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Sunshine Shattering on Mekong River Through Jungle

Posted July. 09, 2003 22:06,   


All roads are covered and dotted with motorbikes. The first appearance of Vietnam feels dynamic. After adoption of the innovative polities introduced in the 1980s, motorbikes have functioned as a symbol of Vietnam`s development. Their running on the roads is considered as representation of the force propelling its advance.

Korean-made used cars drive around with previous Korean owners` Korean signs still on. Vietnamese people do not erase them—a token of their affection for Korea. Korea to the Vietnamese is a country that offers a dream and a country that Vietnam should catch up with. When imported Korea TV shows like Glass Shoes are on air, the streets are empty of people.

It is Ho Chi Mihn, a city stilled called Saigon in Korea. It is the biggest city in Vietnam, accommodating seven million people in it. One can find numerous skyscrapers and signs of foreign brands including Korean brands. No one could guess, looking at these, that Vietnam is still a communist country. The economic reform in 1986 has made Vietnam wide open to the market economy system, and improved citizens` economic power considerably. Now, a Vietnamese household can offer more than one motorbike on average.

Mekong River, which flows down to the South China Sea, winding 4,350 km starting from Tibet and separating Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Near its mouth lies Mekong Delta, which is one-hour drive from Ho Chi Mihn City. Mekong Delta tour starts at Mito onboard a boat. Wearing the traditional Vietnamese hat, tourists pass through the jungle on the traditional small Vietnamese boat. In the middle of the tour, drop by a fruit farm, and pick them in person.

Vietnam is a "long" country, lying about 2,000 km vertically. It takes about two hours by plane to travel from Ho Chi Mihn in the southern part to the capital Hanoi in north. Examining them carefully, one can find different facial features in different parts of the country. Usually, southern men are more handsome, while northern women are more beautiful.

Walking along the street, you can find quite a number of interesting places—puppet theater on water, traditional markets, various stands selling a diversity of products, and many different restaurants. You can also find the Ho Chi Mihn Memorial, named after the Vietnamese hero Ho Chi Mihn who stood up against the French colonial government, and won independence. Despite all of these, the most featuring tourist site in Hanoi is HaLong Bay.

Lying at 180 km apart from Hanoi, HaLong Bay holds in its arms around 3,000 rock islands. Due to its unique feature, the UNESCO has designated it as one of the World Heritages. Ferry tour takes about five hours. Looking at the silent sea and the harmony of water and rock, we realize how great the nature is, and feel we are getting belittled in front of it.

World`s First SARS-free Country

Vietnam became the first county that beat out SARS, or the severe acute respiratory syndrome that hit the world last earlier this year, in the end of April. ˝The number of Korean tourists was down by some 90% due to SARS fears, but things will return to normal soon,˝ said Wen Gui Pheng, Deputy Director at the Tourism Agency.

˝We are improving the transportation system as well, importing some 1,300 units of city buses,˝ he added. ˝When the `Visa exemption for five-day stay` is put into place, the road to Cambodian Angkor Wat will also be open.˝

Travelers Tips

Air Travel – Korean Airlines (KAL) runs seven flights a week between Incheon and Hochimin City. Asiana Airline has five flights and Vietnam Airlines three. KAL runs six flights a week between Incheon and Hanoi and Vietnam Airlines four. It takes about 4 hours and 30 minutes to get to Vietnam. The airport in Hochimin is 8km apart from downtown and the one in Hanoi is 48km apart.

Expenses - Currency = Dong (one dollar equals 15,000 Dong). Taxi fares start from 5,000 Dong, or 75 cents. Price for a meal is also about 5,000 Dong. One dollar is good enough for tipping.


1. Travelers must beware of pickpockets in Vietnam, a country notorious for skilled pickpockets. For example, here is how a man loses $1,200 he keeps in the front pocket of his jeans. About five to six primary school students breaks into the crowded road with their bicycles. Then, they step on his foot with one of the bicycles. He gets annoyed and has some words with the little students. While some are dealing with the man, the others put their hands into the pockets. Even when you report loss of money to the police, they are not enthusiastic about helping you find money back.

2. Rip-off - Taxi drivers often try to rip you off. Use airport taxies or `VINA` taxies. Negotiate the fares first before getting into a cyclo.

Package tour programs are offered by Hosung Tour (02-319-2511), Good Morning Vietnam (02-739-6153), TransAsia (02-730-3008) and Woori Agency (02-775-8053).

Sun-Hong Park sunhong@donga.com