Vietnam continued: leaving Hoi An and heading north.
Wow, how to catch up on a whirlwind of a first week in Vietnam. This country has been emotionally tolling for me, and I can’t shake that I’m-almost-about-to-cry feeling all the time. The places I’ve seen, how they have made me feel, and the people I’ve met.
It’s hard to process travel when you’re moving at a speed of a hundred miles a second. Waking up every morning between 6 or 7 a.m., hopping on a bus/boat/some mode of transportation to get to our next picturesquely beautiful and partially destroyed Vietnamese town, stopping to eat delicious food with freshly squeezed juice and wondering how long my bank account will support my incessant Vietnamese coffee craving.
The differences between Vietnam and other countries in Southeast Asia are more obvious than I thought they would be. You have to be pretty blind to not see them. Vietnam, destination of tourism for hundreds of Brits, Aussies and kiwis “prides itself on it’s central and north coast beaches; destinations of relaxation, recreation, and inspiration”. The undeniable money and tourists beach culture brings with it has given Vietnam a vibe absent in Cambodia and Laos; a vibe of ability. These people are able to have lives separate from the rice paddies; they can jog, converse in expensive and overpriced but chic bars and choose their clothes and cars based on what they WANT, not was is available. The streets of Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An alike are filled with evidence of an already-developed-developing nation. It is as global and luxurious a culture as any, but still desperately stuck in the paralyzing turmoil of 1974.
Just a few kilometers outside the gorgeous colorful town Hoi An, it seems to be mega resort after beach getaway after mega resort. Each resort’s entrance is uniquely Americanized; big gold letters advertise island getaway bungalows on the secluded beaches of Vietnam’s central coast, with towering high rises that could easily exist in Miami.
But walking next to these perfectly 21st century resorts is a woman stooped over from years of picking rice, in a traditional triangular Vietnamese hat, missing a limb from god knows which bombing incident. She is the old Vietnam, the Vietnam that so many 20-somethings try to claim dissipated with the end of the war.
But the war is strangely alive. You see it in the vastly disproportionate number of older Vietnamese people with missing limbs walking down the street unphased, carrying massive bamboo trays of mangosteen and rambutan fruit on their heads instead.
I know I’ve spoken about paradox in Southeast Asia before, but this place is haunted by ghosts of 40 years ago. You can’t ignore it if you want to. It seems every few hundred kilometers there is a large billboard promoting communism: two young Vietnamese soldiers holding their hands up in solidarity with a bright golden communist hammer and cycle, next to the contrasting red and gold of the Vietnamese flag.
Underneath the flag in bright gold is an emphatic Vietnamese phrase proclaiming the end of Capitalism in Vietnam forever. And long live Ho Chi Minh.
Do these rich and spoiled Westerners know the story of this country? Maybe the Brits do, but they don’t understand what images of young American GIs pointing guns at babies, dead bodies and blown-up pictures of napalm girl do to my mind. I’m passing by the most postcard-worthy scenery of large jungle-infested mountains looming over pristine calm ocean water, Vietnamese women walking by slowly, pushing their carts of fruit.