South Vietnam: So this is Socialism?

South Vietnam: So this is Socialism?

Question: What’s the most popular name in Vietnam? Answer: It’s Nguyen – a name shared by the former president, current prime minister, Vietcong leaders, and practically everyone else you meet. But, in this socialist country, you can’t tell your Phuong Nguyens from your Ayn Rands anymore.

I crossed into ‘Nam via Phu Quoc – a holiday isle in the south of the country. Getting off the ferry I was met by committee. “Mista! Mista! You need Vietnam dong?” No thanks. I’m straight, but flattered all the same. They sure are forward around here. The island itself is your standard package-holiday breakfast-included type of fare. There isn’t much to write about – so I won’t.

Next was Saigon. This humming hubbub could be anywhere in Asia. Boot blacks swarm the streets and hawkers pack the alleys. Motorbikes mount the gutters and trample down rubbish. It’s all McDonalds, Coke, and KFC. Canons of commercialism get smeared along the sidewalks. I snicker. A mangled Colonel Sanders kinda looks like Ho Chi Minh, don’t you think? Talk about delicious irony. This one’s finger lickin’!

The city is a seat still warm with history. The war relics museum is worth a look, just be prepared for some heavy propaganda. The war, apparently, was about securing “tin and tungsten”. I shit you not. The irony of funnelling tourists through the gift shop is laughably lost. Just quietly, I don’t think fridge magnets are what the Russians had in mind.

Da Lat, it’s French for yoghurt

North from Saigon there’s Da Lat. It’s a colonial resort in the highlands, and not what you’d expect. Although I’m loathed to say it, the French did a reasonable job. It really does feel like a ski town. There’s a crispness in the air. Think chalets, cafes, and a tranquil lake that reflects all the pines. Though, of course, there’s one thing missing. Sacrebleu! They forgot the snow. But, hey, its Vietnam, they’ll buy some soon enough. If this is socialism, then Wikipedia needs editing. And I’m looking squarely at you, Nguyens…