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Dong, Cong and Ha Long

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As you may remember, our trip earlier this year to explore Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, ended with the final country of Vietnam. As we were preparing for the trip, this part of the visit got mixed reviews on whether there would be interest in a tour. Some veterans would like a return trip to “see”; others didn’t want to return. Other travelers are always interested in seeing another country. There was a variety of opinions shared with me.

To be honest, Vietnam was background noise for my childhood years. I had some older, distant cousins involved, but I didn’t know much about them. I didn’t understand what was going on with the USA and some place called Vietnam, but I was too young to ask. A news story would come on our black and white television and it would provoke a worrisome hum from my mom. We were safe in Oklahoma.

As I got a bit older, I came to stereotype men with long hair, tattoos and patches on denim vest as “Vietnam Vets”.  I really am embarrassed to say my education about the war came from the show “MASH” with booze, cigarettes and more pranks than power. There were POW and MIA bracelets, but I’m sure I didn’t appreciate what they represented.

Yes, I wanted to learn. I quickly came to understand that Vietnam has been a war torn country for centuries. I learned that America’s involvement, right or wrong, not long enough or too long, was blip on their long fight with other countries and within their own borders for power and control. Our guide was from North Vietnam, and provided insight of his people, and what life was like. I learned. A lot.

One thing that struck me as very interesting is although Vietnam is a communist country, we never felt unwelcome as Americans. All students take a foreign language with English being the most popular. And American dollars are just as easy to spend as the Vietnamese Dong. We had fistfuls of their pastel colored currency as $1 equals almost 23 thousand Dong. Which was kind of fun, because for less than $50, we were millionaires. Most ATM’s offered a choice of Dong or Dollars.

Begun in their war with the French, we had the opportunity to tour the Cu Chi Tunnels where the Vietcong had, hand dug, over 75 miles of an underground world. We stood listening to the guide and when he asked if we could find the entrance to the tunnel. We scanned the area and made guesses, only to be shown we were on top of it! The maze held hospitals, kitchens, and command rooms. There were areas dedicated to making shoes and uniforms. Other areas were for disassembling bombs that didn’t detonate and reassembling them to reuse. The Vietcong didn’t have the muscle of “superior weapons/firepower that the Allies had, but they used their brains, and resources. They were very clever. And they persevered.

The Vietnamese are very family minded, we enjoyed many evening as families came into the cities to socialize, play games, and be together. It’s the oldest child’s honor to care for aging parents.

Vietnam has some great structures. We took a boat ride on the Perfume River disembark to see the Thien Mu Pagoda. It was a new moon holiday and the river was filled with locals in tradition dress bringing gifts to Buddha. Men in power left their legacy to be remembered such as the Tombs of  King Khai Dinh (1916 – 1925).

A highlight was seeing the natural beauty on our excursion to Halong Bay (sometimes listed as “Ha Long”), a World Heritage Site and known as the “Bay of the Descending Dragon”.  We didn’t know which way to point our cameras as we cruised the magnificent Halong Bay with 3,000 islands and islets and surrounded by a fairytale landscape of limestone cliffs, and hidden caves.

We travel to learn and be changed. I was.