TUCKER- I really liked Vietnam. During our time in Vietnam, we went on a long nice tour which took up most of time in the beautiful country. We started in the the city of Hanoi. We stayed in a hotel with great food and a really nice and helpful staff. One of the craziest things about Vietnam is the motorcycles. In Hanoi there are 8 million people and 5 million motorcycles. On every street there are hundreds if not thousands of motorcycles. It was insane. On the tour we visited shrines and temples throughout the country, but my favorite thing was getting to see and stay in Halong Bay. Halong Bay is a area in Vietnam with small rocky mountains jutting out of the sea. We took a one night long cruise into the bay and it was awesome. We cruised through the mountains having lunch, settling into our rooms and looking out over the landscape. During the day the whole boat went kayaking in a large gorge. We saw monkeys and had a lot of fun. After that we went to the beach where we played soccer for a while against people of all nationalities. Then we had dinner, met some amazing people from the Philippines, went fishing and eventually went to sleep. The next day we got up and went to a massive cave in the middle of a mountain. The cave went on and on and on and there were stalactites that were thousands of years old. After that amazing experience, we sadly had to start going back to the harbor. I loved Halong Bay. It was really fun.
CARMEN- A day on the tour.
To start off the day we got on the bus and went to what is called the rice bowl of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta. First we got on a medium to small boat, to get to an island, the first thing we did on the island was tour a coconut farm, where we tried the coconut candies that they made there. There was also this really disgusting looking drink. It was supposed to be a type of wine that is made out of the juice from snakes, and it had a ton of like dead snakes, cobras, and even a dead lizard in there. Apparently this snake wine would heal all your illnesses like arthritis, but it looks super disgusting. We didn’t try it but we saw two other groups of people try it, and it looked like they were about to puke. After that, we took a smaller boat down a river to another part of the island where we tried a ton of good tasting fruits. They also sang us traditional songs that were important to their culture. While on this tour, we met a really fun person from Australia named Megan. Since we were going to go to Australia soon we talked a lot about what we should do there. After that, we went on an even smaller boat that took us to another part of the island where there was a restaurant with a mini zoo that we saw porcupines, and even fed crocodiles at.
Before having lunch we took a rustic rowboat down a very small river. It was really peaceful and super fun, but at any point, I felt like I could fall in the water. Eating lunch there was fun because we got to continue talking with Megan. The food was interesting to say the least. But, there were a few good dishes. After the lunch we went on a bike ride. The bikes were not well kept and there were a lot of different problems with them, luckily I got a good bike where the only problem was squeaky brakes. On the other hand, some of the bikes had lots of problems, including breaks not working, a tire popping in the middle of the ride, and one persons pedal kept falling off! Everybody dealt with it and laughed. It was still a really fun experience. Next, we tried some honey tea that was extremely good. It was super cool to see how they put a type of pollen into the tea to make its taste better. After that, we took all four boats to get back to the mainland. On the ride back I figured out that we were staying at the same hotel as Megan and we went to watch World Cup with her. After we got our drinks, Tucker took the first sip of his drink, and found a fingernail in his glass!! The nail actually went into his mouth. The restaurant didn’t even refund us or anything. I don’t think they even gave him another drink. We stayed up until midnight watching that game so after that, all we did was go to sleep.
AVA- Vietnam was overall amazing. However, being in Vietnam, it is imperative to learn about the Vietnamese- American war. The hardest day of the trip thus far was the day we took a bus ride with a tour group to the Cu Chi tunnels. The Chu Chi tunnels were constructed by Viet Cong during the war as an underground base. Many families lived in those tunnels for nearly a decade. We also saw many other aspects of the war. Going from the beginning, we rode with a tour group on a bus ride to the forest where the tunnels are, and where a lot of the of the ground war was fought. We were the only Americans on the tour that day, and it was the first time I was truly embarrassed to be an American. While both sides did unforgivable things, hearing it from the Vietnamese perspective I heard about how we bombed so heavily and killed so many. I have not covered the war in school yet, so I had a fresh perspective on the topic.
When we arrived we first saw a diagram of the tunnels, how they lived, and the terrible things that the Americans did such as throwing toxic gas into the tunnels. Our lovely guide Betty said it so raw and open, it almost made it harder than if it was screamed. Then we went to see how they would get into the tunnel by going into the ground and covering the opening with leaves. (see video for example) At this point we began to hear gunshots. I thought I was imagining it because of where we were, but Betty explained that near the end of the tour there is a shooting range where you can use guns that were used in the war. Everything I will describe next was while listening to gunshots.
Then we walked, and Betty showed us the first trap of the tour created by the Viet Cong, which had the person step in the wrong place, and fall into spikes in the ground. We then saw an underground bunker that was dug up after the war, and all around us were craters where previous land mines and bombs had went off. Apparently, they are still finding land mines that we set to this day, which did not ease my already unsteady conscious. However, the American government is helping find the active ones now. The next section was truly hard to experience. In a line were 8 spike traps that would go off if you were to step in the wrong place. One by one an employee used a long stick to demonstrate what would happen is someone were to fall into the trap. It felt like I was getting jabbed myself. All I could think about was that those traps were designed for us. To kill us. Had any of my grandparents been sent to fight on the ground in Vietnam, those traps would have ensured my siblings and I would never exist. It was really hard to watch, but so important for me to see. This whole time, the gunshots kept getting louder. We saw a tank from the war, and then were at the shooting range. No, we did not shoot the guns. During this tour my face was set to stone. If I’m being honest, I couldn’t tell if I wanted to cry, scream, run, or apologize a million times on behalf of my country.
We then had the option to go into the tunnels. They were widened just a tad so the adults had enough room to do a low crawl. There was also exit points every 10 meters. It was hot, small, and dark.This was with added low lights and some ventilation! I can only imagine what it was like in wartime. We exited the tunnels after 100 meters, and then saw how they made shoes out of old tires. What I thought was very clever was they made the shoes tracks look like they were backwards, so the enemy would think the Viet Cong were running the opposite way. We then tried Tapioca root, which was surprisingly good with salt and crushed peanuts. To conclude, while I was guilt ridden, uneasy, and sorrowful the whole time, I am really glad we went. It is so important to see both sides of the story, and not just the one where you are the hero.
Travel offers many opportunities to understand that you are not really in control. I was granted one such opportunity when we had just arrived back from a trip to Halong Bay, an other-worldly collection of 1,600 islands and the location of an epic beach soccer match. Back in Hanoi we were about to head to the airport and were just waiting to be picked up. We were not there long when we realized Teresa had left an important small bag on the bus. Thankfully, we put digital trackers in all the bags and could see the little dot on the map moving away from us. Of course the only logical thing to do was to hop on the back of the moped of an eager teenage bellhop.
Immediately, the two of us were flying through the packed streets. For the first few minutes I tried to think through how I could be helpful. Should I lean this way or that. Should I scream that we were going head long into another five-way intersection without stop-lights at 80 kilometers an hour? But then a realization dawned. There was absolutely nothing I could do. In fact, I hadn’t been in control the entire time. There is something incredibly calming about this. I began to look around. One moped in front of us was carrying a very large flat screen tv, another a family of five. A woman with a cart slowly made her way through a thousand vehicles as though no one was there. At one point I moved my hand a few inches to touch the bus we were passing, just because I could.
After a couple of missed connections with the bag, we finally caught up to it and I was happy to have it back, though concerned that we were now likely to miss our transport to our flight because we were so far away. The young bellhop turned around and said, “how long”? I should have said “all the time in the world”, but instead said “13 minutes”. He smiled as if he had been waiting for this moment all year. I believe we passed 10,000 people in the next 13 minutes and arrived just as our bus was ready to depart.
Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon
As real as it gets. The volume up to 11. All senses go.
Walking the streets of Saigon is an acknowledgment of ones own mortality and the trade-off between safety and the type of knowledge one can receive only through lived experience. Each crossing works like this. As you come to the corner all you can see is a stream of humanity, mostly on mopeds, moving simultaneously in all directions. Should you find yourself on such a corner you have only one option, to step out into the stream. You, and the family you love more than life itself, simply walk slowly across the street while bikes, cars, carts, mopeds, buses and everything else with a wheel pass all around you. The wind, smells and sounds circle you, changing from moment to moment. You can feel free to close your eyes because there is nothing you can do to get out of the way. It was explained to us very matter of factly. If you run or even adjust your pace, they will not be able to react to you. Just walk across in a straight direction at a slow pace and the stream will find its way around you.
One date night, Teresa and me were on just such a cacophonous walk which was reaching a crescendo when we ducked into an alley, the sound faded, and no one was there, just an entry to a stylish restaurant, Noir/Blanc. This little island of calm features dinner hosted in the dark by blind staff downstairs and deaf staff upstairs. The idea is to take away a sense so that you can both appreciate someone else’s lived experience and also experience a meal with your now hightened senses that remain.
I believe all of us experienced a new sense of ourselves in the world during our time in Vietnam, for me a heightened sense of gratitude and perhaps a strengthening of the muscle to let go.
TERESA- Our decision to go to Vietnam in December started with a Black Friday/Travel Tuesday discount tour. I do love a good deal! We had yet to go on an official “tour” as it is usually a less expensive for me to arrange things for us as a small group. So, I was very excited have someone else organize and plan for our transportation and activities! Since it was such short notice, this was the first time we had to pay extra to get a visa expedited.
Our tour, booked through Vietnam Tour Fun, started in Hanoi, a frenetic city of 5.2 million. Tim Tam, our wonderfully energetic guide appropriately dubbed it HaNoisy due to the proliferation of millions of mopeds flying around the city. It is hard to describe the traffic here. You can easily reach out your window and touch the person (or family of 5) on the moped next to you. I loved Northern Vietnam. We explored the natural beauty of Ninh Bihn, floated through the caves of Tam Coc while our rowboat captain dexterously guided us rowing with her feet. I got a charlie horse just watching! We took an overnight ship through Halong Bay, a place whose mystic beauty on the water is unrivaled. We had kayaking excursions, cave tours, and played sand soccer for several hours, before the boat set anchor for the night. After our tour in the north, we headed south to Ho Chi Minh, formerly Saigon, with a whopping population of 9 million.
This took us to the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels just outside of the city. We were the only US Citizens on the bus that day and it was an eye opening experience. Our first stop was a shop featuring artists who have been affected by Agent Orange. Our guide explained that even after the “American War” in Vietnam, children and babies born continued to be affected with limb loss and life altering medical problems. Carmen decided to purchase her trip gift there, a picture of two women walking, created by these artists using eggshells. At the Cu Chi tunnels, we were shown how the Viet Cong lived underground and fought in the war. Tucker and Ava dropped into a hole that was hidden in the forest and we all traversed over eighty meters underground. It was sad to imagine the lives lost on this land on both sides of the war. For the kids, this part of the trip and museums about the war were too much at times.
A great benefit of traveling on a tour is that you get to meet people from around the world. The kids had a great time hanging out with a young woman from Australia. We watched the World Cup in a beer hall surrounded by travelers from all over. Our guide, Tim Tam, was a joy. I loved not figuring out transportation and logistics for the week. The down side is you are on others schedules and some of the places are pretty touristy. Granted, we are pretty touristy but our travel schedule allows us to miss some of that. I am so thankful that we went to Vietnam. It is a part of the world I have always been curious about. The people are fun and friendly, the city is busy and manic, the countryside is beautiful and peaceful. Something for everyone.
https://cibtvisas.com – This is my go-to site to check on visa requirements for places we are visiting.
https://step.state.gov/step/ – I also visit the State Department and update our travel planning and double check visa/covid/vaccination requirements. Email updates are sent if there are any problems we should watch for, planned protests and current risks in country. I program the embassy number for every country we visit in my phone along with local emergency numbers.
*Vietnam Fun Tours – arranged our trip
https://www.hanoiallurehotel.com/ – Hanoi Allure Hotel – Quite possibly the nicest staff of anywhere we have stayed. They went out of their way to help us when I left my purse on a bus (that is a story for Dan to tell)!
*Take a cruise on Halong Bay!
*Visit the Cu Chi Tunnels
*Have some clothes made at Viet Thanh Silk
*War Remnants Museum – Definitely worth the time to see and get a better understanding of what led to the war, the impacts, and the view from Vietnam. A photography exhibit is part of the museum and much of it was too traumatic for the kids to view.
*After the museum, stop by the Hum, Cafe & Restaurant for a peaceful place to reflect and talk about what you saw.
School on the road.