GLOBE TREKKER VIETNAM
Review by Ed Nguyen
Director: Jez Higham
Video: Color, full-frame
Studio: Pilot Productions
Features: Motorbiking in Vietnam featurette, travel information, web-links
Length: 46 minutes
Release Date: January 11, 2005
the remote hills of Lao
Cai, so far and so different from the place I call home, I found people who had
never heard of America."
its long history, the small Indochina nation of Vietnam has endured centuries of
Chinese rule or occupation and more recently in the twentieth century by the
Japanese and French, too. An
unassuming Third World nation, Vietnam seems an unusual battleground for what
was once a tumultuous struggle between eastern and western super-powers over the
political ideologies of democracy versus communism.
After all the dust had settled finally, Vietnam emerged once more as an
independent nation, quietly contented to fade away from the global arena and
public scrutiny. Today, Vietnam is
a socialist republic slowly undergoing economic reforms and a transition to a
free market society, yet much of the flavor of rural Vietnam has remained
unfazed by the events and upheavals of the latter half of the twentieth century.
As a result, the country, having re-opened its doors in recent years to
tourists and travelers alike, offers an alluring blend of the traditional and
long-running television travelogue program Globe
Trekker visits this Asian nation to see how the country has changed in the
intervening years. A co-production
between Pilot Film and TV Productions with WETA in Washington D.C., this episode
of Globe Trekker follows charismatic
series host Justine Shapiro as she journeys through Vietnam from Ho Chi Minh
City (formerly Saigon) in the south to the northern highlands of Lào Cai.
once the southern capital, was re-named in 1975 to Ho Chi Minh City after the
re-unification of the country. Today,
the city remains the economic capital with a population over four million, most
of whom still travel to and fro on mo-peds and bicycles.
While bicycles are slowly being replaced by motorbikes, together they
still vastly out-number cars in the cities by 100 to 1.
For tourists, human-powered cyclos can offer a relaxing means of travel,
has a population over 80 million, 80% of whom live in rural settings and work
the land. Still, three-quarters of
the nation is mountainous and remains largely unexplored. With an average national income equivalent to $250 a year,
Vietnam is also one of the poorest nations on Earth, and agriculture remains the
backbone of most Vietnamese villages and towns. Among its major exports is rice, as Vietnam is the
third-largest rice producer in the world, with the Red River delta being one of
its major rice-growing regions.
is highly prized among the Vietnamese populace, which has a literacy rate of
80%. While there are relatively few
Vietnamese who can speak English, French speakers are fairly common.
Vietnamese culture has also been heavily influenced by Mahayana Buddhism
and Confucian rituals, and Buddhist pagodas are abundant in Vietnam.
Confucian shrines, as well, are integral to Vietnamese society as a
symbol of familial piety, harmony, and respect for one's elders and ancestors.
staple diet in the predominately agricultural Vietnam remains fish and rice.
However, soups, especially the popular Pho (a hearty beef noodle soup
with greens), are regular breakfast meals.
One of Justine's pit-stops along her travels is at Hue's Lac-Thien
restaurant, renown for its exquisite Banh Khoai crepes filled with seafood and
bean sprouts. These dishes are absolutely delicious, and both can be found
readily in Vietnamese restaurants in America, too! Other exotic culinary treats less likely to be found in
America include a popular snake blood and alcohol concoction that Justine
samples in Hue; presumably, such beverages protect the drinker against disease.
journey through Vietnam begins in Ho Chi Minh City, where she arrives in time to
enjoy the Tet Festival. Held
annually across Vietnam in late January to early February, the Tet Festival is a
celebration of the end of lunar calendar. From
Ho Chi Minh City, Justine then travels northwest to the Cu Chi District, once
home to a massive subterranean network of claustrophobic tunnels and man-made
lairs. After a tour of one of these
eerie tunnels, Justine gets an opportunity to test-fire an old war relic, the
AK-47 assault rifle (and practically gets knocked off her feet doing so, too).
is a trip to the South China Sea and the premier seaside resort at Nha Trang.
Once a military base, Nha Trang is now a popular site for vacationers,
both domestic and foreign alike. Travelers
here can partake in the all-day boat cruise sponsored by the local Green Hat
Restaurant. Nha Trang represents
merely one settlement along Vietnam's 2000-mile coastline.
Lang Co peninsula in particular, just south of Hué, also offers miles of
unspoiled beaches and is one of the most tranquil spots in Vietnam.
in Vietnam is most easily accomplished by the bus system that connects the
country. Internal air travel is
infrequent, and foreigners are forbidden to drive in the country, which is
probably for the best, as Justine notes: "The traffic system in Vietnam can
best be described as lawless."
When bicycling in the cities, it is safer at intersections to keep pedaling
rather than braking!
travelers can also hop on the Reunification Express, part of the simple rail
network connecting Ho Chi Minh City to the north. With an average speed of only 30 mph, the train isn't
particularly fast but does offer a wonderful opportunity to see the Vietnamese
landscape and to mingle with the local populace. Just keep in mind that lodging facilities do become rather
basic and sparse the further north one travels.
On her trek northwards, Justine encounters many other foreign travelers
who are happy speak candidly about their personal experiences in the country,
including a pair of crazy Frenchmen attempting to ride a cyclo the entire length
next stop is in Hue. Once the
imperial city of Vietnam's emperors until the Second World War, today Hue is
home to the many temples, palaces, and tombs constructed over the centuries by
the twelve emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty.
hundred miles north of Hue, Justine visits Hanoi, the political capital of
Vietnam. A conservative and modest
city, more resistant to reform, Hanoi is infrequently visited by foreign
tourists, although it holds the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, a popular local
attraction. The ancient town center
is also the heart of Hanoi, where artisans and craftsmen still practice their
traditional trade in a centuries-old, time-honored fashion.
hundred miles from Hanoi is the spectacular Ha Long Bay, with its majestic and
surreal limestone islands. With
over 3000 such islands, this seascape (prominently featured in the James Bond
thriller The Man with the Golden Gun)
offers some of the most dazzling natural monuments and limestone structures to
be found along Vietnam's coastal waters.
Justine's journey concludes in Lao Cai, near the Chinese border.
The remote highlands of this region are home to hill tribes with some of
the most diverse cultural and linguistic traditions in Vietnam.
Over fifty ethnic minorities with their own unique costumes and beliefs
live in these highlands where outsiders, such as Justine, come only once a
a world increasingly absorbed by capitalism and free market enterprise, it is
nice to know that there are still people who live contentedly in a simple manner
undeterred by global politics. Vietnam
is not alone in possessing such remote ethnic groups.
However, the diversity of such groups peacefully co-existing in so small
a nation illustrates the basic fact that we are all members of the same human
race on the same planet Earth. Despite
our multitude of differences, the potential remains in all of us to live
together in harmony and in peace.
is presented in its original television full-frame format.
The photographic media used include celluloid film, high-definition
video, and even grainy stock from host Justine Shapiro's old film camera.
As a result, the visuals will vary in their sharpness and graininess.
However, the video quality is generally clear with bright colors,
realistic skin tones, and a pleasant presentation of exotic images.
is offered with its original English soundtrack with occasional voice-over
narration by Justine Shapiro. There
are no subtitles or close captions, although this should not really present a
problem. The audio quality is fine
and occasionally makes use of ethnic music or dialects, too.
love the smell of paddy fields in the morning!"
with any travelogue, this disc provides background pages about the host nation.
In this case, these pages concentrate on travel, climate, food,
festivals, and highlights in Vietnamese society.
The information is somewhat basic but is further complemented with
internet web-links to the various Globe
best feature, however, is the bonus trek - Treks
in a Wild World. This episode,
Motorbiking in Vietnam (24 min.), is hosted by Zay Harding as he traverses
the Vietnamese countryside via motorbike. This
trek is essentially an extension of Justine Shapiro's own journey through
offers many important traveling tips for motorbiking in Vietnam and occasionally
peppers his comments with Hollywood movie quotes.
His trek begins in Hanoi and from there to Ba Be Lake National Park.
Created in the 1990's, this park was meant to preserve the native fauna,
flora, and endangered wildlife of the region and contains some impressive
limestone mountain rivers, navigable via boat.
Zay heads for the region's spring festival, a celebration for the
upcoming harvest season and an opportunity to participate in an assortment of
traditional games designed for match-making.
Zay's most courageous moment, however, comes when he indulges in a
culinary encounter with a duck egg, complete with a mature duck fetus inside.
That is one gross delicacy even I cannot stomach!
up is a trip to Da Lat to explore the Central Highlands, home to thirty-five
different minority groups descended from aboriginal mountain people.
With a temperate climate and rich volcanic soil, this region offers a
wealth of crops and farmers' markets. Zay's
journeys conclude with a tour of the countryside and old temples by a war
veteran, who sadly reminisces about the losses from the war, and a visit with a
famous regional elephant tamer, one of the last practitioners of his kind.