Credit: Geoff Thompson/

Just after returning on an overnight flight from the US visiting family and friends, I then continued my journey east as a member of the media delegation attached to the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel, and his official delegation to Vietnam, travelling to celebrate the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries, which also involved meeting up with the trade delegation coordinated by Luxembourg’s Chamber of Commerce and the Ministry of the Economy.

Why this level of importance paid to Vietnam? Originally ties started in the area of development cooperation by supporting NGOs in the south-east Asian country; trade ties started to follow, with the level of development cooperation falling and trade (economic ties) increasing, to the extent that Vietnam has now become Luxembourg’s fifth largest trading partner outside the EU.

It had been five and a half years since I had been in Vietnam, in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City as well as other locations, so it would be interesting to see if/how the country had changed.


First off, though, was to be the eleven-hour overnight flight (my second of three within six days) to Hanoi where we were to spend two days, followed by an internal (evening) flight south to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) for another day. For this trip we would be away four days and nights, only two of which would be spent in hotel beds…

From Paris CDG (eleven-hour flight; it was 12.5 hours on the return leg to Frankfurt), looking at the SkyMap while in the air, it was interesting to see the route: over the Black Sea, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Laos, before touching down in Hanoi in northern Vietnam.

A whirlwind itinerary had been planned: a mix of taking in some of the sights and guided tours, following Prime Minister Bettel and Minister Lex Delles undertaking official duties and them participating in bilateral and trade meetings/business forum, plus site visits. Just thinking about it, an incredible amount of work had to be put in to planning this over past few weeks and months, to put itinerary together, including liaising with Vietnamese authorities, to ensure that everything went like clockwork.


Thinking back over the trip a few years ago, it was interesting to see some of the same sights again. In some ways, nothing has changed, particularly traffic in the cities which is mainly by scooters, motorbikes and push bikes, but there were possibly more cars on the roads this time round: it may seem crazy by European standards, trying to navigate the traffic, but it works - there are traffic police at many junctions which makes it easier.

Seeing the sights

After disembarking from the overnight flight, it was straight to the hotel for a quick turnaround before taking the two-hour road trip to Halong Bay. Before that, though, while on the road to Hanoi from the airport: first we passed mainly agriculture land, including much palm and banana trees, giving way to advertising hoardings as we reached the outskirts of the city, then streets and streets of small shops…, providing a snapshot of the country.

The roads are very well surfaced, and the trip to Halong Bay and back was very smooth indeed. However, Halong Bay was quiet and the pandemic has certainly severely impacted tourism, but the splendours were still there to see as we took a boat ride into the bay to view some of the spectacular limestone rock formations and stunning scenery.

Visits to the Temple of Literature, the Fine Arts Museum (both in Hanoi) and the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City (I remember this was harrowing, from my previous visit here, mainly about Agent Orange during the Vietnam War) were also included in the itinerary.


On the first evening, the Prime Minister took a stroll in the city and took in some shopping, stopping to chat with people along the way, from street artists and locals playing badminton in a city park, to tourists of different nationalities; just like he does back home in Luxembourg.

He also took the opportunity to visit the gift shops at the Temple of Literature and War Remnants Museum too, not coming away empty-handed.

In Ho Chi Minh City, the itinerary included a quick fifteen-minute visit to the market, which allowed me a great opportunity to stock up on Vietnamese black peppercorns and dried mangoes, items that are almost impossible to get in Luxembourg. That was while the Prime Minister was browsing various stalls in the market…

What was very interesting indeed was the significant drop in the use of single-use plastics in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, with very few plastic bags being seen in use by shops and street vendors.

Official duties/ceremonies

As part of the press delegation, we followed the Prime Minister and the official delegation around, with the second and third days the busiest, in terms of a packed itinerary. In Hanoi, there were quick-fire ceremonies to lay wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Mausoleum containing the embalmed remains of Ho Chi Minh, before going to the Vietnamese Prime Minister’s complex including the Yellow House and the White House for a formal welcome and inspecting the troops following a Guard of Honour, before a formal working meeting. Also included were a visit to the National Assembly (parliament) and a banquet at Government House.

Those were in Hanoi; in Ho Chi Minh City, Prime Minister Bettel rang the bell (or rather the gong) to open the Ho Chi Minh City Stock Exchange, gave a welcome address at the Vietnam-Luxembourg Business Forum and met with city dignitaries over another working meeting and banquet, the latter being the last item on the itinerary before leaving for the airport to take the flight home. This is understood to have gone off extremely well: despite the official duties and protocol to be observed, the visit was deemed a massive success and the formalities were relaxed.

What was interesting, and already noticed when delivering previous official speeches, but acknowledged at the Ho Chi Minh City Stock Exchange when he apologised to an interpreter who was reading off a prepared translation, was that he goes off script regularly. Not easy for interpreters, but it demonstrates his understanding of the subject matter as well as passion when addressing large groups, even at inter Prime Ministerial level.


I was reminded why I liked the food in Vietnam - the tastes are unique, partly due to the way food is prepared and how fresh the ingredients are. The fresh spring rolls are unique, as is the Pho dish (like a soup with meatballs); even papaya salads are so much tastier. Aromas from street food are everywhere, and the fresh fruit tastes so much better in south-east Asia than it does in Europe. And the same goes for freshly-squeezed juices too.

But it was not just the food: since my last visit, there had been a significant and visible reduction in the use of plastic bags in the streets, an issue addressed during the boat trip on the Saigon River which focussed on sustainability and measures being taken to tackle climate change.

Staying on climate (not climate change) for a moment, it was hot in Vietnam, but this was only early May, not the height of summer, with temperatures in the mid to high 30s (during our stay, Vietnam reached a record 44C in another part of the country). But this was not too much of an issue; the humidity on Day 2 in Hanoi was very oppressive indeed; in Ho Chi Minh City it is normally warmer but less humid. Thank goodness I packed enough shirts…


On Friday 5 May 2023, the day of the Business Forum in Ho Chi Minh City, the local Viêt Nam News (tabloid-format printed newspaper) carried the visit of Prime Minister Bettel and the official delegation, with the first-page headline “A Greener Way Forward”, addressing green finance, and a Page One article entitled “Green Finance New Pillar in VN-Luxembourg Cooperation” with a half-page article, illustrated with photos taken at the Temple of Literature in Hanoi the previous day. And other local media in Vietnam highlighted Prime Minister Bettel’s “friendliness and affability”.


I managed to get a one-on-one interview with the Prime Minister; knowing that I would have just 15-20 minutes (more than others did, to be quite honest), I prepared my questions in advance and recorded what he said to be transcribed later. We even got time for a brief chat about a couple of other issues too.

So, overall, a whistle-stop tour involving a lot of meetings, speeches, ceremonial duties and following protocol, and following the Prime Minister and his entourage as they were transported from one location to another, all the time with police escorts which meant that we did not veer (far, at least) from the pre-determined timelines. Work-wise, I was taking notes all the time and finding time to write them up in a coherent way to present a chronological record of the trip.

Now for some sleep…