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Ports Of Call: Vietnam
By Mike Thiel

For many visitors to 21st-century Vietnam, the sight of hauntingly beautiful landscapes collides with nightmare memories. How ironic that heavily burdened Americans often come for reconciliation of one kind or another, and the friendly, industrious Vietnamese people seem to have moved on with their lives and the country's development.

We detected not a shred of animosity toward Americans and were impressed by the friendliness and activity. The bucolic countryside buzzed with road building. New factories hummed on the outskirts of Hanoi. The Saigon River teemed with traffic. Everyone was working hard and in a hurry to get somewhere. Vietnam is a country with a mission—to gain a place among the world's economic powerhouses.

It is also emerging as an intriguing destination. Roughly the size of Italy, Vietnam offers diversity in geography, sights, and shopping. There are busy cities like Hanoi and Saigon (officially, Ho Chi Minh City), mystical temples, miiles of sandy beaches, beautiful rural landscapes, quaint villages, and magnificent marks of nature.

The multiplicity of cultural influences is evident in the architecture, cuisine, and even the language. The Chinese, the Cham Empire—a Hindu culture that has largely disappeared—the French, and the Americans have all left their marks on Vietnam, which for us was the most interesting destination in Southeast Asia.

Vietnam is still a relative bargain, but it is evolving as you read this. Go soon.

Spring/Summer 2001

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