Vietnam is a vibrant travel destinationWritten by Judy Pfaffenberger | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When I said that I was going to Vietnam, most people asked me why. No one that I knew very well had served there during the war, so that had nothing to do with it. However, many Americans who did serve do travel there today. Some people who had been there said it was a fascinating trip. I wanted to see Halong Bay, often called the most beautiful bay in the world. The last reason was that I had credits to use from a previous trip with Grand Circle — OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel, a division of Grand Circle Travel 1-800-873-5628). Since nobody that I knew wanted to go to Vietnam, including my husband, I wanted to take advantage of their promotion of no single supplement which can save several hundred dollars. It also happened to be one of their cheaper trips.
In the end I didn’t exactly go alone. When my cousin, who had just retired as an educator, heard about my trip, he said that if he could also travel as a single, he would go along. So off we went last October.
Unfortunately, it does take a long flight to get there. No U.S. airlines flew into Vietnam then, so we flew to Bangkok via Chicago and Tokyo for an overnight and then a two-hour flight on to Hanoi after breakfast.
As we rode into Hanoi from the airport, our first impression was of the masses of motorbikes whizzing in and out of traffic. As we arrived in the city proper, we were overwhelmed by the electric wires everywhere. We felt like we were in a heaping plate of spaghetti (wires) being buzzed by thousands of flies (motorbikes). It made us think that we would never venture to cross a city street by ourselves, but we learned. Traffic lights are somewhat scarce. Just start walking and don’t stop or hesitate.
This was not a trip of spectacular scenery (except for Halong Bay which didn’t disappoint), but the country was beautiful in places and the people were wonderful. Life has drastically improved for most Vietnamese in the past 20 years. Officially communist, they are now enjoying a free market economy.
We spent a few nights in Hanoi where we attended the water puppet theater and visited the infamous Hanoi Hilton. We also made an optional trip to a village on an island where we all got to try our hand at making rice paper spring roll wrappers. I did not do well and was “voted off the island.” We were entertained in the home of a former North Vietnamese soldier who treated us to tapioca wine. He played some native musical instruments for us and a man in our group joined with him on the harmonica to make some beautiful music. People everywhere were welcoming and friendly.
Then came the highlight of the trip — Halong Bay. We were fortunate to spend the night on the bay in a “Chinese junk.” The bay is about 30 miles long with numerous karst sandstone formations rising majestically from the water. We stopped to visit a floating fish farm and also a massive cave. Our “junk” was rustic but cozy and we certainly enjoyed excellent seafood for lunch and dinner. An opportunity to swim in the bay in the moonlight was a treat for me.
A short flight took us to Hue, the ancient capital, complete with a citadel much like The Forbidden City in Beijing. We also visited an orphanage operated by Buddhist nuns and supported by the Grand Circle Foundation.
An interesting vegetarian lunch at a pagoda was followed by free time when I indulged in a one-hour $12 massage with hot rocks and oil.
To be continued …
E-mail travel columnist Judy Pfaffenberger at email@example.com.