Flying to Bang Kok

I’m on a flight to Bang Kok, Thailand. To my right is my mother in the middle, followed by my father next to the window. We’re flying Air Asia. It’s about 10:17pm at the moment.

We arrived in Ho Chi Mihn City (closest port) by cruise ship on the 27th, and disembarked the 28th and stayed at Norfolk Hotel in district 1. We collectively decided that staying an extra day in Vietnam and take a couple tours. The first day was in the countryside, visiting the mekong delta, and taking a variety of guided tours throughout various islands. The second day was a tour throughout the city, the first part of the day by cyclo, which is a bike with a seat on the front where a person pedals you around. The second half of the day we walked around the city, visiting the unification palace and the notre dam palace. Our guide was fantastic. His name was Johnny Pho (Fu, like Kung Fu) and he went above and beyond. The entire tour costs $45 per person per day, for days longer than 8 hours and endless additional accommodations, including personalized recommendations to massage parlors and beer gardens, and the best pho in the city (visited by Bill Clinton, as was proudly emphasized repeatedly).

It’s a communist country. The hammer and sickle represent the industrial worker and the farmer, the two cornerstones of communism.

On the vietnamese flag is a five pointed yellow star on a red backdrop. The color yellow signifies prosperity and is a national color. The color red signifies blood for the people. The five points on the star signify the five classes that act as pillars of the Vietnamese socialist society: industrial worker, farmer, medical doctor, solider, and educator.

There was immense poverty, and incredible inequality. There was also insane development (purportedly from foreign investment) all around Ho Chi Mihn City, which has a population of 10 million. It’s incredible. There are 45 million motorbikes that congest the streets at all hours.

Despite the poverty, there is incredible courteousness and generosity of the people. They are supremely respectful and kind.

The poverty is overwhelming initially, but after a few days you become desensitized.

There aren’t many franchises or chains, mostly small businesses. People live in dirt. The average income in Ho Chi Min City (also referred to as Saigon, the name America gave it before it was overtaken by Ho Chi Mihn) is about $400 a month, and in the country it’s half that, or $400 USD.

You can eat a decent meal for 30,000-50,000 VND or $1.00-2.00. Beer is $1.00. On the other extreme, you can drink $7 beers at westernized restaurants, or $15-50+ for meals. The disparity is immense. Lots of poverty, and lots of wealth. Government corruption is rampant, but there’s not much you can do. Speaking out is a social death sentence that could follow you for life.

The women, for the most part, are very sweet and kind and curious. There’s a sense that western society is slowly permeating the culture. Just about everyone has a cell phone, despite their cost at around $500-800.

The pollution is pretty horrendous, but they say they are learning from China’s mistakes and really cracking down on where industries are in relation to the population, to prevent smog and other runoff.

They view China as a great threat to national security, despite it’s common communist ties. The Vietnamese see themselves as very tolerant people who welcome all nationalities, but they are wary of the Chinese because of recent maneuvers in recent years to control waters in the China sea that have resources such as oil and fish.

I noticed that everyone eats, rice, which isn’t surprising. Vietnam is the 2nd largest exporter of rice (behind Thailand) and the fifth largest consumer (behind China, India, Japan, Thailand). They also are growing a ton of coffee and a few other crops that are escaping me at the moment.

We ported in Da Nang on the 25th and visited the town of Hoi Nan(?). It was a quaint little town on the side of a river. It flooded 10 days prior to our visit and the water mark was up to my chest.

The weather in northern vietnam is a bit more seasonal, largely due to the mountains. The southern part of vietnam is very flat, and very fertile. The Saigon river is one of the 5th largest in the world, flowing from the mountains of Nepal and traveling through six countries before its rich sedimentation flows through tributaries and fans into the Mekong Delta.

Southern Vietnam has two seasons and two seasons only: Wet (Monsoon) season and dry season. Sometimes it’s so rainy that you can’t work, so many people try their best to save during the dry season, since it rains continuously for roughly six months.

The average home price a few KM outside Ho Chi Min City is about $30,000. Inside the city, a modest condo will cost anywhere from $200,000 to $1 million, depending not the location.

The Norfolk hotel was the first australian hotel in Vietnam. It was 4 or 5 stars, and about $100 a night. I’m sure we could have found a great hotel for a third of that cost, but the western amenities were a refreshing break.

You can’t drink the tap water, and no one seems to use napkins, except for a wet nap after dinner.

Many (poorer) people bring their meals/lunch with them wherever they go, with a little cooker and all the ingredients, and cook their meals right on the sidewalk or side of the road of alley way. They often huddle around and sit on little flimsy plastic chairs and cook and eat together.

Vietnamese street food is a common entree, involving someone who basically just cooks a simple meal or snack, such as a pork sandwich or chicken skewers or fried rice balls and the like, and sells it right there on the street.

The markets are interesting. They mostly all sell the same stuff, and usually right next to one another. Most businesses are exactly the same, with little difference in differentiating. There are just businesses after businesses, and they don’t really have anything that makes them stand out other than location.

Just about everyone has a motorbike. Cars are subject to a 260% government tax. So a Toyota Camry will go for about $75,000 USD. As a result, most all four wheel vehicles are reserved for government workers, who are well paid and exempt from many taxes, or very wealthy business families/people.

A coastal property, which makes for a great airBnb or rental property, will go for between $200k to $1 million.

I was advised to look into Vietnamese manufacturing due to uncertain US-China trade relations in the near future. Vietnam is really ramping up manufacturing to compete globally, and many businesses are looking to them as an alternative to China.

I still need to visit to China and see what that country is all about.

I was blown away by the population and poverty in Vietnam, although, like I mentioned, you quickly become desensitized.

As I’m writing this now I can still feel by eyes burn and chest tighten from the fumes of riding around on a bicycle in traffic all day, not to mention the developing sun burn.

I believe they said that 1 hectare of rice patty yields 5 tons of rice. That’s…astronomical.

Buddhism is the primary religion. Followed closely by Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Catholicism. Catholicism was introduced by the french colonists in the 19th century. Many temples are a hodgepodge of influences now.

English is becoming the second language.

We’re about to land in Thailand. Signing off.

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