I took a family vacation in Vietnam recently.
When we think about Vietnam, only one thing usually comes up in our mind – the Vietnam War which lasted for more than two decades, and the fact that Vietnam remains the only country in the world to have formally defeated the U.S., the mightiest country in the world.
IndoChina is a rather complex region with long history and a convoluted geography, with Vietnam being at its centre. Chinese, French, American, Russian and other influences have dominated IndoChina for a long time, but apparently the country has retained its culture and old-world charm, despite suffering one of the worst war calamities ever to strike a human population.
When we entered the country, none of the above was on our minds. We were more curious about the people and the land itself, and sometimes were amazed at the scenic beauty of its countryside. Halong Bay was a beautiful place to visit in Northern Vietnam, around 3.5 hours by car from Hanoi, the capital city. Hanoi itself is a charming city, with large French influence, a densely populated ‘old quarters” of the town which is also the downtown of Hanoi. Shopping is a nice experience, and the spas are good. Food is fabulous with wide-ranging choices, but we preferred the Vietnamese cuisine (“pho” has become common vocabulary in our household now – it is the Vietnamese vermicelli noodles).
While each location we visited would require a separate web post (rightfully so), I thought it would be better to give a summary post here on Vietnam itself. We visited several places – Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, My Son (pronounced “mee sun”), Hoi An, Danang, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Mekong Delta, Cu Chi, Cao Dai, etc., All are impressive places worth a visit, but one learning is that these places always need more time to spend ! There are many things to be seen, appreciated, learnt about…..this is a country with deep history and a vast geography. And, also a country with a deep sense of pride on their identity and culture, and their past abilities to defend their motherland.
The most distinguishing factor is of course, the people – it has got to be – these people have a kind of grit and determination that we can only dream about. An example – they lived underground in tunnels that they painstakingly built to avoid getting hit by the U.S. bombing which was relentless during the war, especially after 1965. The war ended in 1975, and to most Americans, the picture of U.S. helicopters pulling out U.S. citizens atop the U.S. Embassy in Saigon is firmly etched in their minds. It was an ignominious defeat at the hands of Communism for the most powerful country in the world – that defeat happened because the Vietnamese were of the “gritty” and tough variety who knew intimately how to fight a guerrilla war and defeat a very powerful army.
So we were rather surprised to see very nice, simple and courteous people in Vietnam, though they probably were surprised to see Indians like us in the heartland of Vietnam; the tourists in these parts of Vietnam are mostly from Western countries – from Europe, ANZ, the U.K. and the U.S. Surprisingly, we did not see many Singaporeans or Malaysians (may be all of them have already seen Vietnam over the past 20 years !).
Of course, the Vietnamese do not easily understand our English, and tend to nod their acceptance sometimes without understanding. So, we found it is very critical to ensure that the other side fully understands what we want – sometimes, I resorted to writing down what I wanted or intended………better that way. English-speaking guides are not always great either……their English is not what you would expect from an English-educated person, but somehow we got through.
All in all, Vietnam is a highly recommended tourist destination in South East Asia – good people, great food, scenic beauty, and outstanding history with huge lessons for all of mankind.
We plan to visit again !
06 July 2014