Well, what a difference a few years have made. Vietnam has gone ahead in leaps and bounds since our last visit. So much has changed, and for the most part, they seem to have gone ahead, rather than backwards during the COVID crisis. The economy seems to be booming and there are not the large volumes of empty or derelict shops, that we have encountered everywhere else so far.
Sadly this has impacted our exchange rate, on our last trip, we were getting around 20,000 dong per Aussie dollar. Whether our currency has totally tanked, or the Vietnamese economy has strengthened, this is down closer to 15000 today.
The introduction back into Vietnam through Ho Chi Minh was poor, as the immigration process was long, painful and cumbersome. We got off our plane and spent the next 90 minutes inching forward in a seemingly unmoving line. Eventually we did make it out of the airport and made our way to the accommodation.
Interestingly, the name Ho Chi Minh City seems to have reverted back to Saigon in virtually all local parlance. The first thing that strikes you is how clean it is. Major efforts have been, and continue to be, made in cleaning up the city. The roads are good, wide and there are lanes that, for the most part, are used. Footpaths now exist and are in good order (even if they still have motorbike parking all over them).
The first time around it took us a while to get the feel for Vietnam, it didn’t really appeal on first hit. But the further north we went, the further away from the touristy beaches, the more we came to like it. Another big sticking point last time around was the abundance of coriander and cucumber in almost every dish.
Another big sticking point last time around was the abundance of coriander and cucumber in almost every dish. Being both more seasoned travellers and better prepared, the picture on the right was captured and saved and is shown each time I sit down to eat.
The central Bến Thành Market has had an external refresh with a large paved area out the front now, giving easy access. The market itself does however seem to have transformed fully into a tourist market (rather than the 70% that it was before).
Also, the rumbling of motorcycles has calmed. The introduction of electric bikes has reduced some of the rumble that used to exist from the masses of motorbikes. Don’t get me wrong, the rumble is still there but it is considerably reduced from that which formerly existed. Even some of the honking of horns has reduced.
The traditional dress for women that used to be widely worn, has all but disappeared (in Saigon at least). This has been replaced with the shortest of short pants and skirts that seem to be everywhere. The pendulum seems to have swung to the other extreme.
The abundance of ladyboys seems to have gone through the roof. While they were always there, this time around, they seem to be more prevalent. The other thing that has exploded is the use of padded underwear to give a womanly shape. This applies to the ladyboys and the women alike. We sat at a bar and watched the parade as people with very interesting shapes passed us by. I decided that these would forevermore be known as Bumderwear.
The one thing that has not changed is the variety, quality and cheapness of the food. Even with such a drop off in exchange rates, food and beverage in Vietnam remains very cheap with incredible value to be found for under $5.
Our first lunch was a Banh Mi from a street vendor who was charging a ridiculous 22,000 dong ($1.30) for a pork roll with the lot. So for under $5 Jill and I were fed and got a drink each.
When we were here last time we saw the worst that western tourism can bring to a developing country…particularly in the south. Lots of old fat men trying to pick up small Asian women (LBFM’s for those that know the terminology). Add to this the hordes of Russians camping out on the beaches turning them into their on personal raves with lights and doof doof music everywhere. And the worst bit for us was the Aussie Bogan. This was really cringeworthy, with large volumes of Aussie tourists making asses of themselves in the bars, pubs, streets and markets.
Much of the old man issue has gone (as at March 2023) but I am certain that it is just a matter of time before the sex tourism trade will pick up again. While we did not head south to the beaches this time around, it was clear that Vietnam is currently overrun with Russians fleeing the war. I can only assume that the southern areas and beaches are still noisy beach parties. Certainly, the chats that we had with people suggested that this was the case. And as of last night, the return of the Aussie Bogan, the trickle has started. While not yet overrun, we saw the first of the tattoos, mullets, binge drinking and the use of the F word as a comma in every sentence.