century scarred by fighting and Saigon was a byword for destruction.
However, Vietnam is finally emerging from its tragic recent history by projecting an image of hope and beauty. Vietnam is no longer associated with just a war, its now associated with adventure and fun. From the communist feel of North Vietnam, to a more capitalist feel in South Vietnam, the country still has strong footprints of a tragic conflict, however it also adds to an already rich culture and history.
I didn't have time to visit the famous Ha Long Bay, and I'll be sure to make a return trip to visit the famous area, however, here are my top 5 favourite things about Vietnam.
South East Asia or South America. These two parts of the world have seen an explosion of popularity over the past decade and for most people the decision of where to visit first is often a difficult one. In this entry, I'll try and rate each of the locations on factors that are important to the average person and come up with an overall rating.
Things to consider
Before I get things started, its important to note that my experiences over the two locations will vary. I spent more time in South East Asia, and it was also the place I decided to visit first. There are important locations missing from both locations. I didn't visit Laos in SE Asia and I didn't visit Colombia and Argentina in South America. Personally, I feel that Argentina is a significant omission due to the size of the country and the number of things to see and do. Ratings and experiences are also very subjective, my experience could be significantly different from the experience of others so I'd bare this in mind when you make your decision.
Finally, a comparison between the two locations isn't an exact science. The phrase apples and oranges comes to mind. Peru and Brazil have completely different cultures, speak completely different languages, yet for the purpose of comparison they have been lumped together under a loose 'South American' category. This entry is a subjective rough overview of my experiences and can form part of your research into each location.
Airport Rating *****
Reception of locals *****
Ho Chi Minh has a definite big city feel to it. Whilst Hanoi had a quiet charm, Ho Chi Minh is a loud, brash, confident city - one that wouldn't feel particularly out of place in Europe.
As with other areas of SE Asia, you can very quickly feel the French influences, however, Ho Chi Minh city has developed significantly, firstly as part of the the Republic of Vietnam, and then as part of a reunified Vietnam. Skyscrapers such as the Bitexco Financial Tower dominate the skyline, streets are wide and clean and the core of the city is devoid of the street vendors that dominate other large cities in the area.
Airport Rating ***
Reception of locals *****
Hanoi was similar in feel to Siem Reap and Chiang Mai, the conveniences and buzz of a city but smaller in scope than Bangkok, Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City, despite being the Capital of Vietnam. Hanoi was the beginning of a trip that would take me East to West from Vietnam to Thailand, crossing Cambodia and I knew the few days I had in the city were possibly going to be the only one's where I wouldn't be joined by other travellers, so I made sure I spent some time alone discovering the city and away from hostel socials etc.
British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.