Today was spent flying back South to Ho Chi Minh City, so a few reflections on what we’ve seen so far.
The rice fields are remarkably well-maintained. There’s not a weed in sight and every single rice stalk is carefully placed by hand to achieve the maximum density in the field. But then every neighbouring piece of fallow ground is covered in rubbish, often spilling from dumped bags. This strange dichotomy of pristine fields and horribly kept public spaces is almost the antithesis of socialism. The only conclusion we can come to is that maintaining the farms is such back-breaking work that there’s no enthusiasm or energy left for clearing the public areas.
The roads are incredibly busy and chaotic, but yet feel so very safe. No one is going fast and so it’s easy to take evasive action; there is a strange, calm dance to manoeuvring through traffic which is quite beautiful in its way. In spite of the apparent chaos we’re feeling much safer in Vietnam than in Sydney, even in the cities.
There’s clearly great poverty here sitting not far from increasing wealth. Out in the country people are living a basic, subsistence existence which is probably little changed over the last few centuries. But I’m writing this sitting by a rooftop pool and looking out at a modern skyscraper that would do London proud.
This morning we passed a motorcycle with a yoke out the back from which hung a couple of dozen live chickens. This afternoon a Rolls Royce swept past us and deposited its pristine owner outside the Bulgari store.
While this does not apply only to Vietnam, there can be no greater general luxury in the World than the capacity to safely drink water from the tap.
Vietnam ineffectively and intermittently blocks access to Facebook and WordPress. Overtly because of the danger of people being exposed to sexually explicit materials. It’s all particularly strange because they don’t block access to the Facebook mobile site.
Vietnam is modernising, but remains a communist state. Every village we have visited has a welcome arch which details the village name and number. Each group of villages has one huge, well-maintained local government building – even when surrounded by decrepit shacks this will be a three-storey building made to a standard style. A people’s palace.
The boys have had their photo taken by locals a lot. Everyone from workmen when we’ve stopped by the road to staff in the hotels to people on the airplane. I really want to find out what people do with these photos of themselves with complete strangers. We had cleaners in the hotel the other night chase us down the corridor to try to explain how handsome Callum is – you don’t get much curly blonde hair in the back-blocks of Vietnam. There has been a mildly disturbing amount of feeling how white and smooth their skin is as well. The boys have been largely good-natured about the whole thing, but being pawed by a stranger is a stretching cultural experience.
Thus far Vietnam has entirely lived up to our expectations. It’s fascinating and exotic and the riding has been brilliant. The kids are having a great time and the other two families in our group are lovely. It’s actually quite amusing to find how similar the three families are in many ways – but then I guess there was always going to be a strong element of self-selection amongst a group that decided to go riding in Vietnam at Christmas.