Monday, September 29, 2008

Vietnam: Tourism riches at bloody war sites

Personal Impressions, Part III
William B. Ketter

The 1975 photograph of the last American helicopter lifting off the rooftop of the American Embassy in Saigon, a long line of luckless Vietnamese evacuees stranded below, created an indelible portrait of human desperation.

Those left behind had been soldiers in the defeated Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) or friends of the U.S. government. They anticipated dreadful consequences at the hands of Ho Chi Minh's victorious disciples.

They were right. The communist regime executed those considered most disloyal to the nationalist cause. Others were sentenced to long prison terms. But most were sent to so-called re-education camps to embrace the socialist credo of do as you're told, toil for the common good and forget about getting ahead through self-initiative.

Fortunately for Vietnam's future, the economic lessons of communism didn't take hold. And 20 years after the war's end, Vietnam abandoned strict control over everyday commerce and instead encouraged the awakening of an entrepreneurial spirit not seen since the American presence.

Open-market capitalism spawned new businesses, trade with former enemies, private investment and government ambition to attract hard currency through aggressive promotion of tourism.

The goal: turn the bloody sites of war into tourist shrines that might deliver badly-needed foreign dollars.

Sites such as the Ho Chi Minh Trail, an infamous series of zigzag paths that fed weapons and supplies to the communist troops in the south. Bombed heavily by American forces during the war, it is considered the national symbol of success.

Thus the government committed more than $400 million to restoring the historically important sections of the trail, and expanding it all the way to Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City. The highway project is expected to reduce congestion on narrow coastal Highway One, the only other north-south artery connecting the once-divided country.

Riding a motorcycle along the trail requires dodging water buffalo, cows, goats, dogs, ducks, chickens and pigs — and keeping your balance when large transport trucks or buses force you off the road. You also need to be alert to motorbikes and pedestrians darting out from side streets in towns and villages.

Surprisingly, though, construction crews have converted muddy jungle tracks into a shiny black thoroughfare that tourists can traverse by motorcycle, bicycle or foot.

Recommended stops include those sections bombed by American planes, and also sprayed with the powerful herbicide Agent Orange to expose supply and troop movements. The effects of the chemical are still visible as stunted foliage along the foothills and riverbank mangroves of north-central Vietnam.

The original trail extended into Laos and Cambodia, covering more than 10,000 miles. Thick jungle growth claimed most of it after the war. But strategic sections were maintained as a reminder of the communist will for an undivided nation.

The paved trail will measure about 1,000 miles when finished. Our merry band of bikers drove about half of it, starting outside Mai Chau in the north and ending at Hue near the 17th parallel, the old dividing line between north and south ironically known as the demilitarized zone. Ironic because more military action occurred within the zone than any other section of Vietnam.

War memorials dot the rebuilt trail, including an impressive 12-foot marble monument to the "victims" of Deo Da Deo mountain pass. American B-52s dropped tons of explosives and chemicals on this highest point of the trail near Phong Nha.

Phong Nha is also the scene of the Ke Bang caves, the oldest and largest limestone caverns in Asia. They are part of a huge national park, and one of the premier tourist sites in the country, drawing visitors from more than 100 nations.

The spectacular formations have enchanting names like Lion, Fairy Caves, Royal Court and Buddha. During the Vietnam War, they were used to protect munitions from B-52 raids. Phong Nha, in central Vietnam, was a key supply station for the North during the war

At Khe Sanh, the war's most publicized battle site, a symbolic "victory" statue juts from a weed-infested field that once hosted a strategic U. S. Marine outpost and airfield. Three bloody encounters, including a 75-day siege in 1968, are recounted in a nearby museum. Captured American tanks, helicopters and other war relics remind visitors that the final triumph belonged to the communists.

"It was comparable to defeating the French at Dien Bien Phu," remarks Nguyen Ngoc, the tour guide who prides himself on knowing the wartime history of his country. "It was that important; a critical psychological victory."

More than 10,000 North Vietnamese and scores of American soldiers died at Khe Sanh. The Vietnamese burn incense and place flowers at the stone memorial's base, which portrays a U.S. Marine raising his hands in surrender.

At Vietnam's largest military burial ground, Truong Son Cemetery, mourners pay tribute to "heroes of the American war" by burning bundles of fake $100 U.S. bills in incense pots so the soldiers will enjoy a rich afterlife. The dollar, it's explained, is worth far more than the Vietnamese dong, making it the preferred phony currency to honor the deceased.

"We hold no hostility toward Americans," said Nguyen Van My, who described himself as a 66-year-old army veteran during a brief chat at the cemetery. "We respect the dollar. It is a symbol of strength."

By contrast, the Vietnamese dong has been slipping badly as inflation besets the nation's economy. Twice devalued in the past year, it now exchanges at the rate of 16,800 dong for one American dollar. That makes Vietnam one of the few world bargains for U.S. tourists.

Hotels, food, transportation, clothes and jewelry are inexpensive. Our eight-day trip, booked through the Hanoi tour company OffroadVietnam, cost just $850 per person, including overnight accommodations, meals, Honda 160 cubic-centimeter motorcycles, fuel and two guides/interpreters.

We stayed in budget hotels, but the sheets were clean, the showers hot and even remote mountain stops featured air conditioning, although power blackouts occurred often during the early evening hours. And it did take a few nights to get used to the three-inch mattresses; a few mornings to develop patience for the coffee that slowly drips from a metal strainer atop the cup. But once done, it jolts you into the day's activities.

The investment in tourism is paying off because Vietnam offers some of the most charming tropical scenery in the world. The mist rising from the land against the morning sky is resplendent. The lush mountains and gorges and verdant valleys and endless rivers create a colorful landscape. A coast line that stretches for hundreds of miles along the South China Sea makes it a marvel of geography.

It also makes you wonder where the country would be in today's travel world had it not been mired in war for a half-century against the French, the Japanese, the Americans, the Cambodians and the Chinese.

ÔÇ¢ÔÇ¢ÔÇ¢

William B. Ketter is vice president of news for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., a news company based in Birmingham, Ala., that owns more than 90 daily newspapers. Contact him at wketter@cnhi.com. For photo slide shows and video of his Vietnam trip, go to: www.cnhinews.com.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Vietnam's marine tourism development not matching its potentials

VN’s marine tourism development not matching its potentials

Kiva.Dang

Vietnam’s marine tourism resources, including natural resources and human cultural resources, are very plentiful and diverse and have a high potential value for tourism. However, Vietnam’s marine tourism development does not match its potentials.

Vietnam is a coastal nation at the eastern edge of the Indochinese Peninsula, with over 1,000,000 square kilometers of forest and more than 3,000 big and small islands, mainly located off the northwestern shore of the Gulf of Tokin (Quang Ninh – Hai Phong) along with the two offshore archipelagoes of Truong Sa and Hoang Sa.

Vietnam’s coastal area overflows with sunlight and an abundance of white sand beaches together with beautiful vistas of forest, river deltas, seashores, the ocean and islands, as well as having unique sea socio-cultural factors. All of which are provide great marine tourism potential for Vietnam.

However, Dr. Le Trong Binh, Head of the Institute of Tourism Research and Development, says that marine tourism development has not been equal to both the resources that the nature offers and the cultural heritages created by the Vietnamese people in coastal areas, because there are too many inadequacies in infrastructure investment and the development of tourism areas, as well as tourism types and tourism products.

Dr. Nguyen Chu Hoi, Deputy Head of the Vietnam Sea and Islands General Department, states that marine resources are shared resources because they are usually open to all for exploitation. Profit contradictions between marine tourism development and the development of other sectors of the economy along beaches and on islands are increasing. This is due to a lack of co-operation between different sectors in using and managing the resources of coastal areas, the ocean and islands. Some areas have great marine tourism potential, but ports, docks or aquaculture zones, which cause negative impacts on tourism, have been built there.

Moreover, the participation of local communities in developing and managing marine tourism is still limited and passive. Law enforcement of land use laws along the ocean and off-shore is weak, and policies on ocean environmental management are not synchronized. Cultural standards of people living in coastal areas and on islands, as well as tourists’ awareness, are rather low, so marine tourism development in the direction of industrialization and integration still meets numerous difficulties.

Dr Le Trong Binh, Head of the Institute of Tourism Research and Development: Promote communication and broadcast on mass media. In the Plan on Vietnam tourism development until 2010 and vision to 2020, what field does the tourism sector give priority?

Dr Le Trong Binh: In the short term, priority is given to develop sea in Quang Ninh-Hai Phong, Central Northern, Thua Thien Hue-Da Nang-Quang Nam, Binh Dinh - Khanh Hoa - Binh Thuan, Ba Ria- Vung Tau, Kien Giang areas, which are given priority infrastructure structure to have enough capacity to welcome foreign tourists. Apart from that, it is notable to diversify and improve quality of tourism products, invest to develop new and unique tourism products of each area to meet demands of domestic and international markets.

Communication and broadcast on sea tourism have not long since paid due attention, how does it renew in the incoming time?

Dr. Le Trong Binh: The Vietnam National Tourism Administration (VNTA) will intensify communication and broadcast tourism on domestic and foreign mass media. VNTA has worked with CNN to promote Vietnam’s sea tourism, in which Ha Long Bay is focused. VNTA will also sign agreements on promoting Vietnam’s tourism with foreign mass media; making traditional products and organizing programs, events and fairs and conferences, exhibitions in Vietnam and foreign countries and boosting international cooperation in tourism promotion, advertisement, investment and development.

According to you, which measures to develop sea tourism stably?

Dr Le Trong Binh: Firstly, communicating to raise people’s awareness of important role of sea and island resources. Secondly, Inspecting and assessing the real situation of resources fund of sea and islands to classify value and capacity of each sea area to preserve and exploit in the most suitable way. Secondly, issuing a synchronic mechanism and institution to manage, invest and preserve, limiting overlap of related laws to ensure sustainable development.

Assc.Dr Nguyen Chu Hoi, deputy head of the Vietnam Sea and Islands General Department: Lack high-grade tourism products and services.

Due to not pay due attention to diversification of tourism types, Vietnam’s sea tourism so far still lack high-grade, unique, qualified and prestigious tourism products and services in domestic and foreign markets. Vietnam has not any international-standard general sea tourism area. Island is one factor to develop sea tourism, attracting tourists but it so far has not any model that is invested and exploited effectively and sustainably. Space on island completely differs from mainland but localities use socio-economic development and management model in mainland to apply on island. Moreover, traditional sea cultural values such as fishery festival, buffalo fight festival and famous historical-cultural relics in coastal areas such as temples, fishing village cultures, economic achievements over exhibition fairs in coastal cities are attractive for tourists but have not been exploited properly.

Mr Luu Nhan Vinh, director of Vietnam Tourism Company in Hanoi: participation of local people is very important.

Our sea tourism products are now not unique for localities or the country. In tourism sites, there are still vendors asking tourists with insistence to buy their goods or garbage leaves surrounding sites.

In order to develop tourism sustainably, participation of local people is very important, which will create specific, different and lively tourism products. To do that, it is necessary to cooperation between departments and sectors in promoting tourism, increasing meets and exchanges between travel companies with local people. Through that, local people understand their rights and responsibilities in tourism promotion.

From now to 2010, the tourism sector strives to increase 10-20 percent of number of international tourists year by year, and reach 5.5-6 million arrivals by 2010, of which sea tourism attracts around 80 percent of Vietnamese tourists and makes 70 percent of revenues. In 2010, revenue from tourism is expected to fetch 4-5 billion USD, two times higher than that of 2005.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Saigon's police bust high class call girl ring

Lam Thi Ngoc Hue
Ho Chi Minh City police have arrested the leader of a major prostitution ring that has been providing women for affluent clients since last year.

Lam Thi Ngoc Hue, who was initially found along with two other hired female sex workers “entertaining” customers at a hotel in District 3, was formally arrested Wednesday by District 3 police.

A news source said one of the three sex workers was a model who had previously competed in the Miss Sea 2006 beauty contest in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province.

Hue confessed she has been a sex broker since the end of 2007 and she regularly scoured bars and discotheques in HCMC for attractive girls to recruit into her ring.

Hue had between 20-30 young girls in her network, including some who were amateur models.

Supplying sex workers to wealthy men at US$300-500 per encounter, Hue pocketed a “brokering fee” ranging from $100-150 per customer.

For clients who wanted companions on travel tours, the ring leader would provide girls starting at $500 per day per person.

Hue also confessed to serving as a sex worker whenever her girls were in short supply or upon customers’ orders.

Prostitution is illegal in Vietnam.

Quatron Steel builds steel fabrication unit in Vietnam

Wednesday, Sep 24, 2008

It is reported that Quatron Steel, 75% owned by Romania based Taher Invest, last week started work on a fabricated steel factory in Ba Ria Vung Tau Province.

Mr Fathi Taher chairman of Quatron Steel said that Taher Invest would invest USD 50 million in the plant, which would produce 42,000 tonnes of fabricated steel annually after construction finishes in 2 years. He expects the plant to be the biggest of its kind in Vietnam.

He added that the plant would employ between 800 and 1,000 workers and could start shipping out its products in March 2009 after the first phase of construction is completed. The first shipment would go towards the construction of the Marriott Hotel in Kabul.

Inflation, Miss Vietnam, and Modernization

By Kim N. B. Ninh

Dr. Kim N. B. Ninh is the Hanoi-based Country Representative of Vietnam for The Asia Foundation. She can be reached atkninh@asiafound.org.

Vietnam may be experiencing the highest inflation rate in the last two decades, a whopping 28% year-on-year in August, but of late the country is consumed with a different kind of crisis.  The latest beauty to be crowned Miss Vietnam on August 31, 18-year-old Tran Thi Thuy Dung, was discovered to not have finished secondary school, contrary to the government’s beauty contest regulations.

On the surface, the ingredients of this still unfolding scandal are rather mundane.  It turns out that the rules established by the Miss Vietnam organizing committee were different from those of the Ministry of Culture, asking for contestants to have “the level of high school and up” rather than the government’s requirement of a high school graduation exam.  Under furious media questioning, the organizing committee stuck by its gun, stating that although its regulations did not meet legal standards, the new Miss Vietnam did not do anything wrong.  Under more media investigation, there are now serious questions about whether Miss Vietnam’s school records have been doctored to show that she has completed the twelfth grade, even though she had left in the middle of the school year. 

The extent of media concern and public uproar over this are astounding.  In part, this is because beauty contests are no mere beauty contests in Vietnam.  The first beauty contest in socialist Vietnam was the Miss Vietnam beauty contest, organized by the Tien Phong newspaper since 1988, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.  I happened to be in Vietnam in 1988 and remember well the sense of excitement and adventure that the first Miss Vietnam contest generated.  The celebration of beauty was, in itself, a radical act in a system based on the ideology of labor and the common man.  Being the same as everyone else was, therefore, both a virtue and a necessity.  But by choosing one over all the others, that first beauty contest was a potent reminder in a closed environment that excellence is defined by being the best and identified through competition.

Vietnam has changed dramatically since then.  The story of this country emerging in the past decade as one of the most dynamic economies in the world, with a tremendous poverty alleviation record, is a remarkable one.  This is an achievement driven by the conviction of many Vietnamese that much time has been lost by wars, ideological conflicts, and historical fate, hampering the country’s development and modernization.  The sense of urgency is palpable, and Vietnam’s persistent efforts to accede to the WTO, achieve PNTR status with the U.S, and host APEC all at the end of 2006 were truly a culmination of a national desire for the country to take its place in the world.

Development is often equated with modernization in Vietnam.  The modernizing impulse is itself a historical legacy in a country marked by colonization; being branded as uncivilized allowed another the right to inflict violence.  Modernization, therefore, permeates many government campaigns and policies, intellectual discourse and trends, and public views and interests even if they are conflicting.  To be modern is to be able to take part in the global community and be recognized as outstanding, or at least, as capable.  In this context, over the past twenty years beauty contests have become a channel where that modernizing impulse intersects with a growing public appetite for entertainment.  The explosion of beauty contests in Vietnam in recent years is a clear indication.

The trend was capped this year when Vietnam hosted the Miss Universe 2008 in July.  The experience with accomplished global beauties, their rigorous training, and a well-known professional international beauty contest led to many discussions about the shortcomings of Vietnam’s own fledging beauty contest industry.  Certainly national pride plays a role; the new Miss Vietnam is supposed to take part in the Miss World contest later this year. But the many beauty contests are beginning to lose their appeal, and this latest scandal only adds to a growing public concern about fast-changing values in a market economy.

The innocence of that first beauty contest (among the prizes, a bicycle for the beauty queen which was later stolen) is being replaced by cynicism.  As the Vietnamese writer Ky Duyen commented in the Internet newspaper VietNamNet, the beauty contest scandal is one of a number of recent cultural scandals in Vietnam, in which fraud and deception are prominent.  So many things could be bought for personal gains.  For Ky Duyen, the sad truth is that “culture and education, which both drive social development and determine the unique character of a nation and of a society, are perhaps not capable of their responsibilities.”

Vietnam is in a sober mood, no doubt affected by the global downturn and its own inflation woes.  A beauty contest scandal has actually triggered more critical reflections about where the country is heading.  Vietnamese do not doubt the tremendous positive impacts of the economic reform process on their lives, but it is also a sign of maturity for many to be asking how best to address the social and cultural lags in the breakneck shift to market economy that affect the society as a whole. In this regard, modernization has costs and is not so easily defined.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Coastline may get Strategic Marine to build third DSV

By Hwee Hwee Tan 

Filed from Singapore9/24/2008 5:42:19 AM GMT



A DSV

SINGAPORE: Singapore-based Coastline Maritime is looking at finalising the shipbuilding contract for a third diving support vessel (DSV) with Australia-based Strategic Marine towards the end of this year.


Coastline has already purchased the electrical package and engine for the vessel. The DSV will offer similar capabilities to two 143-metre long (469-ft) vessels now under construction at Strategic Marine's shipyard in Vung Tau, Vietnam.


Coastline is understood to be seeking a buyer for its third DSV unit. The two earlier vessels will be going on 12-year charters with Oceanografia after their scheduled deliveries from the yard towards the end of this year.


Meanwhile, Coastline will also be working on finalising a newbuild contract for a third multipurpose construction vessel with Drydocks SE Asia by early 2009. Coastline has two other construction vessels with Drydocks. The two vessels, Goliath and Samson, have been sold to Oceanografia and will be going on long-term charters with Pemex.  Deliveries are scheduled for the fourth quarter of this year and the first quarter of 2010.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A sewer runs through it

Sewage flows directly from a factory into the Rang River on an island off the coast of Vung Tau. Locals say the sewage is killing oysters and fish in the river. Farmers say they are losing their livelihoods as sewage kills their oysters, shrimp and fish.

Ho Van Tom gets choked up in tears and anger every time he thinks of all the money he put into his oyster business, which has all but vanished since oysters in the Rang River began dying two years ago.
Around a thousand families in the island commune of Long Son off the coast of Vung Tau are worried they may soon have no way to support themselves.

Long Son residents started collecting oysters some 10 years ago, an endeavor that was initially met with great success.

Many locals, who were until then in the throes of poverty, took out bank loans to set up small oyster operations along the Rang River.

But after years of profits, most of the farmers are finding themselves near bankruptcy these days.

The locals say that several factories pump sewage directly into the Rang River, where they breed their fish and seafood.

The factories are “cunning,” Tom says. “They install the drains underwater. They can only be seen when the river is at its shallowest point, from 5:30 p.m. to 6:15 p.m.”

No inspector would ever check at that time, he says.

The drains, about a meter in diameter, spew putrid, yellow water.

The residents say they want to send water samples to official agencies.

“That would prove how much these factories have polluted the river,” says Tom.

Tom himself gave three bottles ofthe water to reporters, asking them to give the samples to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. “Ask them to save the river and save us,” he says.

But authorities have remained silent.

Many locals are on the verge of selling their land and houses to repay bank loans.

Pearls go bust

The oyster business on the island began over 10 years ago when a local man saw that oysters had begun sticking to items floating in the Rang River. He then spent all his money on materials he could use to catch oysters in this way, including car tires andother makeshift “traps.”

He made hundreds of millions of dong that year.

Rang River oysters soon became popular at Ho Chi Minh City restaurants and even overseas.

Tom says he earned a profit of VND12 million (US$735) after investing VND5 million ($306) in his first oysters in 2000.

He put the whole profit into his next batch and made VND60 million ($3,600) more the following year.

Over several years, Tom was able to save enough money to buy a large house and send his three children to high school and college, a rarity on the small island.

“Those were the best days for my family. Everyone in the commune enjoyed that time,” he says.

But with more oysters dying everyday, the joy has faded.

A local named Tran Van Than says he can only catch one or two oysters per day now.

Fish and other animals living in the river have also ended up dead, local residents say.

Nguyen Van Be Tu says he had bred 700 tons of shrimp, 600 kilograms of cockles and spent another VND100 million ($6,100) on rafts to attract oysters.

“But now all is gone,” he says, adding that the 200 families in his hamlet are the poorest in Long Son Commune and many of them had mortgaged their land to fund their oyster businesses.

“They cannot even fill their stomach these days; how can they pay the bank loans with increasing interest rates?”

As a whole, Long Son Commune has lost some VND50 billion ($3 million) in total profits since 2006, Tu estimates.

“The authorities should intervene,” he says. “The longer they wait, the sooner the residents will die.”

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Vietnam's inflation hits 27.9 percent in Sept

The Associated Press
Monday, September 22, 2008
HANOI, Vietnam: Vietnam's inflation rose 27.9 percent in September, easing slightly from the 17-year high hit in August, the government said Monday.
The soaring consumer price index was driven by price increases in food, transportation, housing and construction materials, said the General Statistic Office, which often issues the data ahead of the month's end based on estimates.
The country's inflation rose to 28.3 percent in August, a 17-year high. The inflation rate was 27 percent in July, 26.8 percent in June and 25.2 percent in May.
Overall food costs were up 65 percent in September from a year ago, the government said. The price of housing and construction materials and transportation both rose 26 percent, it said.

Skyrocketing inflation has led to a wave of strikes at factories around the country from workers seeking higher wages.

As part of its effort to curb inflation, the government has increased interest rates and postponed thousands of public investment projects. The government also plans further spending cuts, according to the state controlled media.

The government said the average inflation rate in the first nine months of this year was 22.76 percent. It has forecast that inflation for all of 2008 could hit 25 percent.

The Asian Development Bank has lowered its growth forecast for Vietnam to 6.5 percent this year and 6 percent next year.

Last year the country's economy expanded by 8.2 percent.

When gold trading floors lack gold

17:09' 22/09/2008 (GMT+7)

VietNamNet Bridge – The happenings in the gold market in recent days have put gold trading floors in a bind. While the gold prices on trading floors have been decreasing, the prices on the in-kind gold market have been staying firm. Trading floors do not have big volumes of gold to pay out, irking clients.

 

Gold trading floors lack gold

 

Investors are making transactions
On September 15, when the in-kind gold price was quoted at VND16.95-17.05mil/tael, the gold price traded on Saigon Gold Trading Floor was just VND16.6mil/tael.

 

This was not the first time such a big gap (VND300,000/tael) between the prices of the two markets existed. The big gap prompted investors to withdraw gold from trading floors to sell on the in-kind market to get margin profit. As a result, several gold trading floors decided to lower the limit of gold investors can withdraw per day.

 

Under the operation regulations of many gold trading floors, set up by the floors’ operators, investors can withdraw gold whenever they want.

 

At the SJC Hanoi gold trading floor, run by Ha Thanh Securities Company and VP Bank, an institutional investor can draw out 50 taels of gold per day, while an individual investor can draw out 20 taels per day. Those investors who want to draw out more than the stipulated volumes have to register with VP Bank. The bank then considers the situation to make a decision about whether to satisfy the investors’ demands.

 

Currently, some trading floors do not set fixed volumes of gold investors can withdraw per day. They are setting different limits on different days after considering the market situation. This really disadvantages investors because they cannot take initiative in making investments.

 

Most recently, ACB Gold Trading Floor released a notice on reducing the limit of gold investors can withdraw per day to one tael instead of three taels as previously.

 

Currently, most gold trading floors cooperate with the Saigon Jewellery Company (SJC), a big supplier with SJC trademark gold, in supplying in-kind gold to serve clients’ demands for withdrawing gold. However, as SJC cooperates with many gold trading floors, it sometimes cannot provide enough gold for all the floors.

 

Low liquidity, why?

 

Explaining the big gap between the prices on the gold trading floors and the in-kind gold market, Huynh Trung Khanh, Deputy Chairman of the Vietnam Gold Trade Council, said that the prices on the trading floors have been closely following the world’s prices, while the prices on the in-kind gold market have been changing more slowly.

 

Moreover, Khanh said the supply of gold has been limited (the import quota has run out and enterprises cannot import more gold), while the demand is still high; therefore, the in-kind gold price has remained high and only decreased very slightly. 

 

“We cannot purchase gold at high prices in the in-kind market to give to investors. If we do this, we would incur the loss of several hundred thousand VND per tael,” the director of a gold trading floor revealed.

 

Experts have urged management agencies to set a proper legal framework on the operation of trading floors in order to ensure benefits for investors.

 

Saturday, September 20, 2008

AP reporter detained, beaten by police in Vietnam

By JOCELYN GECKER – 

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — An Associated Press reporter in Vietnam was punched, choked and hit over the head with a camera by police who detained him Friday while he covered a Catholic prayer vigil in the communist country.

Ben Stocking, the Hanoi bureau chief for The Associated Press, was released from police custody after about 2 1/2 hours and required four stitches on the back of his head. His camera was confiscated by police.

"They told me I was taking pictures in a place that I was not allowed to be taking pictures. But it was news, and I went in," Stocking said by telephone from Hanoi.

Stocking, 49, was covering a demonstration by Catholic priests and church members at the site of the former Vatican Embassy in Hanoi, which is currently the subject of a land dispute between the church and city authorities.

The city had started to clear the site Friday after announcing a day earlier that it planned to use the land for a public library and park — a significant development in an already tense relationship between the church and state in Hanoi.

After Vietnam's communist government took power in 1954, it confiscated property from many landowners, including the Catholic Church. The church says it has documents showing it has title to the land.

Within minutes of arriving at the prayer vigil, Stocking said, he was escorted away by plainclothes police who took his camera and punched and kicked him when he asked for it back.

Taken to a police station for questioning, Stocking tried to reach for his camera and an officer "banged me on the head with the camera and another police officer punched me in the face, straight on." The blow from the camera opened a gash at the back of his head.

Transferred to another police station to give a written statement, Stocking was permitted to leave with a U.S. Embassy official to be taken to a medical clinic.

The AP is protesting the incident, seeking an apology from Vietnamese authorities involved and insisting on the return of Stocking's property.

"It is an egregious incident of police abuse and unacceptable treatment of a journalist by any civilized government authority," said John Daniszewski, the AP's managing editor for international news. "Ben Stocking was doing his job in a calm, reasonable and professional manner when he was escorted away and violently assaulted."

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Angela Aggeler said a formal statement of protest was filed with the Foreign Ministry.

The Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to e-mail and telephone requests by the AP seeking comment.

Violence is rare against international journalists in Vietnam, which has strict controls that govern press activities and travel. Foreign media have to register with the Foreign Ministry and get permission to go to remote provinces.

The first portion of Stocking's arrest was captured by an anonymous cameraman and posted on YouTube.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Vietnam Today: Capitalism, tourism and technology draw country out of the past

CNHI News Service

September 17, 2008 01:50 pm

— Editor’s note: William B. Ketter is vice president of news for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., which is based in Birmingham, Ala., and owns 89 daily newspapers including the Cumberland Times-News. The following excerpt is from the journal he kept during a trip in July when he rode a motorcycle down the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
This three-part series on Vietnam is based on the personal impressions of William Ketter, CNHI’s vice president of news, during a recent two-week trip to the country that played a major role in American politics, foreign affairs and cultural change during the 1960s and 1970s. 
The trip included an eight-day motorcycle trek down remnants of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail with five other Americans. The group covered 850 miles, from the northern mountains of Vietnam to the former American military base at DaNang and China Beach, on the coast of the South China Sea.
It was Ketter’s second trip to Vietnam. His first visit occurred in 1995, when he led a group of American editors on a fact-finding mission.
Vietnam: Land of communist capitalism
Personal Impressions - Part 1
When Ho Chi Minh’s battalions swept into Saigon 33 years ago to establish a reunited Vietnam, the communist conquerors made one critical miscalculation: military victory would make life better for the war-weary nation.
Instead, economic conditions worsened, starvation spread across the entire country, and national sacrifice became the common denominator that defined a long and dark post-war period for the north and the south.
"We struggled through very lean years after the Americans left,” remembers Nguyen Ngoc, son of a decorated North Vietnamese army officer. “The government issued food rations. A bowl of rice had to last a week; shreds of meat a month’s time. You killed a chicken without a sound so you didn’t have to share it with your neighbors.”
Certainly not the socialist dream “Uncle Ho” talked about before dying of a heart attack in 1969 and which his followers strived to fulfill with tight government control over business and commerce upon winning the war in his stead.
Free-market wheeling and dealing, prevalent in South Vietnam during the French and American presence, bid a hasty retreat, crushed by the communist credo of one-for-all and all-for-one. Individual and corporate investment withered.
Until the 1990s, that is. That’s when Vietnam fully embraced the Chinese model of open-market capitalism while clinging to a strict communist political system. Despair turned to daring. Even those Vietnamese who fled the country – known as Viet Kieu -- were invited to invest in the homeland. And they did – at the current rate of $7 billion a year, according to government figures.
Today, Vietnam is still one of the world’s impoverished nations, but a recent two-week vacation there, including eight days on a motorcycle down remnants of the renowned Ho Chi Minh Trail, provided evidence the country is clear-eyed about opening its doors to the world.
“We will never be as rich as you Americans,” said Ngoc. “But we’re now enjoying a better life. We can own property, start businesses, make good money. We have rice, coffee, tea, rubber and oil ” – significant exports that fuel free-market reforms that, in turn, spawn English-language newspapers, magazines and television programs. None, of course, enjoy press freedom as we know it. They do, however, aggressively report crime, corruption and catastrophes. And they did not appear to sugar-coat the country’s economic challenges.
"It is true the communists have ultimate control over the news media,” said Ngoc. “But it is not in the interest of the communists or Vietnam to black out the news of things that everybody knows about anyway through the Internet.”
Ngoc, who served as chief guide and interpreter for the motorcycle adventure, is an example of the new Vietnam, second only to China in economic growth in Asia since 2002.
At 34, he has no personal memory of the war that killed 3 million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians as well as nearly 60,000 American military fighting on behalf of the South Vietnamese. College educated and fluent in French and English, he reads and listens to the news in all three languages, residing with his wife and three-year-old daughter in a modest home in Hanoi. He’s considered a tourism expert, serves as a consultant to travel agencies and is the proud owner of a start-up company (Vietnamontrails.com) that specializes in customized motorcycle tours.
Ngoc loves Vietnam, reveres Ho Chi Minh as the George Washington of his country, lives to ride a motorcycle and raves about the scenic beauty of his native northern landscape. He is not, however, a member of the Vietnamese Communist Party.
Two-thirds of Vietnam’s 85 million people were, like Ngoc, born after American combat ended in 1973. They are reminded of the bloody clash by their elders, monuments and museums – all of which tout victory over “American imperialism.” But the war does not grip the Vietnamese psyche the way it weighs on the American mind.
Furthermore, the country’s communist leaders no longer insist on command and control of everyday life. People are encouraged to show initiative and get ahead. Ngoc estimated there are only about 3 million card-carrying communists.
“You join the party if you want a career in politics or government,” said Ngoc. “Otherwise, there’s no need to belong. As a nation we are comfortable with the arrangement. We all want a prosperous Vietnam.”

Vietnam: Tied to the past, seeking the future
Personal Impressions - Part 2
Vietnam is a country blessed by fertile lands, bountiful seas and an industrious human spirit. Yet the average personal income is less than $500 per year, and nearly one-third of the people live in poverty.
Dreadful as those statistics can seem, they’re a vast improvement from the country’s dark period during and after the Vietnam War and before the adoption of open-market capitalism in the 1990s.
Now, even ordinary Vietnamese appear optimistic about their economic future, pointing to the country’s achieved goal of making the Internet available everywhere, including remote mountain villages.
“We’re on our way to a better life,” said Nguyen Ngoc, a confident 34-year-old entrepreneur from Hanoi who recently started a motorcycle tour business. “Tomorrow will be bigger and better than yesterday.”
Vietnam took a big step toward that goal when it joined the World Trade Organization, two years ago, opening access to more overseas markets and attracting greater foreign investment.
The United States, which refused to trade with Vietnam for nearly 20 years after the war, signed a bilateral trade agreement with its former enemy in 2001, and is now the leading export market for Vietnamese goods, followed by the European Union, Japan and China.
On the home front, a skilled and low-wage workforce competes with China, Indonesia and India for electronic and textile manufacturing jobs. Canon recently opened a large inkjet printer plant outside Hanoi. Sony, Intel, Samsung and other electronic firms are likewise bullish on the land of the dragon. Textile and shoe manufacturing are also on the move. Nike makes more than 80 million pairs of shoes in Vietnam annually.
Still, Vietnam is mainly an agricultural country, with more than 70 percent of the people living on farms and in villages, and the bulk of the economy tied to the fate of rice, coffee, tea, rubber trees, pepper plants and cashew nuts.
It also remains a contradiction between 19th century farming methods and 21st century technology – as witnessed during the 850-mile motorcycle trip from the 10,300-foot high mountains northeast of Hanoi, the national capital, to Hoi An, a charming seacoast community in the southwest.
In the country, water buffalo plough rice fields, and women in conical hats stoop for hours to harvest the crop, one stalk at a time. On their way home, they strap bundles of wood to their back for fire or balance fruits and vegetables on both ends of a bamboo pole for that night’s dinner in one and two-room homes.
But amazingly in remote northern villages like Phu Yen, Mai Chau and Tan Ky -- where our motorcycle group of six Americans stayed overnight -- Internet cafés serve tourists and locals, including teenagers playing Bubble Shooter, Raiden X and other popular online games. Mobile phones are commonplace in country and city.
“It is strange, right?” remarks Hoang Ngoc Minh, 26, a tour guide from Hanoi. “We are a country of differences. The Internet is everywhere. So too the traditional ways of living off the land.”
Dao Quong Binh, an economist and journalist with the Vietnam Economic Times, put it this way during an interview at the upscale Intercontinental Hotel in Hanoi:
“Land is the property of the people in Vietnam and no taxes or rent are required for use in agriculture,” he explains. “As we increasingly transform to a market economy, modernization will naturally take place in the rural regions along with the cities. New, more efficient techniques will be introduced.”
Binh is counting on Vietnam keeping up its fast pace. He has invested in several niche lifestyle publications, and has plans to start an auto magazine even though the Great Wheel of the country is definitely the motorbike.
Cars will inevitably replace two-wheel transportation as people gain wealth in the new Vietnam, says Binh. When that happens, they will need a reliable reference source on what kind of automobiles to buy and how to maintain them, something he expects his magazine to provide.
“It can’t miss,” he asserts.
For now, however, there are more than 20 million motorcycles, motorbikes and scooters in Vietnam, and fewer than 750,000 cars and trucks. The result is an urban sea of cycles constantly honking their horns.
Navigating this chaos is perilous. Traffic rules don’t apply, stop lights and signs are mostly nonexistent, and crossing the street by foot or driving through an intersection puts your life at risk. More than 40 traffic fatalities occur every day, making Vietnam one of the highest road death countries in the world.
The key to avoiding injury and staying alive is “always move forward. Don’t step back or stop in your tracks,” said Margie Mason, an Associated Press correspondent in Hanoi.
Good advice whether you’re walking across the street or riding a motorcycle.

Vietnam: Tourism riches at bloody war sites
Personal Impressions - Part 3
The 1975 photograph of the last Marine helicopter lifting off the rooftop of the American Embassy in Saigon, a long line of luckless Vietnamese evacuees stranded below, created an indelible portrait of human desperation.
Those left behind had been soldiers in the defeated Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), or friends of the U.S. government. They anticipated dreadful consequences at the hands of Ho Chi Minh’s victorious vassals.
The beauty of Vietnam is evident in the hills and valleys of the northern highlands. The mist rising from the land against the morning sky creates a picture-postcard scene.
They were right. The communist regime executed those considered most disloyal to the nationalist cause. Others were sentenced to long prison terms. But most were sent to so-called re-education camps to embrace the socialist credo of, do as you’re told, toil for the common good, and forget about getting ahead through self-initiative. 
Fortunately, for Vietnam’s future, the economic lessons of communism didn’t take hold. And 20 years after the war’s end, Vietnam abandoned strict control over everyday commerce and instead encouraged the awakening of an entrepreneurial spirit not seen since the American presence.
Open-market capitalism spawned new businesses, trade with former enemies, private investment -- and a government ambition to attract hard currency through aggressive promotion of tourism.
The goal: turn the bloody sites of war into tourist shrines that might deliver badly-needed foreign dollars.
Sites such as the Ho Chi Minh Trail, an infamous series of zigzag paths that fed weapons and supplies to the communist troops in the south. Bombed heavily by American forces during the war, it is considered the national symbol of success.
Thus the government committed more than $400 million to restoring the historically important sections of the trail, and expanding it all the way to Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City. The highway project is expected to reduce congestion on narrow coastal Highway One, the only other north-south artery connecting the once-divided country.
Riding a motorcycle along the trail requires dodging water buffalo, cows, goats, dogs, ducks, chickens and pigs – and keeping your balance when large transport trucks or buses force you off the road. You also need to be alert to motorbikes and pedestrians darting out from side streets in towns and villages.
Surprisingly, however, construction crews have converted muddy jungle tracks into a shiny black thoroughfare that tourists can traverse by motorcycle, bicycle or foot. 
Recommended stops include those sections bombed by American planes, and also sprayed with the powerful herbicide Agent Orange to expose supply and troop movements. The effects of the chemical are still visible as stunted foliage along the foothills and riverbank mangroves of north-central Vietnam.
The original trail extended into Laos and Cambodia, covering more than 10,000 miles. Thick jungle growth claimed most of it after the war. But strategic sections were maintained as a reminder of the communist will for an undivided nation.
The paved trail will measure about 1,000 miles when finished. Our merry band of bikers drove about half of it, starting at Tan Ky in the north and ending at Hue near the 17th parallel, the old dividing line between north and south ironically known as the demilitarized zone. Ironic because more military action occurred within the zone than any other section of Vietnam.
A herd of cows obstructs the Ho Chi Minh Trail in central Vietnam. Driving the trail requires dodging all kinds of farm animals and domestic pets.
War memorials dot the rebuilt trail, including an impressive 12-foot marble monument to the “victims” of Deo Da Deo mountain pass. American B-52s dropped tons of explosives and chemicals on this highest point of the trail near Phong Nha.
Phong Nha is also the scene of the Ke Bang caves, the oldest and largest limestone caverns in Asia. They are part of a huge national park and one of the premier tourist sites in the country, drawing visitors from more than 100 nations.
The spectacular formations have enchanting names like Lion, Fairy Caves, Royal Court and Buddha. During the Vietnam war, they were used to protect munitions from B-52 raids. Phong Nha, in central Vietnam, was a key supply station for the North during the war.
At Khe Sanh, the war’s most publicized battle site, a symbolic “victory” statue juts from a weed-infested field that once hosted a strategic U. S. Marine outpost and airfield. Three bloody encounters, including a 75-day siege in 1968, are recounted in a nearby museum. Captured American tanks, helicopters and other war relics remind visitors that the final triumph belonged to the communists.
More than 10,000 North Vietnamese and scores of American soldiers died at Khe Sanh. The Vietnamese burn incense and place flowers at the stone memorial’s base, which portrays a U.S. Marine raising his hands in surrender.
At Vietnam’s largest military burial ground, Truong Son Cemetery, mourners pay tribute to “heroes of the American war” by burning bundles of fake $100 U.S. bills in incense pots so the soldiers will enjoy a rich afterlife. The dollar, it’s explained, is worth far more than the Vietnamese dong, making it the preferred phony currency to honor the deceased.
“We hold no hostility toward Americans,” said Nguyen Van My, who described himself as a 66-year-old army war veteran during a brief chat at the cemetery. “We respect the dollar. It is a symbol of strength."
By contrast, the dong has been slipping badly as inflation besets the Vietnamese economy. Twice devalued in the past year, it now exchanges at the rate of 16,800 dong for one American dollar. That makes Vietnam one of the few world bargains for U.S. tourists. Hotels, food, transportation, clothes and jewelry are inexpensive. Our eight-day trip, booked through the Hanoi tour company Offroad Vietnam, cost just $850 per person, including overnight accommodations, meals, Honda 160 cubic-centimeter motorcycles, fuel and two guides/interpreters.
We stayed in budget hotels, but the sheets were clean, the showers were hot, and even remote mountain stops featured air conditioning, although power blackouts occurred often during the early evening hours. And it did take a few nights to get used to the three-inch mattresses; a few mornings to develop patience for the coffee that slowly drips from a metal strainer atop the cup. But once done, it jolts you into the day’s activities.
The investment in tourism is paying off because Vietnam offers some of the most charming tropical scenery in the world. The mist rising from the land against the morning sky is resplendent. The lush mountains and gorges and verdant valleys and endless rivers create a colorful landscape. A coast line that stretches for hundreds of miles along the South China Sea makes it a marvel of geography.
It also makes you wonder where the country would be in today’s travel world had it not been mired in war for a half-century against the French, the Japanese, the Americans, the Cambodians and the Chinese.

Copyright © 1999-2008 cnhi, inc.

Photos

 
William B. Ketter CNHI News Service

 
Nguyen Ngoc, 34, businessman and son of a decorated North Vietnamese army officer, represents the new generation of Vietnamese. They welcome Americans and are more interested in the country's new capitalism than the politics of communism. CNHI News Service

 
Vietnam remains mostly an agricultural nation, mired in the farming methods of the 19th century. Women in conical hats still harvest the rice, one stalk at a time. CNHI News Service

 
Internet access is available throughout Vietnam. Even remote towns have Internet cafes, like this one in Phong Nha. CNHI News Service

 
Visitors enter the Imperial Palace, home of Vietnam's last emperors in Hue, through an elaborate gate. The palace and its Forbidden Purple City have become major tourist attractions. The last emperor yielded power to Ho Chi Minh in 1954. CNHI News Service

 

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Vietnam's tourism heading down

Tourism growth in downtrend
17:10' 16/09/2008 (GMT+7)

Foreign tourists in Vietnam
VietNamNet Bridge – Global economic regression has clearly affected the Vietnamese tourism industry. In the first five months of the year, the number of international visitors coming to Vietnam rose by 16.6%; the figure for June, July and August was lower by 15% year on year.

 

Infrastructure makes no progress

 

Another worry for the tourism industry is the reduction of visitors from big and wealthy markets and segments: cruise tourists down by 19%, Japanese visitors 4.2%, South Korean 6.3%, American, British and Canadian over 3%, and Chinese 8.3%.

 

The trend in Vietnam is the general trend in Asia.

 

When the US dollar devalued recently, many European tourists chose the US instead of Asia. The prices at Asian restaurants were also more experience, influencing the attractiveness of Asia.

 

The Vietnamese tourism industry hopes that the number of foreign visitors coming to Vietnam will increase in the last months of 2008 to compensate for the reduction in the past three months.

 

However, Vietnam’s attractiveness also suffers as the prices of tours to neighbouring countries like ThailandMalaysia and Singapore have risen 5-10% in the last year while tours to Vietnam have risen 15-30%, mainly due to the increases of room rates and air fares.

 

Vietnam’s aviation and hotel industries have developed very slowly in recent years so shortages of hotel rooms always happens in the tourism season while there are few choices for air routes and prices.

 

Speaking to TTG Asia, a travel newspaper, Richard Brouwer, Managing Director of the Diethlem Travel Group of Switzerland, forecast that the situation will get better for the tourism sector of Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries in October-December 2008, or the tourism season. If during this time Vietnam has more local flights, Diethlem will organise more tours to Vietnam.

 

Yet, as Vietnamese airlines lack aircrafts and the aviation industry is facing a lot of difficulties, it will be difficult for local airlines to open new air routes and increase numbers of flights. Jetstar Pacific currently has had to temporarily suspend the HCM City-Hue, HCM City-Nha Trang air routes. Many travel agents have had to stop offering tours to Con Dao and Phu Quoc islands since they can’t reserve tickets to these destinations.

 

At least in the next two years, there will be no big changes in the number of hotel rooms so this will be still the disadvantage of the tourism sector.

 

HCM City plans to have an additional 950 luxurious rooms at the end of 2009 but only Kumho,