I recently had the pleasure to take a trip to Vietnam, travelling from North to South, starting in Hanoi, the capital, and ending in Saigon (technically Ho Chi Minh City, but nobody calls it that).
When you say “I went to Vietnam”, chances are you get a variety of reactions from your audience. The war, and all the feelings associated with it, are still a factor for many Americans.
I found that the Vietnamese people we met do not think about the past; instead we met happy, friendly people eager to show you their home and shops. Children were coming up to us to talk; they want to practice English and mothers were eagerly pushing the kids to make conversation.
The country still retains a strong French influence, from the buildings to the food. My favorite was the coffee. Vietnamese coffee is excellent and the specialty to try is “Egg Coffee”. There was a time when Vietnam had a milk shortage, and to substitute it they used eggs. This frothy concoction looks like a cappuccino and has a thicker consistency, but the taste is great and you would never know that it was made with eggs.
I enjoyed Hanoi and Saigon, but one of the highlights of the trip for me was spending the night cruising Ha Long Bay. You can spend 1 or 2 nights on the bay and the ships have all the comforts. It is fun to meet travelers from all over the world; the staff on board had activities planned for us and we bonded over Tai Chi at sunrise and a cooking competition before dinner. I left the curtains open at night so I could lay in bed and watch the rock formations pass by during the night; it was so peaceful…
After Ha Long Bay, we flew to Hue, the old capital of Vietnam and toured the imperial Citadel, a vast complex that has been
partially destroyed by the Vietnamese American War but is slowly being restored. Our day continued with a trip along the Perfume River to visit a local bamboo artist. We visited his home and shop, which are often one and the same for Vietnamese merchants. We admired his bamboo creations, and then he took us to his workshop where he invited us to create some folk art. I have not done any crafts in years, but our group laughed and had a lot of fun (I am actually pretty proud of my little bamboo cup).
The second highlight of my trip was the city of Hoi An. This little picturesque town sits right on the river and was a major port in the 17th, 18th and 19th century. We started our day with a walk through the market; our guide pointed out fruits and vegetables that I had never seen and was not familiar with. It was colorful, busy and it reminded me a little of the markets in my home country of Italy. And then we walked into a made to measure tailor shop… We could have any type of clothing we wanted made, and it would be ready by evening. It was great and tough at the same time; I just didn’t know what I wanted! There was no time to think, so I had to make a quick decision. I ended up with a dress that I know I’ll wear. We all loved the results. I can’t wait to do it again, but I will have to do fashion research first…
My first glimpse of Asia was amazing and I learned so many new things. The weather is a factor when going to Vietnam. It can be very hot and humid which can make touring very challenging. Vietnam is definitely a place I would recommend visiting especially to meet the people, who are warm, friendly and welcoming.