Letter from Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Richard Fell is a former diplomat; he was latterly British High Commissioner in New Zealand, but served in Vietnam earlier in his career. He is the Book Review Editor of Asian Affairs.

Forty years ago, in April 1975, North Vietnamese forces defeated the army of the South, captured Saigon and ousted the South Vietnamese government. Thousands of South Vietnamese fled the country, Vietnam was reunited and the Vietnam War finally came to an end.

I was in the British Embassy in Saigon at that time. I returned again very recently in the company of one Embassy colleague (Michael Kyle) who was also there in 1975 and another who had left a little earlier. Also in the party were a son, two daughters, one of whom had been born in Saigon, sons-in-law and grandchildren.

Vietnam’s economy is booming. In Ho Chi Minh City/ Saigon, new office buildings and hotels are going up all the time. At the famous Continental hotel where we stayed, and where Andre Malraux, Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene (The Quiet American) had stayed in the past, my restless nights were caused not by memories but by all night pile-driving for the city’s first metro system. Continue reading