I just got back from the Mekong Delta. Here's my planned itinerary for the rest of Vietnam:
May 2 Up to Dalat
May 3 Around Dalat, visiting hilltribe villages
May 4 On the road to Nha Trang, through Phang Rang
May 5 The BEACHES of Nha Trang, a day of rest
May 6 Fly to Danang; go out to My Son then Hoi An
May 7 Morning in Hoi An; drive up to Hue and look around imperial ruins
May 8 In Hue, including Perfume River
May 9 Fly to Hanoi; day in and around Hanoi
May 10 Train to SaPa
May 11 Day in SaPa
May 12 Train back to Hanoi
May 13 Fly back to Ho Chi Minh City and on to Kuala Lumpur for one day before flight to Manila on May 14.
As I prepare to enter Vietnam, I wonder what I'll see? As anyone of my generation would think of pretty quickly, I'd expect to see effects even to this day from the war inside Vietnam in which the U.S. was a major player (what we usually call the "Vietnam War", but which I know the Vietnamese call the "American War"). I've met many Vietnamese-Americans who came to the U.S. as refugees from that war; I wonder if contacts between family members who left and stayed have had any effects inside Vietnam? I know also that even before the war involving the U.S., the Vietnamese were fighting with the French, and that Vietnam was the third country (along with Lao and Cambodia) that was part of French-controlled "Indochina"; so, I'd expect to see some French influence even now.
Looking at a map, I notice immediately that the country is VERY long and thin, with a really really long coastline. I'd expect that to mean that the sea is very important to the culture so that, for example, fish and seafood would be a major part of the national cuisine. I feel that even more strongly on seeing that the Maekhong River's delta lies in the southern part of the country. Having seen the power of that river, I'd expect the Maekhong defines life in the south; the delta branches out so much I'd think I'll see a lot of swamps, but also a whole lot of very fertile farmland for growing crops (rice?). Also from the map, I can see that Vietnam borders on only three countries, one of which (to its north) is China -- so, I'd expect to see more Chinese influence than Indian, especially so far away from the latter (though I saw a lot of Indian influence next door in Cambodia!). Perhaps there are Indian effects in that, I can see, Vietnam lies on the ocean trade route between India and China, so maybe it was a place where those traders stopped and spent some time. Maybe there are influences from the Muslim part of Southeast Asia, too, in Malaysia and Indonesia, which may not border Vietnam but are right across the water. And finally, from the map, I can see that the southern part of Vietnam lies pretty close to the equator, so I'd guess it's probably VERY hot!
I have to admit I'm being a little unfair in listing my expectations, because I have a little head start -- I already traveled there once before! It was only for nine days, though, so I didn't see the whole country by any means. That experience does leave me with a burning question, for which I don't really have any expectations (but I'm sure interested to find out): how much has the country changed in the four years since I was there? I remember Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) being pretty bustling but grimy, too; and, there was a new road from the airport into Hanoi, but nobody knew how to drive on it yet. Everything felt like it was about to "take off" and change a lot. I wonder if that's what happened? Let's see!
What would YOU expect to see?