My Return To Vietnam

Hello everyone. I returned from an 11 day/10 night trip to Vietnam last Thursday evening (Feb 14). I spent 8 of the nights in a hotel and 2 on a plane). It’s now Monday and I’ve recuperated, gotten back into my routine and ready to write about the trip. It was an amazing experience for me so I wanted to tell my story.

This all started several months ago when my daughter Jennifer told me she was going to travel around the world for 12 months with an organization called Remote Work. She would spend one month in each of 12 different countries around the world. I did not understand why or how she could just up and leave all her family and friends for one whole year. Now that I have met most of the 33 people she is traveling with and understand what they are doing I think it was one of the best things she has done in her life. All the people are great and it has been an incredible experience for her.

When Jennifer first told me about this she said she wanted me to come to visit her in one of the countries in South America. I’m not that excited about traveling to foreign countries any more so I convinced her it would be more worthwhile to invite her mother to two of the countries instead of each of us to one. She said she would do that but later she invited me to visit her in Vietnam. She wanted to pay my expenses as a gift. As soon as she said that I got nervous and started thinking of excuses why I could not go without hurting her feelings. I was in the Vietnam War 50 years ago and could not imagine ever going back there again. All I could think of was “Why would anyone want to go there? They don’t even have toilets! And it smells bad there” That was the last place in the world I wanted to visit. I had lost many friends there that were as close as brothers, plus saw many horrible things.

When I started thinking about it I remembered that when I wrote a book about some of my life experiences I included several stories about my year in the Vietnam War. Telling those stories made me feel better. Also, I recently attended a celebration here in Ft, Myers where they honored the 50 year anniversary for the veterans of the Vietnam War and that made me feel better. I felt very bad for 50 years about the way we left Vietnam and the way our soldiers were treated when we returned. I thought a trip back to Vietnam may make me feel even better so I agreed to do it. Jennifer also asked me to give a presentation to her group on my experience of the Vietnam War.

When I received my travel itinerary I saw I would fly from Ft. Myers to Detroit then to Seoul, Korea and then to Hanoi, North Vietnam, right into the heart of enemy territory! That made me very nervous. Later when I arrived there every time I saw someone in uniform I was totally on guard. I was amazed at the modern and efficient airports in Seoul and Hanoi. It was easier traveling there than in the US. I received my visa in Vietnam and made it through customs almost nonstop. In comparison, my last trip to Canada took me hours to clear customs! I picked up my checked bag and a car was waiting for me outside that took me to my hotel. My hotel was great and only a block from Jennifer’s office and living quarters.

Following are some notes to recap my experience there, plus some of my observations:

On my way to the hotel, I thought all the drivers were rude because they kept honking their horns. I later learned that they weren’t being rude like the drivers in the US but were being polite by letting the other drivers know they were passing. I later learned how important this was in the heavy traffic there. I found all the people I interacted with there were friendly, polite and respectful.

I stayed in two different hotels the 8 nights I was there. They both were great hotels with large rooms and luxury amenities. They also included a large buffet breakfast and the cost was only $45 per night.

Jennifer and I, plus some of her group members, were very busy and went on tours every day. We flew to Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) and spent 3 days there taking tours also. I could not believe how much that city had changed. It now looks similar to Las Vegas. Following are highlights of the things we did in Vietnam:

We visited the Mekong Delta, took 3 boat rides/tours, visited a couple war museums, visited a military camp to see caves the Viet Cong used and heard stories about how their soldiers fought the war, I fired an M-60 machine gun on a firing range (I had my choice of most of the weapons used in the Vietnam War), we visited a candy factory, we took cooking lessons and ate the food we cooked, we visited a place where handicapped people made pieces of art and souvenirs, we visited several beautiful parks and took naps in hammocks in one park. We took an exciting tour on motorbikes through the streets and narrow alleys of Hanoi. We also ate out in all kinds of interesting restaurants ranging from fancy and beautiful rooftop restaurants to sitting on the sidewalk in tiny little plastic chairs with tiny plastic tables like those small children would use as toys in the US.

FOOD: They had several different kinds of coffee there and I loved them all. After returning home the first cup of coffee I had here tasted like crap. I’m gradually getting used to my coffee again.

The food there was great. We ate constantly and I actually lost weight while there. I now know why there are no overweight people in Vietnam, at least I saw none. I also did not see any sick people, doctor’s offices, drug stores, hospitals or grocery stores (although I was told there were some) Their food supply is very healthy and fresh. For the most part, it’s actually gathered, prepared and eaten daily. I saw none of the processed food we have in abundance here in the US that is making us overweight and very unhealthy.

I had a very different impression of the food when I first arrived there because most of it is processed, cooked and eaten on the sidewalks. Sort of like when we are camping out in the woods in the US. It seemed dirty and unsanitary. I heard the same comments from other people from the US. After a few days, I realized that was not true.

Motorbikes, scooters, cars, and traffic: The traffic in the cities there is unbelievable. Their primary source of transportation is motorbikes and scooters, with a few small cars, bicycles, buses and trucks sprinkled in. We saw as many as a family of 6 on one small motor scooter or motorbike and few wear helmets. They have streets and sidewalks that are similar to ours except parked cars and motorbikes fill up the sidewalks, plus people eat and sell their products on the sidewalks. When you walk around town you mostly have to walk in the streets with the traffic because the sidewalks are full.

It’s very difficult to describe how traffic moves there. It’s similar to how your blood cells move through your body. The motorbikes and scooters simply flow through the streets weaving in and out of traffic and around the pedestrians. When you have to cross a street or make a turn you simply make your intentions known and make your move. They all anticipate your moves and flow around you. You don’t want to hesitate or make any sudden unanticipated moves. It’s incredible there are no accidents. I saw none the 11 days I was there. If people tried that in the US there would be accidents everywhere and we would have total gridlock.

Needless to say, the tour we took through Hanoi on the back of motorbikes was very exciting. We traveled the streets and also the small very narrow alleys with only a couple inches of free space on each side of the handlebars. It was e3xciting when we met someone else coming in our direction.

My Feeling about my return to Vietnam: As I have stated before I was very upset about how we left Vietnam. I heard many stories about how our South Vietnamese allies were tortured and killed for helping us after we left. I expected the killing to continue, even now, but what I saw was quite different. All the people there seem quite happy and they don’t care what type of government they have as long as they can continue to live their lives as they have for years. I got that impression from talking to several of the village chiefs 51 years ago. They didn’t know what the war was about. All they were concerned about was living in their villages. Their communist government is not oppressive to them and commerce is flourishing. It was amazing to see how the two major cities have grown and how the modern buildings blend in with the old traditional homes. There is also lots of new major construction going on. In one of the modern rooftop restaurants, I could see 4 large construction cranes where new major buildings were being constructed.

My trip turned out to be amazing! I met some great people, had fun with my daughter, ate lots of great food, drank lots of great coffee and had a great time. Finally, after 51 years I’m no longer worried about the people of Vietnam. They’re very capable of taking care of themselves and doing very well. Hopefully, I’ll get to return someday.

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