Perhaps more than any other country I will visit, Vietnam’s economy is growing and the pace is fast. GDP growth in the last quarter was over 6%. For comparison, US GDP growth is close to 2%. The literacy rate in this country exceeds 90%.
The people I meet are motivated, entrepreneurial, smart, and hard working. College age students staffing hostels tell me about daily commitments to classes, a job, and English school. Men on street corners are always hustling, saying to me cyclo or xe om to offer their services as a bike or moto chauffeur. The corporate work day, from what I observed, starts at 9:00am and ends at 7:00 or 8:00pm. I am not sure when people sleep!
It is hard for me to imagine that 30 years ago, a time still within many peoples’ lifetimes, Vietnamese people faced large economic challenges stemming from a centrally planned economy. Speaking with Carlson MBA alumni Duke and Quyen and Duke’s fiancee Trang, I learned about ration stamps each family used to obtain food. They semi-joked that everyone had the same resources, and the same meant nothing.
In 1986 the Vietnamese market opened to the world through a series of reforms called Do Moi. In Vietnam today, some of what I observe would not be out of place in the U.S. I see chain restaurants and hotels, coffee shops, Uber, and shopping malls. While I do not know if development, growth, and westernization is what is best, I think it is a credit to the people that change has happened so quickly and also while recovering from wars with the U.S., Cambodia, and China. Traveling is the best history lesson.
The following photos are from the 5 nights I stayed in central Vietnam in the cities of Hoi An and An Bang.
Hoi An is famous for the handcrafted lanterns made and sold in this town. They are gorgeous, especially at night.
Hoi An is located on a river that opens into the South China Sea/East Sea. The town was a premier trading destination for Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese people from the 15th to 19th centuries.
By city ordinance, all buildings are painted yellow and must hang light lanterns in the evening.
In Hoi An, shoes, hand bags and garments are custom made. Other crafts like quilting, sewing, and card-making are also easy to find.
Signs of a touristed town.
One reason Hoi An is a UNESCO designated town and popular with tourists is the well preserved merchant homes throughout the old quarter of the city. Walking into these homes it was easy to feel the Chinese influence and also imagine the decadent life these wealthy families lived.
I stayed 1 night in Hoi An and 4 nights at a ‘homestay’ 5km outside of the city in a fishing and beach community called An Bang. I loved my stay at the An Bang Seaside Village Homestay. Also, thanks to technology, I was able to stream Rosh Hashanah services live from my home congregation.
The 40 miles of beach in An Bang have warm water and fun waves.
Basket boats are popular with fisherman (and they are all men). The boats are harder to row/move but very steady.
I met awesome travelers while sitting in a cafe in Hoi An. The next day, they traveled to the beach so we could relax together. These are 2 of the 3 local woman running the 3 Ladies Kitchen restaurant and chairs.
In walking distance from the beach are organic farms growing mostly greens.
The countryside is stunning.
Thoughts on what the machine on the right is or how it is used?
In Hoi An I did what many people do – I had an item of clothing custom made. If I could do it again, I would skip this activity. I was impressed with the speed and quality of the dress. The tailors are incredibly skilled. The number of fittings required and overall fit of the dress were pain points for me. It was a new experience though and one I may never have again!