For the past few years, my siblings and I have been lucky enough to live in some amazing places and get to visit each other. (Though my sister would rightly point out that I have been more often visited than doing the visiting! Looking forward to our 2020 gathering.) This year, the group was gracious enough to come to Asia, and we headed to Vietnam during February.
We went just after Vietnamese and Chinese New Year, known in Vietnam as Tet. This timing was beneficial because stories and sites were open, but it wasn’t the heat of summer. HCMC was hot even in February, 90s and sunny.
We did a day trip to the Mekong Delta, to the top coconut producing region. Called Ben Tre, it was absolutely stunning! This delta area is Vietnam’s fruit basket.
While in HCMC, we visited the War Remnants Museum, which details the French and American wars in Vietnam, and the Reunification Palace. The museum included information about the reasons for and impacts of the wars. It was powerful and very graphic, with a specific exhibition about photo journalism during the Vietnam War, known there as the American War.
The Reunification Palace was the seat of power in independent south Vietnam and has been preserved as it was on the morning of April 30, 1975. On that morning, tanks from the People’s Army of Vietnam broke down barricades and power was transferred. It is a beautiful, spooky building with photos of the rooms in use and explanations of their functions. I am grateful for the chance to learn more about this time in Vietnam (and US) history. Especially as an American tourist in Vietnam, these places are important to see.
From HCMC, we moved north to Hoi An, in the central coast. Hoi An is close to Da Nang and is known for its charming, ancient down town. It is a beautiful town, a bit touristy, but lovely for a few days.
Finally, a part of the group went to Hanoi, the capital. Brendan and I missed MJ and MG, but knew they were having a fab time in Singapore.
Hanoi feels very different from HCMC. In HCMC, the sidewalk was narrow or nonexistent and locals did not seem to walk anywhere. People just motorbike around. In Hanoi, there are also motorbikes, but seem to be more people walking the sidewalks are much wider. This was a bit of a relief. Hanoi also has many lakes strewn throughout the city and though it was more chilly than the south, it was still lovely walking temperature.
The food also differs. In Saigon, street food vendors offered banh mi everywhere. It was so good! Fresh bread, a few chilies, some pate or barbecue and vegetables. In Hanoi, vendors had bun cha, which is BBQ pork and rice/vermicelli noodles. It is a heartier dish, maybe better suited for a colder climate. Pho also comes from the north.
From Hanoi, we took another day trip to Cat Ba Island, La Ha Bay and Ha Long Bay. These are the waters with karsts sticking straight into the sky. It was such beautiful scenery! Among the outcroppings are many tourist boats floating around and some floating fishing villages. According to our guide, himself a former fisherman, families culivate catfish and clams for sale. Many of the enclosures were empty because Tet is a big time for fish consumption.
From Hanoi, we split for our respective homes. Grateful for the opportunity to travel with my family and the chance to see a bit more of another place.