The drive from Hanoi – the capitol of Vietnam – to Ha Long Bay – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular tourist destination, is a slow, tedious, two-lane route with limited amenities along the way.
Although it’s less than 100 miles, plan on about 3 1/2 hours in a vehicle. And if you’re like me, you’ll need to make a stop along the way. Or two.
As tourism has opened up and flourished in Vietnam, the need for clean, numerous and western-style toilets on this roadway reached dire levels with industry officials pressuring the government to provide solutions.
In so doing, they addressed another issue.
Creative, Colorful Rest Areas in Vietnam
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. sprayed millions of gallons of Agent Orange throughout the DMZ and other areas of intense fighting in an effort to defoliate the jungle and destroy the enemy’s food source. Agent Orange, the public later learned, contained a chemical dioxin that causes all sorts of problems in humans, including cancer, birth defects, you name it.
A generation after the war, the number of children born with birth defects in Vietnam skyrocketed. Caring for them became a significant challenge for their families and the government.
A number of the people with physical and mental developmental issues have been trained in the fine art of Vietnamese embroidery painting, a skill that defies most standards of patience and precision. Many now work in three workshops located within large centers built specifically for busses and other travelers on this busy highway. I do a little bit of needlework myself, but watched in awe as these individuals created remarkable works of art with needle and thread.
Souvenirs from Vietnam
An embroidery painting like this one on the left was selling for about $150 US. In addition to this type of handiwork, there were a variety of souvenirs for sale, as well as snacks and soft drinks. Prices were a little higher here than we had noticed in other parts of Vietnam. And then, of course, there were clean, western-style toilets – the reason we stopped in the first place.
We were told that about half of the people working there had some sort of disability and this was a unique program in Vietnam. Of course, we don’t know how much they are paid and if treatment of these talented workers is fair.
You can only hope so.