When I arrived in Vietnam in May 2006, I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of goods in local supermarkets. I could buy Washington State apples, batteries, my favorite cereals imported from the USA, Tide laundry detergent, shampoo, pots and pans, whatever, in a relatively modern environment without haggling. The supermarket was small and cramped, and the aisles set haphazardly, but most things were there. It was similar to the supermarket where my mom would drag me as a kid in the '70s, although a slightly smaller and more crowded version.
I was there again last weekend after a 3 or 4 month hiatus (I eat out a lot, plus I'm lazy). Wow, the place is changing fast. The store is bigger. The aisles are taller and more orderly. The meat section much bigger. I even saw an elegant wine display rack that could have come from Whole Foods a swanky, high-end grocery chain in the USA. And construction is still happening in one part of the store. Disposable incomes are increasing rapidly in Vietnam and a lot of that extra spending is going straight to consumer goods. Vietnam is a marketer's paradise -- totally virgin territory. Rising incomes and the fact that choice and cool things to buy are a relatively recent phenomenon recent is fertile ground. The sense of optimism and, yes, joy, is palpable as the country sheds 30 years of material privation. It's exciting to see.
And here's a shot closer to ground level. Note the promotional displays and Oral-B toothbrushes. The woman in the conical hat in the foreground is a nice juxtaposition. Turns your preconceptions of Vietnam on their ear, doesn't it?