Outsiders are returning to find Vietnam a fascinating place to visit - and even golf
Just the word "Vietnam" conjures up so many thoughts and images from Americans of a certain generation, most of them bad and even anguished.
The Vietnam War was another in a long line of wars for the Vietnamese people. But for Americans, it was a singular, brutal and bloody conflict that caused great pain and suffering, particularly coming as it did in the 1960s, a decade marked by unprecedented social upheaval.
The fall of Saigon in 1975 marked the end of a long, humiliating engagement for the United States. It also marked the beginning of a long rebuilding road for a divided country that had been pummeled for years by American bombs.
After the horrors of Saigon, the communist leaders in Hanoi installed a centrally-planned economy, based on the teachings of Ho Chi Minh, that they finally admitted was unworkable.
Vietnam is still a communist country but its economy is distinctly capitalist. The country has liberalized its economic policies and opened up its trade barriers. It hopes, and it appears likely, the country will soon be a member of the World Trade Organization. Tourism is flourishing, salaries are growing and everyone, it seems, has a motor scooter to replace the bicycle.
Expatriates, those who fled the communist advances, are returning and are amazed at what they are seeing. Even Americans who fought in the war are returning, some with their Vietnamese wives they met while serving as American soldiers.
"I really had my doubts about coming back," said Ken Symicek, who fought in the war and has returned to Vietnam with his wife, Lien Huong Thi, to teach English. "I didn't know if they'd throw rocks at me or what. But, I've never heard a bad word from anyone here."
Along with capitalism comes golf, of course, and I recently took a look at some of the courses the country has to offer. There aren't many, but the ones that exist are excellent, and when you combine golf with the country's history, natural beauty and friendly people, a Vietnam golf tour can be a compelling experience.
In Las Vegas, sexy is back. The power houses of adult-oriented entertainment are in the middle of a 'chest race.' Topless pools abound, Hugh Hefner has opened the first Playboy Club in 20 years in Sin City and Hooters has filled a casino with its wonderfully endowed employees. Your golf game might suffer a bit amid the excitement of the new Vegas - but you won't really give a damn when you've got a martini in hand and a Hooters girl sitting on your lap.
Vietnam may still be a communist country, but when it comes to economics, it has become as savvy as a corporate CEO. Vietnam's economy is the latest Asian tiger, a result of the country's leaders finally deciding to abandon their failed, centrally-planned economy in favor of free trade and liberal economic policies. Capitalism is on the rise – and it's bringing golf with it. Once banned as an elitist sport, golf is finding a new home in Vietnam.
Photo gallery: Vietnam Golf and C.C. in Ho Chi Minh City
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