Between the Vietnam war (in Vietnam they call it the American war) and 1995 Vietnam struggled to instill communism in the south and maintain it in the north. A million and a half people in the south starved to death. I am sure many will argue that that there were many reasons but in the former rice bowl of southeast Asia that people should starve for any reason seems unfathomable.
On recent (July 2016) tours within the country, tour guides addressed it in many ways but it happened and in 1995 the government introduced “modifications” that allowed people to keep a portion of their efforts and that concept has blossomed, in my observation, to an example of free-market capitalism that puts most western countries to shame in some respects. One can’t leave their hotel or walk many feet without being accosted by a vendor of something. Often it is a shoe shine ‘boy’ (usually a 20’s or 30’s man) that will try to talk you into a shine or a young lady with a tray of fans, refrigerator magnets, bracelets, beads and whatnot. The shine guy may even bend down to ‘tie your shoe’ or ‘wipe off some goop’ and then quickly shine, soap, buff, etc. one shoe or part thereof so you will not match unless you let him finish. If you don’t buy from the young lady she may give you a tale of horror on why she must sell something or else. I have seen dozens of pouting faces on young girls even tears if I did not buy. There are spas and massage establishments on every block and lots of people out front and on street corners handing out flyers. If you take one you will endure a hard sell and if you seem interested you will be taken by the arm and led, as the finder will get a small commission for bringing in a customer.
There are impromptu restaurants set up with chairs and tables and a grill on the sidewalk and if there is an actual kitchen in a storefront then there could be a dozen tables each with 3 or 4 chairs on the sidewalk. I never had to step off the sidewalk into the street to get around one, but there were often paths through tables on an 8 foot wide sidewalk. Unlike the Philippines which is less disciplined, there are no vendors walking between the cars trying to sell you a bottle of water or a single cigarette but I attribute that to fast traffic (one could easily get killed) and to the rather strict police presence.
I saw very few beggars and they were really obviously damaged and pitiful people, but I also saw what appeared to be a government aid office and the people going in and out had obvious issues. There are government sponsored businesses where the handicapped work and the items they make are sold to support the programs. The items they make are beautiful and priced rather high, as the sign says, to support the workers.
There were a few side or connecting streets that I walked along during the day which had all lanes full of traffic or cars parked along them. At night the same streets had popup shelters or booths on both sides filling the street, made entirely of tarps or just sheet plastic selling everything and anything you could imagine.
The entire experience was informative, impressive and enjoyable. If only their money was a little easier to deal with. $100.00 US is 2,250,000 dong and $1.00 therefore is 22,500 dong and unless you are really quick you may end up paying a lot more for something than it is worth. Particularly when they often show you a price with a few zeros missing but the money has all the zeros and as you are trying to figure it out you may be “helped” of course in the vendors favor.