If you want to see whole swathes of bleak, Soviet-style architecture, you could do worse than heading to VINH. Although a place of pilgrimage for Vietnamese tourists – Ho Chi Minh was born in the nearby village of Kim Lien – it receives very few foreign guests, most of whom use the city as a stop on the long journey between Hué and Hanoi, or a jumping-off point for the Lao border. Still, the place has its merits – plenty of cheap accommodation around the train and bus stations, and the chance to discover a real Vietnamese city, almost entirely unaffected by international tourism.
Vinh fared particularly badly in the twentieth century. As an industrial port-city dominating major land routes, whose population was known for rebellious tendencies, the town became a natural target during both French and American wars. In the 1950s French bombs destroyed large swathes of Vinh, after which the Viet Minh burnt down what remained rather than let it fall into enemy hands; the rebuilt town was flattened once again during the American air raids. Reconstruction proceeded slowly after 1975, mostly financed by East Germany; the decrepit hulks of barrack-like apartment blocks, totally unsuited to the Vietnamese climate, still dominate the city centre. Things are beginning to improve, however, as trade with Laos brings more money into the region: Vinh’s streets are being repaved and pavements laid; smart new villas and hotels are being built; and there’s even a multi-storey supermarket stocked with all manner of goodies.