Presidents, poisoned fish and protests - a travel guide to a big week in Vietnam - Rusty Compass travel blog

Presidents, poisoned fish and protests - a travel guide to a big week in Vietnam

| 16 May 2016
, 0 Comment
16 May 2016

Barack Obama, protests, mass fish poisonings and National Assembly elections - a travel guide to a big week in Vietnam

If you’re arriving in Vietnam this week, you’ll be colliding with some fairly major events. You may manage to pass through the country without noticing anything, or you may encounter some disruption to your plans. Don’t be surprised if your access to Facebook is a little intermittent as well.

Here’s a rundown on what’s happening.

President Obama visits Vietnam

US President Barack Obama will be in Vietnam between 23 and 25 May.

Presidential visits anywhere create traffic chaos and road closures. The streets of Saigon and Hanoi are chaotic even before the presidential motorcade rolls in. Be warned.

The visit may also result in the closure of some important sights - if they’re on the presidential itinerary. Any such closures are likely to be brief.

This is the third visit to Vietnam by a US president since the Vietnam War. Bill Clinton visited in 2000 and George W. Bush in 2006.

You’ll want to stay well clear of the presidential carnival and hope your restaurant plans don’t clash with Barack’s.

The US President's visit comes at a tricky time for both countries. He may find his queries on the Vietnam situation interrupted by local officials seeking a better understanding of The Donald and the sad state of US democracy.

Poisoned Fish

Weeks after tons of dead fish began washing up on the shores of central Vietnam (between Ha Tinh and Hue mainly), the biggest environmental disaster in recent Vietnamese history remains a mystery. And it’s causing lots of unease among locals and travellers alike.

So if you’re passing through central Vietnam, you may want to make sure you’re fairly careful about your seafood choices. Even better, only eat fish where you see lots of locals digging in too - and that may not happen at all. We're hearing locals aren’t touching seafood in affected areas.

It’s a tragedy with many strands.

Seafood is at the centre of life along Vietnam’s coastline. Local fishermen are out of work, markets can’t sell fish, and it’s not clear when fish stocks and public confidence will return.

The fish crisis comes on the back of regular food scares in Vietnam about everything from tainted noodles, to dodgy pork, to insecticide drenched fruit and vegetables.

Protests across the country

Many Vietnamese are unhappy with their government’s response to the poisoned fish disaster and over the past two weekends, they’ve taken to the streets in large number to voice their concern.

The protests have resulted in some closures of areas in the centre of Saigon’s tourist district. These have not been lengthy.

Vietnam’s leaders are not accustomed to protests and they seem very displeased. So much so that local government controlled English language papers yesterday labelled the protest organisers as terrorists.

Invoking the “T” word way be an effective way to demonise protestors, but it may have the unfortunate impact of scaring visiting tourists and business people, who may already be uneasy about poisoned fish.

These days the word terrorist conjures images of ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and Abu Sayyaff. It’s not an association many countries would make willingly or lightly.

And one of Vietnam’s great strengths has been, and still is, that it’s blissfully free of serious terrorism threats.

The good news is that whatever they are, Vietnam’s protestors have proven far better natured than the world’s best known terror groups. And while local state controlled newspapers might be throwing around the dreaded “t” word, at this stage there seems to be little reason for travellers to be concerned about terrorism in Vietnam.

International terrorism alerts for Vietnam remain unchanged.

If you happen to encounter protests during your travels, you’d best stay away. There have been arrests and outbreaks of sporadic violence.

Expat forums in Saigon have also reported that foreigners taking photographs, videos and participating, have been taken away for questioning by police.

National Assembly elections

And if presidents, poisonings and protests are not enough to keep you on your toes in Vietnam this week, May 22nd is also the date for National Assembly elections across the country. These will likely see stepped up security, especially in light of ongoing protests and the presidential visit.

Facebook has been intermittently blocked during the protests. It’s possible that nightlife may be curtailed on the day or in the days prior to the elections.

Most travellers will pass through Vietnam with little or no knowledge of any of these special things happening in the next week. But if you do see a gathering or a presidential motorcade, or a heavy security presence - one or all of these things will probably explain it.

Travel well!

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
Support Rusty Compass
Rusty Compass is an independent travel guide. We’re focused on providing you with quality, unbiased, travel information. That means we don't receive payments in exchange for listings and mostly pay our own way. We’d like tourism to be a positive economic, environmental and cultural force and we believe travellers deserve disclosure from publishers. Spread the word about Rusty Compass, and if you're in Saigon, pop in to The Old Compass Cafe and say hi. It’s our home right downtown on Pasteur St. You can also check out our unique tours of Ho Chi Minh City and Sydney at Make a financial contribution using the link below. Even small amounts make a difference. Thanks and travel well!

  • Previous
  • Next

There are no comments yet.