My intense desire to visit Vietnam was yet to be fulfilled when I learned that Rajendra Shrestha, a staff of the Japan-funded Rural Telecom Network Improvement Project (RTNI), had just returned from the country. I wasted no time in visiting him at his house where we spent nearly two hours chatting over Vietnam and its people. I was regaled with interesting facts and anecdotes alike.

The world knows Vietnam has had a turbulent past. The country got its independence from China in 938 AD and was occupied by the French till the mid-19th century. It was only in 1986 that Vietnam saw a new beginning as an independent country. This unique history and the mixed influence of the Chinese, the French, the Americans and the Russians, makes Vietnam easily one of the most fascinating countries in Southeast Asia. One will find Hanoi’s psyche deeply impacted by Russian education and the soviet doctrine, whereas Saigon equally under the American influence.

Chinese culture in particular, can be felt in the Vietnamese inclination for Feng Shui and the Bonsai plants that many decorate their homes with. In urban areas, the high and middle class Vietnamese maintain their Bonsai with pride and don’t mind spending much time and money in doing so. My friend was a lucky witness to the Vietnamese penchant for the Bonsai and he narrated his experience thus:

“I was once invited by someone who worked in a government office in Vietnam. He could speak good English, and so there were no language barriers between us. We had a nice chat over Vietnamese tea and lunch after which he took me to his veranda to show his Bonsai collection. These plants were magnificent and they successfully stole my heart. But he had a bigger surprise in store: a Bonsai which was 200 years old. I was blown away by this miniature wonder, for I had never seen a tree that small, which was as old as 200 years. But my friend assured me that it was quite normal in Vietnam, adding that in Japan, some Bonsais are found to be  more than 500 years old.”

When asked what surprised him most while visiting Vietnam, my friend said: “In the rural parts of Vietnam, people carry everything on their small scooters, a common sight being people carrying four or more grown pigs on a single scooter.” At another instance, he spotted about two dozen ducks with their webbed feet clipped on a sack on the scooter—frenzied quacks speeding past him as the rider zipped through the road.

Surprising sights like these are the charms of Vietnam, as are the mix of influences from several conquerors. My friend returned from this fascinating land claiming he never felt like a foreigner while being a tourist, for the Vietnamese were very warm, and genuinely so. I can only wait for my own chance to experience Vietnam first hand, and return refreshed with what other little surprises it may have in store.

Note: Originally this article of the blogger was published in The Kathmandu Post.


LB Thapa is a travel blogger. He is also the author of six books. His books have been published by Nirala Publications, New Delhi, India and Himalayan Maphouse, Kathmandu, Nepal. His book, POKHARA AND ANNAPURNAS has been translated into seven foreign languages. LB Thapa’s books are also available on


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