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Saturday Morning News

A Look at a Different Side of Vietnam

Aired May 6, 2000 - 9:15 a.m. ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: When most Americans think of Vietnam, they remember scenes of war several decades ago. Today, Vietnam is showing the world some very different images.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Later this morning, a special edition of CNN "TRAVEL NOW" will focus on the new Vietnam.

CNN's Carolyn O'Neil, just back from the country, is here to give us a preview. Good morning.


Yes, Good morning, Vietnam, shall we say. But it was such a wonderful trip, a fascinating trip. And I think for those of us who have grown up with images from the '60s, '70s, certainly of the black and white films from the war, and then maybe images from movies like "Apocalypse Now," traveling is wonderful, because it can really give you a total picture of what a place is.

We started in Ho Chi Minh city in the south of Vietnam, formerly known as Saigon and still commonly called Saigon today, all the way up to Hanoi in the north. And our show today will focus on northern Vietnam.

I wanted to share with you some scenes from Hanoi in North Vietnam because it's a place where so many of us have very bad memories of the war, certainly POWs were held there, and it was the stronghold of the North Vietnamese. Today tourism is certainly evident in Hanoi.


(voice-over): A bird's eye view of Vietnam's capital city is impressive, as crowded streets stretch to the horizon. But walking those streets reveals Hanoi's unique spirit and charm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really, really enjoyed Hanoi.

O'NEIL: We joined a tour organized by the Culinary Institute of America, from Ho Chi Minh city in the south, north to Hanoi.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a fresh bamboo stew, a very light vegetarian stew. O'NEIL: The primary mission was a palate-pleasing one in search of traditional Vietnamese cuisine. But the trip focused on the cultural flavor of each stop too.

In Hanoi, Vietnam's Old World grace meets New World vitality. Tranquil lakes offer solitude amid the swirl of urban life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Beautiful, serene. There were very tall trees with branches hanging. And I just thought it was very romantic.

O'NEIL: And with its elegant boulevards and buildings designed by the French, lively cafes, bakeries, and, yes, even designer boutiques, many say certain scenes in Hanoi remind them of Paris.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It has the wonderful French foundations, and then it has that faded grandeur, but then there's new things. There's a lot of excitement there, and I thought it was an exciting city.

O'NEIL: In Hanoi's old quarter, commerce still hums as it has for centuries, with one street selling only shoes, another suitcases, or streets where there's nothing but silk.

Looking for souvenirs, I found myself in Purse Alley, just off of Silk Street.

(on camera): And this is 58,000 dong, which would be just about $4, for a beautiful silk embroidered purse. It's beautiful, just beautiful.

(voice-over): Such bargains are a pleasant surprise. So are the many Internet cafes selling refreshments to those who need to check their e-mail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't expect to have so much access here.

O'NEIL: Hanoi, a city of 2.5 million, while still linked to the past, is clearly building toward its future.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because 20, 25 years ago, when I first came here, as you say, there were nobody who could speak English, and very few restaurants, no hotels. And I think that Hanoi is going to change for the better.


O'NEIL: And very interesting, when I was shopping for that purse, the woman said to me -- I said, "Wow, you speak really good English." She said, "Well, you know, I also speak Russian, but Russian isn't as popular any more. English is much more popular, because we have so many visitors from English-speaking countries."


O'BRIEN: Well, that's interesting. That kind of surprises me, because I think a lot of people would be intimidated to set up an itinerary to go see Vietnam.

O'NEIL: You know, and this is one thing we do recommend people do, is go with a travel agency that specials in travel to Southeast Asia. It's not as easy as jumping on a plane and going to the Caribbean, let's say. You have to have a special visa. And guess what, folks, you have to have your immunizations up. I mean, I got a polio booster. I think I had a typhoid shot, hepatitis A.

And actually hepatitis A is something you want to have even if you're going to the Caribbean, or maybe even the company cafeteria. Hepatitis A is certainly important for sanitation and food safety. And guess what? Malaria pills, we had to take malaria pills, because in that part of the world, it is a concern.

PHILLIPS: All right, back to the shopping for a moment. We saw this silk purse. What did you bring here?

O'NEIL: Well, I saw the little souvenir. Just by the way, I want to show you, it's a little boat that we bought from a boy. Maybe we can get a closeup of this. I'll hold it very steady. See this? And this is a scene. You see fishermen like this on the rivers, and it cost 14,000 dong, which is the equivalent of $1.


O'NEIL: And it's beautiful. It's marble. And another thing that this represents to me is, there were children selling postcards and little things all over the place, not begging for money to the Westerners that would come there with, of course, more money than they had. The average Vietnamese makes about $100 a year. They had little things to sell. And so there are industries popping up, and beautiful crafts. And I think that's a nice thing too.

O'BRIEN: Well, you certainly would not blame them if they didn't like Americans. Did you get any sense of animosity...

O'NEIL: That is the number one question, Miles, and I'll tell you, they -- everyone seemed to be very welcoming of tourists. There are huge hotels going up. And the beauty of Vietnam, which I'd like to show you now, is really amazing, because, again, these images. We went further north into Vietnam and saw scenes with cultural groups, these ethnic minority groups of Vietnam. Look at the beautiful children walking around. It's just -- you see the rice fields, of course, but there are mountains in the North.

And it was really spectacular. This is in the mountains near the Chinese border, and we'll be showing you that today on CNN TRAVEL NOW. Again, some surprising images that you may not even realize are there.

And tourists are making their way to these outposts with, again, these travel itineraries and travel specialists who know how to get you there and back. And it was really -- I had a feeling of -- it was very safe and very...

We actually had, because we were a CNN crew, we had a government escort with us the entire time, just to let you know. O'BRIEN: Yes, you did, yes.

O'NEIL: Because they wanted to, you know, keep an eye on us...

O'BRIEN: Oh, yes.

O'NEIL: ... but, in fact, it was very helpful to have their direction, certainly their language skills. And we pretty much got to go everywhere we wanted to go and see everything we wanted to see, to show you today on CNN TRAVEL NOW.

PHILLIPS: Thank you, Carolyn O'Neil. And the special edition of CNN TRAVEL NOW, Exploring the Natural Wonders -- here it is -- of Vietnam, and it can be seen later today at 11 A.M. Eastern.

O'BRIEN: All right, we're going to take a look at the weekend weather in just a moment. Carolyn, thanks for joining us, we appreciate it.

O'NEIL: Great to be here.

O'BRIEN: We'll see you soon, we hope.



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