HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — Two stores in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, still popularly known as Saigon, told the story of modern Vietnam one Sunday morning in March.
In a souvenir shop foreign tourists haggled over some of Vietnam’s most iconic T-shirts: Those with the image of Ho Chi Minh, the country’s long-dead father of communism, for instance, and those with the hammer and sickle icon. But down the street in a newly opened Apple store, a crowd of young locals all vied to ask questions about the outlet’s most coveted item: the iPhone 6. And a lucky few with disposable income walked out with their new mobile devices in hands, beaming.
While the hammer and sickle and Uncle Ho’s image may still adorn T-shirts it sells to foreign tourists, Vietnam’s heart throbs for all things American, especially Apple. In 2014, in fact, Vietnam became its hottest market. In the first half of the 2014 fiscal year alone, iPhone sales tripled in this country, far surpassing sales growth in China and India.
But it is not just iPhones, of course, that exemplify America’s powerful presence in Vietnam 40 years after the war ended. Facebook entered Vietnam’s market four years ago and at one point was adding a million signups a month. As of October, it had 30 million users, and that’s out of 40 million Vietnamese who have access to the Internet.