Ah, Vinh. Most people don't know where it is, but those I met in Vietnam who did, when they heard that I'd been there, were quick to offer a sympathetic gaze. "Oh, Vinh." They might as well've said, "Oh, cardboard."
It's nice to know I wasn't alone in finding Vinh utterly uninteresting, unsalvageable and uncommendable. We had to spend three nights there, right after one night in ho-hum Thanh Hoa (which isn't making a comeback in the book --- as I emailed my editor, "unless people have been clamouring for it? The town itself has little to recommend"). And even after Thanh Hoa, Vinh seemed, well, blah.
Fine, so it's a port/industrial city, and it can't help that it was bombed to bits during the war and got ugly Stalinist buildings from East Germany thereafter. But why are the streets so empty of all the street food and street life one finds in almost every Vietnamese town (even in Dalat on a cold November night)? What do all the people do when there isn't a 220th anniversary of the city's founding to celebrate? Why is there nothing to eat on the street except bun bo Hue? And why do some hotels rent rooms by the hour?
If not for the fact that Vinh is a common stop for buses to and from Laos, I don't think it would make it into the guidebook either. Sure, there's Cua Lo Beach half an hour away (see image above), but that's not a beach I'd come all the way here for.
I made a friend in Danang who had spent several months in Vinh. When I asked her how she had stood it, she said dryly, "Oh, I looked around for a bridge to throw myself off, but I couldn't find one."