The power of forgiveness

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Asia » Vietnam » Red River Delta » Hanoi
March 15th 1999
Published: August 10th 2007
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Vietcong entrance, Cu Chi TunnelsVietcong entrance, Cu Chi TunnelsVietcong entrance, Cu Chi Tunnels

The soldiers lived and operated in incredibly confined spaces during the course of the war.
The United States dropped more bombs in the Vietnam war than were used during the entire course of World War ll, and it's not too much to assume the Vietnamese would harbor a great deal of resentment toward foreigners. However, it's amazing to experience nothing but kindness from the local people when visiting this extraordinary country, with a predominantly youthful population of 75 million people. The reality of travel in Vietnam means unfailingly gracious hosts greet travellers from around the world with a welcoming smile. Vietnam is a highly recommended travel destination in South East Asia, and I was excited to board a flight to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to commence my visit to this fascinating and beautiful country.

I got to chatting with an English girl on the plane, dear reader, who was also travelling alone so we agreed to find a hostel together in Saigon. We jumped in a taxi and checked into a quality hostel to start off a brilliant time in Saigon, a thriving city that also serves as a base for day trips to nearby tourist destinations. After a few days exploration we caught a bus to the Mekong river for a boat cruise
Saigon hostelSaigon hostelSaigon hostel

With the lovely owners of the hostel and my travel companion. We met on the plane.
along the Mekong, which serves as a lifeblood for the people of the region. While riding the bus back to our hostel we were caught up in a flash flood, and incredibly were forced to abandon the bus and wade through chest deep water to get to safety. It was quite the travel experience, but after a time two cylco riders saved the day and rode us back to the hostel through the rapidly receding waters. We also enjoyed a visit to the Cu Chi tunnels while based in Saigon, an incredible labyrinth of tunnels built by the Vietcong to protect themselves from US bombing runs. The tunnels have since been widened for tourists, and we had a enjoyable time during this interesting historical tour.

We also paid a visit to the War Remnants museum in the city. The museum provides a powerful insight into the Vietnam war from the Vietnamese perspective, and features graphic photos of incidents involving US troops and the village population. I had a great time in Saigon with my travel friend, although I found her rapid fire Manchester accent very difficult to understand at times. Often I found myself simply nodding sagely in response
Cu Chi tunnelsCu Chi tunnelsCu Chi tunnels

Not so squeezy! They have widened the entrance to the tunnels for lazy smiling tourists.
to her comments! There were plenty of other travellers I recognised in the bus heading north, after purchasing a jump on jump off ticket for the journey. The first stop was Dalat in the Central Highlands which is a relaxed and cool mountain town at 1500 metres with spectacular natural scenery.

After a relaxing visit in the highland I pushed on to Nha Trang, a seaside resort town with a reputation as a party capital on the backpacker trail. While in Nha Trang I signed up for the legendary Mama Hanh's Green Hat boat trip. Mama Hanh is a local cult figure who takes tourists out on her boat for the day, where her team lays on a huge seafood meal and she then proceeds to pour alcohol straight down the throats of her customers. Don't be lazy is her motto, which she repeats again and again. It was a crazy day out on the water, and at one stage I even saw her swimming out from the boat to pour spirits down the throats of some guys floating on tyres out in the sea. I tried to stay away from her as much as possible, as I don't
Stone pathway, DanangStone pathway, DanangStone pathway, Danang

This pathway featured in a very picturesque walk to the top of the path.
like to drink in the sun. My motto is ... I'm not lazy Mama, I'm just scared! Nha Trang is great fun with beautiful weather and lots of bars, which all seem to focus on drinking games.

Then I was back on the bus for the highway trip north to Hoi An. While on the highway we always saw people walking on the side of the road, or farmers drying rice on the road, or a farmer walking his buffaloes ... it all adds to Vietnam's charm and helps make the country such a fascinating travel destination! Hoi An was a prominent international seaport from the 16th to the 19th century, and is heaps of fun when you get out to have an explore. I then popped into nearby Danang which is the largest city in Central Vietnam, and a major port in the country for a brief explore during the ongoing journey north. The next stop on the itinerary was Hue, which is the traditional capital of the country from the mid 1700's, and featuring a fortified citadel and forbidden city. Hue was severely damaged in the Tet offensive of 1968, and is close to the demilitarized zone
Border monumentBorder monumentBorder monument

On the border of the former North and South Vietnam.
between the former North and South Vietnam.

I was keen to purchase a ticket for a tour to the DMZ, and after embarking on the tour I witnessed the shocking devastation wrought by Agent Orange on the local vegetation. The landscape is incredibly barren and desolate, and the tour pushed further along a bumpy dirt road until we arrived at Khe Sanh combat base, which is just a dirt runway nowadays. Nevertheless many men on both sides fought and died during the war over this nondescript stretch of land. From Hue I caught the reunification express into what was formerly North Vietnam before the country was reunified, and then on to the capital Hanoi. The train ride was brilliant fun, but I'm not sure where they came up with the term express when it comes to riding on this train! I felt I could walk alongside my carriage for large sections of the journey, but it was still a great experience.

Hanoi is a beautiful Asian city, and has more of a French influence than the cities to the south. The people are a little more reserved, but the Vietnamese capital is full of marvels to savour during
Halong Bay cruiseHalong Bay cruiseHalong Bay cruise

Wearing my obligatory Uncle Ho t-shirt. He is venerated in Vietnam.
a visit. I went for a visit to the Hanoi War Museum, and also paid a visit to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum with some other travellers. Foreigners are ushered in past the huge local crowds, but at the end of our fast track the guards prodded and pushed us to ensure we kept moving while filing past Uncle Ho's body. There are heaps of great bars and restaurants in Hanoi, in what is a world class travel destination. From there I caught the bus to Halong Bay, which is a beautiful world heritage listed site. The tour group went on a boat cruise around the bay while taking in the phenomenal rock formations in this unique part of the world. Our group also enjoyed a night's accommodation overlooking the bay. Halong Bay is a gorgeous travel destination especially at sunset and sunrise, and proved to be the perfect destination to finish my visit to the country.

Vietnam is a wonderful travel destination due to the kind and friendly locals, who go out of their way to provide a warm and hospitable welcome to travellers. Of course you'd be aware the Vietnam War is an important part of recent world history, which only serves to add a further dimension to the fascination of visiting the country. But what can't be disputed is the toughness of the Vietnamese if you're foolish enough to mess with them. After all they defeated the French, the Americans, and then the Chinese who all made the unwise decision to invade their homeland. Come in peace for a visit to Vietnam where, basically all of you should be here now!

The era of optimism dies in the crisis, but in dying it gives rise to the the era of pessimism. This new era is born not an infant but a giant." Wesley Mitchell

It's home time so until next time, I'm signing off for now


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