Vietnam in 14 days

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In the past two weeks I have had the privilege of travelling through an extraordinary country. Having lived my student days in parallel with the Vietnam War (to the Vietnamese, the American War), I needed to catch up with Vietnamese life as it is lived today. Until 1995, it was a closeted world but in ten years the transformation to a market economy is remarkable. And yet it is still a single party state, run tightly by the inheritors of Ho Chi Minh’s struggle for an independent nation. Fighting the invader has been long familiar: living the peace is posing all kinds of new and relatively unfamiliar challenges.

The journey passed through cities and villages, high country and coastal plains, rivers and bays. A modern life-style: motorbikes, mobile phones and iPods, mysterious masked girls riding side by side with elegant women in high heels.

A rural living by ancient methods: water buffalos ploughing rice paddies and limpet hatted workers weeding vast spaces by hand; ripened rice is cut by scythe and stacked, collected by hand cart,then beaten and cleaned by straw brush on the roadside before being shovelled into bags ready for collection. And then there are the more up to date methods like motor bike bearing chickens and pigs in cages!

The fourteen day trip was spent in the company of our tour leader and local guides and eleven other total strangers all of who became a kind of surrogate family, sharing meals, boat, coach and air trips and novel experiences. I came away promising to return: the people, the landscapes, the scenes of working life, the organised chaos of the traffic, are unforgettable.

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