Vietnam by Catherine Karnow Catherine Karnow has been photographing in Vietnam since 1990, when the country was just beginning to emerge from the darkest years of poverty and despair following the Communist take-over in 1975. Twenty-one years of images show a country's transformation from that bleak, grey period to a vibrant, modern nation of the newly rich, of blogger youth who are not afraid to speak out against a Communist government, and of a real estate boom gone bust, amongst other changes and problems. Karnow's photographs reflect the deep love she has for the country and its people. "Vietnam gets under your skin. Every time I return I am pulled back into the intensity of being there. The country is at once so familiar and yet so enigmatic. One minute I think I understand the government, for example, and its ferocious need to control and oppress the people; the next minute I realise I know less than I thought. I keep returning and seeing dramatic changes, and yet so much is unchanged. It is perhaps that essence of Vietnam, those unchanged scenes which could be from 1965 or 1995, that capture my heart. It is always the people who draw me back, a people whose resilience, ambition for peace, and welcoming, forgiving character I admire very much." Symbol of old Asia, the traditional fishing junk is becoming a rarity.  Amongst Halong Bay's 2,000 islands, a fisherman plies the waters in an early morning fog. Early 1990, people wait for the ferry to take them back to their village across the Saigon River, Saigon. The last of the ancient trams, legacy of the French, rumbles up a track in Hanoi. The last of Vietnam's dying aristocracy stand in their weed-choked garden in Hue, Vietnam's former royal capital. Legacy of the French, the magnificent Hanoi Opera House was refurbished in 1995. On a hot summer day, children splash at a community pool next to Hanoi's Truc Bach lake, where John McCain was shot down in 1967. After eleven hours of sweltering heat and humidity, traveling at a snail's pace, the air clears and cools as the train flies through Vietnam's mountainous Hai Van Pass, or Pass of the Clouds. Amerasians (the offspring of American soldiers and Vietnamese women during the war) abandoned in Vietnam became outcasts with little hope for the future. Le Thu Bich Lan (left) and Nguyen Thi Kieu Oanh (right) wait to leave for the U.S. at the Amerasian Transit Center in Saigon. Diep Minh Chao was Ho Chi MInh's personal sculptor; he lived in the forest with him for over 12 years. Phuong Anh Nguyen, who fled Vietnam and spent 14 years in California, has returned to Saigon, where she runs the trendy Q-Bar. The legendary General Vo Nguyen Giap returns to the forest near Dien Bien Phu, from which he master-minded the battle which gained the Vietnamese their independence from the French. Vietnam today: the Bitexco building, the tallest building in Vietnam at 68 stories, stands largely empty, a symbol of Vietnam's terrible economy; no one can actually afford to rent the office spaces. Despite years of talking about controlling growing traffic problems in Saigon, the streets are more crowded than ever and motorcycle accidents are common. Saigon attracts young people from all over Vietnam. Sixty per cent of the country's population is under 35 years old. Golf, the ultimate bourgeois sport, reflects the liberalization of Vietnam. New golf courses such as the King's Valley Golf Resort attract mostly Japanese, Korean, and other Asian businessmen and diplomats. Dang Le Nguyen Vu, aka the Coffee King, owns Trung Nguyen Coffee, the Starbucks of Vietnam. One of the Vietnam's richest men, he also owns over 100 Arabian horses. In District 7 in Saigon, Betty Thanh plays in the dining room of her enormous suburban house; mansions such as this were non-existent just a few years ago. In District 7 in Saigon, Betty Thanh plays in the dining room of her enormous suburban house; mansions such as this were non-existent just a few years ago. Catherine Karnow zips around Hanoi with assistant Tu Ngoc Hanoi, Vietnam, 2011. Back to current issue