Thoughts on Vietnam & Cambodia

At some point on the trip, my internet access became limited, not just because of its location, but also because of the pace of the trip, so rather than talk about things in a travelogue mode, I want to talk about general impressions.

Vietnam is a country on the move in lots of ways. The most obvious is the endless streams of motorbikes and motorcycles that one sees flowing on the streets day and night. As schools discharge their uniformed pupils (yes, school children wear uniforms throughout Vietnam) parents wait by the gate to put one or two or three children onto the motorbike with them and take them home. Since December there is a helmet law designed to reduce the number of motorbike fatalities. Until then, there had been about 300 A DAY!!! Now most people are helmeted and frequently even walking on the streets and in the markets they wear their helmets An industry of helmet brims has sprung up to provide fashion attachments to helmets!

The feel of Vietnam is much more Western than that of China. The French and American influences are felt in the architecture and the plumbing. The US dollar is accepted virtually everywhere and many times prices are exclusively quoted in dollars. Change is given in dollars, alhough fractions of dollars are given in the local currency, the dong. May Vietnamese have English language skills, even in areas that seem remote.

One thing we enjoyed in both Vietnam and Cambodia was the fruit. It was amazing! It is possible to buy sweet pineapple almost everywhere and it is juicy and delicious.

I can’t talk about Vietnam without talking about the war and how it is languaged and conceived of in Vietnam. It is said that the victor gets to write the history and, I suppose, the victors having been the North whose form of government the South was rejecting, they have the right to promote their version of the war. It is when the US is portrayed as having entered Vietnam as captors that I really had a serious problem with their narrative. To experience the Cu Chi tunnels area and to see the traps and the brutality to which the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies were prey was horrific. One of our travelers remarked that in all of his travels (and he travels quite a lot) he had never before seen a museum dedicated to extolling the cruelty the country had perpetrated!

We enjoyed the lush vegetation and the beautiful people in Vietnam and Cambodia.

We were particularly impressed by the Rabbi and Rebbetzin at the Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City Chabad. This young couple are totally devoted to providing support to Jews traveling , doing business, or living in Saigon. They are intellligent, attractive ,and very kind and caring people. We loved seeing the assortment of people who gathered in their home for shabbat and are impressed beyond words.

I was totally speechless walking through the Temples of Angkor. They are beyond belief.

We felt a real gentleness and warmth from the Cambodian people we met. Without sharing it with each other, both of us decided that Cambodia was the icing on the cake.

Who would have thought that one could find resorts that were pure paradise in Vietnam and Cambodia? But find them we did. And there is still so much more to say. I will be posting pictues in a week or two.

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