Still Rollin' Down the Vietnamese Road: !
During my visit to Vietnam last month, I saw about a million Honda Super Cubs, a Hummer H2, and lots of GM products, but I didn’t see something I thought would be commonplace: Soviet vehicles. Well, except for this lone UAZ-452, that is.
Ho Chi Minh played off the Soviets against the Chinese for decades, getting plenty of goodies from both countries, but the USSR was North Vietnam’s main ally by the time Mao went all spirally-eyed and dragged China into the Cultural Revolution. That means that there was a major Russian presence in Vietnam from the 1960s through the collapse of the USSR, and certain aspects of that presence remain. For example, the Vietnamese developed a taste for vodka, which is especially popular in the north of the country (this bottle of “Say Green” vodka cost me $1.20 in a Hanoi supermarket and tastes pretty good). The Soviets also brought their cars and trucks with them, and I was expecting to see Zaporozhets and GAZ-24s all over the place. Sadly, that wasn’t the case; I met a guy who’s a big off-roader, and he and his friends play in the mud with old US military Jeeps and their Soviet counterparts, but most of the old Soviet machinery has long since rusted to oblivion. Such a disappointment!
I’d given up on seeing any Russian-made vehicles by about a week into my trip, but then I glanced out the window of a Hanoi-to-Danang train and spotted this UAZ-452 cruising along a country road south of Dong Hoi. Quick— grab the camera! Yes, a running example of the beloved “ Bukhanka” (named for the loaf of bread it resembles), powered by the same engine used in the iconic GAZ-21 Volga. This one appears to have an aftermarket air-conditioner on the roof.
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- Inside Looking Out In June 1973, Leonid Brezhnev arrived in Washington for his second summit meeting with President Richard Nixon. Knowing of the Soviet leader’s fondness for luxury automobiles, Nixon gave him a shiny Lincoln Continental. Brezhnev was delighted with the present and insisted on taking a spin around Camp David, speeding through turns while the president nervously asked him to slow down. https://academic.oup.com/dh/article-abstract/42/4/548/5063004
Even the Russians would rather not drive those sorry things, so why should the Vietnamese, just because their communists doesn't necessarily mean they're stupid. Up until the fall of Saigon, and the exit of the United States the predominant forms of transportation in the North were walking, oxcarts, bicycles, motorcycles and military vehicles (I suspect in some provinces this is still close to the truth).
"For example, the Vietnamese developed a taste for vodka, which is especially popular in the north of the country (this bottle of “Say Green” vodka cost me $1.20 in a Hanoi supermarket and tastes pretty good)." i like your strategy, murilee. if you are going to sample sketchy food in the developing world, make sure it has a high alcohol content to kill the local stomach bugs.