Trip to Hai Noi

After pulling into the Bay of Tonkin ( where the Vietnam War Started with the shelling of two of our Navy ships )we tied up at the port nearest to Hai Noi. Near is a relative term here as the roads are very limited and the traffic trying to use them is very heavy indeed. The trip by bus to Hai Noi takes 3 to 3 and 1/2 hours by bus. The ” highway” is a 1 and 1/2 lane road being used by the motorist as if it were three lanes. Motorbikes playing chicken with buses, buses playing chicken with each other and semi tractor trailers. Everyone drives inches away from each other and passing on either side is ok. I sat in the front of the bus so I got a birds eye view of the heroics outside ahead of us. I saw some rusty train tracks along side the road and asked the guide if they have passenger service. He said they did but nobody takes the train. It is too slow and is prone to accidents and breakdowns. I thought how slow can it be since we are unable to get going even 40mph due to the road conditions and the traffic. I posed the question about who owns the land in Viet Nam. He said there was a big change about 10 years ago when the government gave up on Communism as an economic policy.He said they now have Capitalist Communism. OK how about the land? He said the government owns all the land but, the people can lease the land for up to 40 years and do with it what the market will allow. Each farmer gets to keep his produce and sell it for what it will bring.
As we were passing through many small towns on the way to Hai Noi, I noticed that the houses were very narrow and built up close to the road. He said most people operate small retail and other business out of the first floor of the house and live in the upper floors. Consequently, the land is valued by the front foot along the road. Everyone wants to be on the main road to have marketing exposeur. The people here, for the most part, are very poor outside the cities. The farmers’ average income is $200 to $300 per month. People living in the city do a little better but not much. Things are picking up for them since they have left economic Communism behind and foreign businesses have been welcomed here. Japanese, Chinese, and a few American businesses have arrived and installed manufacturing plants.
After more than 3 hours we drive into Hai Noi which is a city of over 8 million people. It is modernizing and a few highrise buildings have been built and more underway. Hotels and office buildings are coming up. We visited the Museum of Literature where Emperors used to train their staff and administrators. There were plaques dating back hundreds of years with names of the students who were first in their class. We had the mandatory awful lunch and then proceeded on to visit the seat of government and the places where Uncle Ho lived and worked during the war. There is even a Stalin style mausoleum with Ho’s body lying in state inside.
Finally we are off to see the Hanoi Hilton where our prisoners were housed during and after the Vietnam War. 2/3 of the structure has been destroyed to make way for a highrise building. Originally built by the French to house terrorist locals during the period when this was a French colony, it was converted by the North Vietnamese to a prison for US prisoners primarly so that we would not bomb near it and thus protected central Hanoi from bombing. It is now an incredible living lie. What a propaganda tool. They just outright lie about what went on there with our guys. Jane Fonda must have helped them create it. Yuk! We are friends now so what can you do. I came away from this visit to Hai Noi convinced that McNamara should have been hanged for treason when he advised Johnson that we could win the war the way we were fighting it. There was NOTHING here to win. It still is an improverished back water. It would have been even worse then. We also passed by the lake where Sen. John McCain’s plane crashed and he was captured and taken to the Hanoi Hilton.
Now back on the road to the ship it is growing dark and the taffic is even more exciting. Half of the millions of motor scooters do not have functioning lights but they are out there on the road inches away from the trucks and buses. It takes four hours to return. Nobody slept that is for sure.