I had no idea what to expect when I embarked on my recent trip to Vietnam. My knowledge of the Communist country consisted of what I’d seen in war movies from the Vietnam War era. What I found was a vibrant nation of friendly people, delicious food, impressive scenery, and bustling cities.
Hanoi is a charming city with winding, narrow-laned streets filled with the constant roar of motorbikes. Sometimes five family members sit astride one small scooter. With six million motorbikes, traffic in Ho Chi Minh City is even crazier. At first, I was terrified, but I soon grew accustomed to the hectic pace and waded through the throng of vehicles like a local.
Vietnam is still reeling from the effects of two decades of war that tore the country in half. The Cu Chi tunnels where the Viet Cong hid for years from enemy combatants are shocking in their narrow, twisted, cramped darkness. The rusted remains of bombed American Forces tanks lay abandoned and covered in jungle vegetation.
The tall, white-sided karsts, topped with lush vegetation that dot the emerald waters of Ha Long Bay are breathtaking. Nearby, fields of lush green rice paddies, drenched in pools of muddy water stretch as far as the eye can see. Locals still harvest rice with hand-held scythes and dry the rice on bamboo mats under the hot sun. The old world charm of Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage site with its ancient buildings is a great place to get a tailor-made suit or a massage…all costing less than a good dinner in the US. The muddy waterways of the Mekong Delta and the old Imperial city of Hue are sights well worth seeing.
Street food like pho, bahn mi sandwiches, and fresh spring rolls are delicious. Rice noodles are served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Unusual foods like deep fried tarantula, ants, crickets, snakes, and frogs are common. And of course, I drank a few glasses of rice wine with tarantulas in the bottle. Not sure about that choice.
With all I saw on my trip, I barely scratched the surface of this unique country. I definitely have to go back one day.