The Man Who Brought Tourism to Vietnam By Chris Palahniuk

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After holding an administrative post in Hanoi during the Vietnam War, Ngo Huy Phuong went on to become the chief accountant in the Vietnamese government, and then the nation’s first General Director of Tourism. He held this post for 15 years, and during the 1990s was part of Vietnam’s first delegation to the USA prior to the normalization of relations between the two countries. He was tasked with opening Vietnam up to Tourism, and oversaw a massive expansion of the tourism industry in his country. I was fortunate enough to meet with Mr Ngo in the South of Hanoi, where he lives with his wife, for a casual conversation. The following dialogue between myself and Mr Ngo, was interpreted by his daughter, and my better half, Phuong.

 

I understand you were in a delegation that went to America before relations were normalized between the US and Vietnam. How was that? Where did you go?

Well, we flew to Hong Kong first. We had to refuel in Alaska before landing in Washington DC. We spent 4 days there before making a trip to New York for a few days and then flying back to Vietnam.

What did you do while you were there?

In Washington we visited the capitol building , and had meetings with tourist businesses. Unfortunately there were a number of people protesting our delegation in the streets while we were there, mostly overseas Vietnamese. We were told that it may turn violent, and not to venture out. In New York we visited the World Trade Center towers.

What did you think of the protesters?

At that time they were concerned about several issues, such as not being able to return to Vietnam. After US-Vietnam relations were normalized in 1995 that changed.

Did you see President Clinton when you were in Washington?

Our delegation was led by the Vice President of Vietnam. We were met by the US Vice President.

You studied in the Soviet Union when you were younger. How was that?

I spent 1987 and 1988 in Moscow. I liked it a lot. it was a comparatively rich place,  and had everything you could want. The people were very friendly there back then.

What did you do during the Vietnam War?

I had an administrative job in Hanoi.

Were you in Hanoi during the bombing?

Yes. Hanoi was bombed more than anywhere else in Vietnam. My wife was pregnant with our first daughter at that time, so we moved to the country for her birth. We then moved back and forth between Hanoi and the countryside. When my wife was pregnant with our second daughter we were living in an underground shelter in Hanoi.

Have you travelled much in Europe?

Yes, I have visited a few countries for business purposes. My favorite country in Europe was France.

What do you like most about France?

The food and the architecture.

Whilst General Director of Tourism in Vietnam, Mr Ngo saw his department grow exponentially in number of staff and branches/departments. Tourism in Vietnam has been growing at about 20% annually for the last several years. Although he has been retired for many years now, it is certain that Mr Ngo played a key role in making tourism in Vietnam what it is today.