An Author’s Top Travel Destination: Vietnam
by Anne Greene
I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve visited 25 foreign countries, so I find choosing my favorite difficult. But Vietnam is certainly right at the top. If you’re looking for an exotic country to visit that is different from home and quite inexpensive, Vietnam is the place to go.
The people are beautiful, friendly and many speak English. The food is outstanding and costs next to nothing. Vietnam vacillates between modern and ancient. Water Buffalo still plow some rice fields. Farmers winnow rice at the side of the road as cars travel past. But there is very little auto traffic.
Most transportation occurs on motorbikes. A dad drives, his wife straddles the panel in front of him, often carrying their infant child. Number one son rides directly behind Dad, and several girls cling to the scooter behind their brother. Traffic is a symphony, with few lights and stop signs. Scooters weave in and out in an intricate dance. People on foot crossing the street sync into the dance without missing a step. But if one person stops, havoc occurs. Drivers depend on others to keep moving, to stay in step, and not to stop. When accidents happen, entire families may be wiped out.
My husband and I hired our own personal guide and comfortable car to take us on an inexpensive tour of Vietnam, from north to south. Our driver met us in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital. Our first stop was the infamous Hanoi Hilton, now a museum. For those too young to remember the Vietnam War, that prison incarcerated a number of our servicemen for years. Sam Johnson, U.S. Representative and John McCain, U.S. Senator, were two of the more famous prisoners. The tiny cells with narrow boards for beds and shackles for the ankles made my skin crawl. We cannot forget the sacrifice of our servicemen to keep America free.
Our driver drove us to Ha Long Bay, a total contrast to the prison. The expansive, lovely bay bustles with people. Houses on stilts rise from the water, fishing boats glide through the smooth expanse. A floating market of boats crammed with local foods, fish and vegetables are tied together to enable buyers to walk from one flat-type boat to another. Some family boats sell vivid flowers. The colors and scents scintillate every sense.
In Vietnam, families work together, play together and sleep together. Many families live on the boat they use to sell their produce. They are truly boat people on lovely lakes. Sunshine filled our days.
Though Vietnam is a communist country, capitalism flourishes. There are many areas where small shops line the roads. Artwork, jewelry, woodwork, clothing and almost anything you can imagine are sold in family operated shops. Each small community of shops reminds a person of art fairs and flea markets back home.
From Ha Long Bay, we drove back to Hanoi and flew to Hue, the old Imperial City. My husband and I saw the Imperial Palace still in ruins, still exhibiting signs of the 1968 battle. Everywhere we went, modern-style restaurants with exotic settings served delicious, inexpensive Vietnamese food. Some had European food as well, but the home-style offerings were too good to pass up.
We drove to Da Nang where my dear Special Forces husband served 40 years earlier as a young First Lieutenant. The area around China Beach had changed with a wide highway and clusters of homes. My husband climbed Marble Mountain where his camp had been. He revisited old memories while I stayed below at the marble shop, walking among the statues, pottery and artwork now produced at the foot of the mountain. Fabulous items, too heavy to ship back home, called my name.
So much had changed from when my husband served in the war, and yet much remained the same. The country and the people thrived, but the generation my husband’s age had largely disappeared. Few survived the communists’ take-over. Vietnam is a beautiful country filled with bright, intelligent, optimistic young people. All of whom were born after the war and had little knowledge of the war.
We visited Hoi An where the World Heritage UNESCO site holds 300-year-old houses. We walked through the Cham village with its ruins in the style of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. We visited the Cholon Market in Saigon, where I bought an exquisite pearl necklace.
Near Saigon, we peeked into the deadly tunnels of CuChi where Viet Cong soldiers tunneled all the way from Cambodia.
An American can visit Vietnam without noticing any vestiges of the war. They can enjoy the tasty food, stay in inexpensive, exotic hotels, drive through the lush countryside, buy the well-crafted items at the markets, swim in the ocean and totally enjoy the Vietnam experience, but they would miss a huge slice of American history.
Before the war, most Vietnamese who relocated into the South were Christian, primarily Catholic with a few Protestants or Tin lành. After reunification, the government’s official policy has been freedom of religion. However, religious freedom restricts publication of Bibles. The government confiscated Bibles smuggled in, but those Bibles later found their way into the black market. The government also controls mission work. When we visited there in 2010, Buddhist pagodas and monks predominated with a few Catholic and fewer Protestant churches. About six percent of Vietnamese are Catholics and one percent are Protestant.
Vietnam is one of the five remaining communist countries in the world, yet it is easy to visit there. When our lovely visit ended, we drove to the Tan Son Nhut Airport and flew back to Seoul, Korea where my dear husband was currently stationed.
Perhaps you have visited some delightful countries. I’d like to mention three of my other favorite destinations. These three vie for first place in my heart along with Vietnam. I love the UK-England, Scotland, Ireland (which is not part of the UK), and Wales which holds our family ancestry; I adore Italy with its fabulous cuisine and countryside, and I think Turkey is matchless, with its history every place you walk.
So, if you possess the travel bug as I do, I give you my best wishes and hope you have safe and happy travels. But, if travel is not in your budget, or if for some reason you are unable to leave this country, books provide an excellent alternative to experience these adventures. So, find a good book, settle back, and let your imagination soar.
Anne Greene delights in writing about alpha heroes who aren’t afraid to fall on their knees in prayer, and about gutsy heroines. Read her Christmas novellas, A Christmas Belle and A Groom for Christmas. Her Women of Courage series spotlights heroic women of World War II, first book Angel with Steel Wings, and read her private investigating series, Handcuffed in Texas, first book Red is for Rookie. Enjoy her award-winning Scottish historical romances, Masquerade Marriage and Marriage by Arrangement. Anne hopes her stories transport the reader to awesome new worlds and touch hearts to seek a deeper spiritual relationship with the Lord Jesus.
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