Another posting in pilipinas forum egroups, December 25, 2000:
I had a glimpse of how the Viets, at least in Hanoi, celebrate Christmas eve last night. The city govt. put up a stage right at the center of the city near the lake, and there were acrobatic, circus, and comedy shows, free. Several meters from this full-packed area, still around the lake, there are "belens" and santa claus and other figures that attract thousands of people, many of them walking aimlessly.
Now we're in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), and I would say that coming from the scenic environment and cooler climate of Hanoi, this place is not exactly a recommendable one for tourism. It's like you're in Cubao and Ermita, so why come here? Though there are many exotic places to visit, like the boat trips in the Mekong River (the river originates from China, down to Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, out to the sea). There's not much trees around the central district; the streets are a bit dirty and smelly; and if the cyclo-people (ala-pedicab in manila) or motorcycle-taxi drivers sense that you're a foreigner, some of them would follow you for quite a distance, offering rides (at exorbitant rates, of course). If they fail to convince you, they'll later show pictures of girls and ask if you're interested to have "massage?", "pretty women?", "cheap only, $10 1hr; lower?", etc. The solution is to stop talking to them.
In the 1st district where we stay, there are a lot of back-packer type white people. Well, we have the same source for choosing this place - the LonelyPlanet book guide on Vietnam, and the author specifically recommends this area for cheap but clean accommodations. Comparing this district and Ermita however, I would say that this area attracts more white tourists than our Ermita.
Tomorrow is a long day for us. We're taking a 12-hr bus ride (air-con)from Saigon to Pnom Penh, Cambodia, starting 7am. I read the Lonely Planet book guide onCambodia, I just realize that the political instability has relatively ceased only in the late 90s, around 1998. The book is 2000 edition, and the author says it's now safe to go to certain places of Cambodia incl. Angkor Wat.
PS: you know how low wages are in Vietnam? the lowest paid govt. employee receives 200,000 dong/month, equivalent to around $13.8/month or nearlyP700/month! The shop sales lady I talked to in Hanoi says she teaches French language in the morning to elementary students and receives 400,000 dong/month (nearlyP1,400/month); to augment her income, she works as a shop saleslady and receives additional 200,000 dong/month, for a 2-9 pm work, 6 days/week. She said despite the low pay in the shop, she likes talking to customers and meeting foreigners so she can practice her English.
With these wage structures, it won't be a big question if foreign investors would go to Vietnam (& China) instead of the Phils. Inputing perhaps a higher cost of bribery to state officials of these countries, they might still feel better off locating in China or Vietnam or India. But despite these lower wages in Vietnam, I would like to believe that on "wellness scale", many people are still not that worse off. Food is cheap. I tried eating in "street food" corners, 3 viands (vegetable, fish & chicken) & 1big cup of rice is only around P20. I think they're safe because my stomach never complained afterwards despite testing it about 3x in that "experiment", he-he-he.