The Vietnamese government influence over society is total and yet totally invisible. Ask your average Vietnamese who their President or Prime Minister currently is and you'll get a shrug from even educated locals (I did this three times).
The people, after such a relentless period of war and political instability, now seem remarkably indifferent to politics at all, content that growth is occurring at a satisfactory rate.
This is, of course, entirely farcical. The only papers operating in Vietnam are government sanctioned and thus devoid of anything ineteresting to read. Son La province has a new hydro-electric plant, Buon Ma Thuot a new road, blah, blah, tourists are flocking in, oh yeah...You get the impression if Vietnam were to descend in to a full economic depression, the people would be the last to know and blame shortages on the 'booming' export market.
Corruption is the worst part, as is universal amongst Southeast Asian countries. Almost all of the tourists which come from the same country you are in (much like those sent to the UK, Australia and New Zealand for their educations), will be the children of those in government as they are the only ones with money.
Positive signs that Vietnam is not as heavily corrupted as I thought were confirmed when my generous $20, bottle of vodka, and 3 packs of cigarettes were rejected at the Dien Bien Phu border crossing (restricted to Laos and Vietnamese only), and by consistent reports of arrests of officials involved in corruptive activities. Although the latter could easily be put down to political shenanigans...
article published 4/15/2003