The port we landed in in Vietnam is called Phu My, and is about an hour outside Ho Chi Minh City. Our guide told very much the same story that our Thai guide had told us – that, as a professional tour guide, he’s been in serious financial straits since COVID, and it’s only now that tourism is coming back that he’s been able to earn any money. I suspect that in some places, this is part of the reason for opening the country back up, even if infection rates aren’t under control.
Ho Chi Minh City is…unimpressive. Part of the problem is that many buildings of cultural significance were bombed out of existence. Like a lot of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, a lot of Ho Chi Minh City didn’t exist 10 years ago. The few buildings that are still there from before the war were either restored, like the opera house; rebuilt, like the Presidential Palace; or look derelict, like the hotel that had a helicopter pad on the roof that was the last place where Vietnamese people tried to get on the last outbound helicopters to leave the country before it fell.
The opera house looked very much like it did when was originally built during Vietnam’s occupation by the French. It had sustained damage during the war, and when the Americans helped rebuild it, they rebuilt it in the ugliest possible early-70s brutalist style. Afterward, the Vietnamese rebuilt it closer to its original ornate style.
The Presidential Palace is also a dose of early-70s brutalist architecture, and looks less like a presidential palace and more like the math building at a second-rate university. Apparently, you can pay a couple of bucks to tour the inside, which is no longer used as a government building.
The only interesting thing we saw was a demonstration being held outside a high-rise apartment building. About twenty-five people stood in front of the building holding enormous banners. We stopped for a second to look, but were chased off by a cop who yelled at us to keep moving (but, you know, in Vietnamese). Our tour guide told us that the people were protesting because the government had awarded the contract to build the apartments to a private firm who then turned around and handpicked the people who would be allowed to rent there, rather than letting anyone apply. Honestly, it sounded no different than skillions of similar incidents in the US, but apparently the Vietnamese government doesn’t want people to know that sort of thing goes on there.
I would have fallen asleep on the bus ride back to the ship if it weren’t for the fact that there are no actual traffic laws in Vietnam. About half the traffic is motorcycles and scooters, and they act like bicyclists in the US – obeying the traffic signals, etc., when it suited them, and driving on the sidewalk or down the wrong side of the street, or turning left on a red light when it suited them. It meant that our bus driver employed his horn often and vigorously. In Vietnam, a car horn can mean “hey motorbike – get out of the way.” It can also mean “let me pass,” “don’t slow down because I’m behind you and I’m not slowing down,” or “you’d better let me into the lane because the lane I’m in ends in thirty feet.”