You've just got to watch this video of the traffic in Hanoi!
Even entrance to Lenin Park in Hanoi is not free. Instead, Vietnam got censorship, loss of freedoms, complete government control over the population and mass poverty and starvation.
Other countries in the region did not fare much better. The communist Khmer Rouge takeover in 1975 in Cambodia began with one of the world's most bloody revolutions and during Pol Pot's four years of power the regime tortured to death or executed the vast majority of the country's educated people. Thousands were systematically killed for wearing eyeglasses or for their ability to speak foreign languages, supposed symbols of the bourgeoise. Pol Pot was never brought to justice, and died in 1998.
The Laos Socialist government also has a history of brutal suppression of its people, particularly the H'mong minority tribes. Since the 1980s Laos has softened its socialism to allow for private enterprise and foreign investment. But the human rights abuses continue. Human Rights Watch provides information about Laos' recent abuse of the H'mong people.
Vietnam, too, has softened whatever socialist ideals it once had. One Vietnamese man told me that Vietnam is "a capitalist country with a socialist face." Wikipedia says "Vietnam is a socialist republic controlled by the Communist Party for whom ideological orthodoxy is less important than economic development."
Although it's still called The People's Republic of Vietnam, I see a thriving capitalist country under a one-party Communist government with no evidence of socialist ideals such as state care for the people. It seems that there is no social safety net. There is a small pension for certain office workers, but peasants must work until they die. There is no free health care and many rural children do not attend school at all. The poorest of the poor work in cities as street vendors, earning at best 75 US cents per day.
I learned from an exhibit on street vendors at the Women's Museum in Hanoi that most of the vendors are women peasants who cannot make a living on their small plots of land in the countryside and so they migrate to Hanoi to sell anything they can.
The average Vietnamese city dweller earns U.S. $2,000 per year, while the average person in the countryside earns half that. However, I see far fewer people begging on the street in Vietnam than in Bolivia, for example.
According to Human Rights Watch, Vietnam has current problems with censorship, religious persecution and the jailing of dissidents who have criticized the government via the internet. (Notice I post this after I've left Vietnam). Vietnam currently is detaining many political prisoners.
As a tourist, it's hard for me to appraise the human rights situation in Vietnam, but I did ask one local business owner who spoke English well and who I had gotten to know over a few days. He told me that the government is very controlling of the people and that if someone writes something that the government doesn't like, they will likely be jailed. He said that, in contrast to Cuba, Vietnam is not really a socialist country.
All this leaves me wondering why we fought in the Vietnam war anyway, and thinking about how many of our human rights we lost during the Bush regime. I am hopeful for the future. A young Vietnamese woman told me that she is happy that Obama won because "he has black skin, and it's more fair." The whole world is hopeful!