The irony that I am choosing to visit a country that many in my father’s generation tried their hardest not to be drafted and sent to does not escape my attention. Were my father still alive, I’m not sure what he’d make of this visit. Vietnam has always been a sore spot in the history of the United States–a conflict many did not want to fight and were not afraid to loudly vocalize. I come to this country simply as a traveler, an American without the history of my father’s generation.
CU CHI TUNNELS
Used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches.
Literally “descending dragon bay,” the bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes.
The capital of Vietnam, and its second largest city, is a blend of East and West, combining traditional Sino-Vietnamese motifs with French flair.
HO CHI MINH CITY
Many today still refer to the city as Saigon, though mail addressed to Saigon will not be delivered.
HOI AN (HAI VAN PASS)
Once formed the boundary between the kingdoms of Dai Viet and Champa, now forms a boundary between the climates of northern and southern Vietnam.
HOI AN (OLD TOWN)
Hoi An’s Old Town is a well-preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century.
HOI AN (RURAL)
Rice fields, tranquil seas, questionable fishermen, and a wobbly bicycle that ends with me falling into a rice paddy.
The national capital until 1945, when Emperor Bao Dai abdicated and a communist government was established in Hanoi.
MY SON RUINS
Constructed between the 4th and the 14th century AD by the kings of Champa, the temples were dedicated to the worship of the god Shiva.
As Graham Greene wrote in The Quiet American, “They say you come to Vietnam and you understand a lot in a few minutes, but the rest has got to be lived. The smell: that’s the first thing that hits you, promising everything in exchange for your soul. And the heat. Your shirt is straightaway a rag. You can hardly remember your name, or what you came to escape from.”
While I wasn’t the biggest fan of Hanoi (too hectic), the serenity of Halong Bay is only a four-hour bus ride away. I would have liked to have spent more time in Hue and could easily have become a regular at a corner cafe in Hoi An. Even Ho Chi Minh City, though also hectic, offers some charm and grandeur lacking in Hanoi. That said, there is nothing like the experience of crossing a major intersection in Hanoi, having to keep moving and trust that the oncoming traffic will yield even though every fiber of your being is telling you to stop.
Back to Asia.
I can’t say what made me fall in love with Vietnam—that a woman’s voice can drug you; that everything is so intense.
— Graham Greene