Despite the nation and it’s people’s recent history of hardship and suffering, Vietnam is a wonderful and thrilling place to be. Bustling city streets are full of bicycles, mopeds, taxis, buses, vendors, stray chickens, and families eating at restaurants that spread out onto the sidewalk. Outside the city, green fields of rice, soy, vegetables and flowers stretch out in all directions.
Since the ending of the American War (what Americans refer to as the Vietnam War) the population of Vietnam has skyrocketed, recently surpassing the 85 million mark. Given the small size of the country, it is quite densely populated, and because the population surge has taken place in the past 35 years, the demographic of the country is quite young (especially in comparison with Western nations).
The two major rivers (Red river in the north, surrounding Hanoi, and the Mekong River in the South, near Ho Chi Minh City) and their respective deltas as the anchors of the country, both culturally and economically. Major ports for air and water transport, Vietnam’s importing and exporting as a player in the global market happens through these two locations. Though the national government (the Vietnamese Communist Party) is located in the northern city of Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City in the south is the larger of the two, with more space (politically and physically) for serious economic development.
Since “doi moi” in 1986, the Vietnamese government has pursued a policy of socialist-oriented market economy, and has continued liberalizing economic policy as time has passed. This has meant serious increases in GDP and direct foreign investment, but is also probably connected to the growing wage gap and difficulties for the state sponsored healthcare and education systems. Development has also been uneven, with a number of regions far behind those located on a major river delta, both because of the lack of economic opportunities in rural areas, and because many of these rural areas are still dealing with various ramifications of the war.
The growing tourist industry in contemporary Vietnam has brought a country once shut off from much of the world into the world consciousness. Whether it’s the jungles of central Vietnam or the Mekong Delta in the south, beaches in Da Nang and mountainous regions like Da Lat and Sa Pa, international cities like Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City or ethnic minority villages throughout, Vietnam’s long history and diverse environment has attracted travelers from all over the world.
Vietnam today can be a sensory overload in every way imaginable—
sights, sounds, smells, new tastes—an exoticness that appeals to all of our senses.