All we hear about growing up in the United States is the Vietnam War, where our fathers fought. My father did, and I sat in front of the black and white screen of our t.v. watching Walter Cronkite every night waiting for him to mention my dad. He never did, thankfully.
And so, when I started hearing what a wonderful place to visit Vietnam was, I had to go. Call it morbid fascination, but I couldn’t wait. Of course entering any communist country is a little unnerving; at least before you get there. It’s the preconceptions and the unknown that gets you. Once you get your visa stamped and are through customs, you look around and you begin to realize what a friendly people and what a beautiful country it is Vietnam is to visit with so much to do and see frenetic cities, stunning countryside and rice padding, and beautiful beaches.
We started our Vietnam travel in Hanoi and worked our way south. We hit a number of the big places to visit on the way, Hue, Hoi an, Nha Trang, and of course Ho Chi Minh City (still popularly known as Saigon). We traveled by public transportation and since everything was usually in a rather concentrated area, we walked. We took the train from Hanoi to Danang, and then it was a short taxi to Hue. The train had spectacular views. I’ve heard of many people taking the overnight trains as well, but we didn’t quite go that far.
It’s Not Just About the War
Hanoi – A very provincial city, looking like some old European capital with a certain flair, Hanoi was the perfect place to begin our Vietnam holiday. We did the usual stuff: water puppets, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, temples and markets. All good.
Hue–A wet city, it rained the whole time we were there. The hotel had loads of mold in some of the rooms and at first we feared we would have to find another hotel, but finally the concierge found us a suitable room and we were mollified. Hue is a host to many important sights in Vietnam, a series of which combines to make the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Complex of Hue Monuments. We visited the many areas and found that although the architecture was extraordinary and could have been quite majestic in their day, that at this time they were rather dilapidated. I’m hoping that being named a World Heritage Site and the continuing tourism that accompanies that prestige, that the powers that be will not only maintain the site, but do some much-needed repairs.
My Son is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, located up the famous Perfume River. The only way to get there is to take a day tour, but these are plentiful. The day we went, was one of the drier of the few we were in the Hue area, so it was quite satisfying walking around the temple complex. Everything was very overgrown, and very green.
Hoi an- Yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was much cheerier than anything in Hue. Of course the major draw to this quaint town is the abundance of cheap tailoring. Everywhere you walked, there were tailor shops promising to make you a suit, coat, or any other type of clothing that you desired. And yes, it would be done when you pull out of town. We’ll have it to your hotel before you leave…and they did. What fun to have clothes made for you. Hoi an is a town where a lot of backpackers head and then hang out for awhile and there were plenty of good little hang-outs, all kinds of restaurants and bars.
Additional Reading: The Best Hoi An Hotels
Nha Trang- A resort town, Nha Trang is not someplace I would often head to, but the draw here was the little island that you can take a round boat made out of bamboo fronds to a fishing island. We never did find out what the island was called, but it was quaint and riding in the boats were a lot of fun.
We also visited Long Son Pagoda with its gargantuan white Buddha. It was also a home for orphans who would try to peddle their artwork to you. The best part of this was running into a young man who was coddling his prize cock. Boy, was he proud of that bird.
Our final stop was Ho Chi Minh City, which after the countryside and the charm of Hanoi just seemed like a money-grubbing metropolis. I’m sure there is plenty to see here other than the Continental Hotel made famous by the journalists during the war. We dove into the coffee shop out of a torrential rain. One thing we learned, going to Vietnam in December, is that I feel for those poor souls who had to trudge through the Mekong during those downpours.
To sum up our experience this mysterious country fraught with a sordid history that involves my own country, I loved it. Even though the sites were run-down and crossing the street was slightly hazardous, the food was delicious and the people were wonderful I would go back in a heartbeat!
If you are interested, here is some further reading on Vietnam and other parts of Asia!
Have you been to Vietnam? Any tips?
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