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Kirsty's Travel Blog

Vietnam part 1: a snapshot

VIETNAM | Thursday, 17 January 2013 | Views [1039] | Comments [1]

Eleven days ago I arrived in Hanoi, capital of Vietnam. Travelling with a Gecko’s tour group by train, bus, boat, taxi and bike, we went from cold to boiling hot, north to south: Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An, Na Trang, Saigon and Ben Tre. It has been a whirl-wind tour of late nights, early mornings, new friendships and amazing food; a snapshot of Vietnamese culture and history – and a sneak peek into the everyday lives of a beautiful and resilient people.

I’m now in Chau Doc, having a much needed day off before heading to Cambodia. I need to go through my photos and write a bit about where I’ve been and what I’ve done, but I thought I’d share a few of my reflections on Vietnam first while they are still fresh in my memory:

We didn’t spend a lot of time in Hanoi, but it was a chance to get my bearings and work out the currency (I’m a millionaire here!!). Sightseeing around Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum and the French-built ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prison gave me my first taste of Vietnamese history. Travelling through the country I have been surprised by the genuine love that the Vietnamese people still have for ‘Uncle’ Ho Chi Minh, and their strong sense of national identity, forged through a long battle for independence and freedom – first from the French and then from America.

On my last day in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) I visited the Cu Chi tunnels and the war remnants museum. I tried to not do the tourist thing too much. I wanted to listen to the stories, see the images and remember that these awful things – the massacres, bombs, chemical defoliants, and torcher – happened to real people, and were carried out by real people, only a generation ago. I have always found it hard to understand how governments and armies could justify their actions in Vietnam – I find it harder still, now that I have been here and met the people.  Having been invaded and oppressed, the Vietnamese were then used as a testing ground for new technology and methods of warfare, with devastating effects on the people and the land. Given all that has happened here, it amazes me how forgiving these people are. They have been nothing but open, friendly and helpful. They seem determine to move forward.

Vietnam is full of beautiful children – kids here are cherished. They are happy, open and secure knowing that they are loved and cared for… although it takes a bit of getting used to seeing tiny kids perched on the backs of bikes and motorcycles, but I guess they need to develop their balance pretty young to survive here.

Having travelled in third world countries before, the standard of living here is way better than I expected – I’ve seen very few beggars and most people seem to be employed doing something. There is clearly a growing middle class, the result of a developing economy and the high value placed on education. Work is valued and can be done anywhere. Everywhere you go, life is lived on the streets – spilling out of shops and houses onto the footpaths. Locals gather at restaurants set up on the roadside, sitting on tiny plastic chairs and tables, they gossip and play mahjong . Motorbikes are repaired, shoes are made, fish are gutted and hair is cut, all on the pavement.

This is also an incredibly wet country. From the rain in Hanoi, and the high-tide flooding in Hoi An, to the fishing villages and beaches of Na Trang; from the rice paddies and ponds to the Mekong delta and the water puppets in Saigon, water is the life-blood of Vietnam. I don’t particularly like getting wet so it I can’t imagine living in this environment. But the people seem to have adapted every aspect of their lives to living in harmony with the land and water.

Religion seems to play an integral part in everyday life here. Everywhere you go there are tiny shrines and joss sticks (incense) being burned on balconies, boats, even stuck into the cracks of the pavements at street corners. Most Vietnamese practice a form of Buddhism with a focus on worshiping Lady Buddha. This was adopted from China, along with aspects of Taoism and Confucianism, and seems to fit with a tradition of worshipping a mother figure. Perhaps this is why Roman Catholicism has also been accepted here. Everywhere you go there are pagodas and temples. These are filled with memorials for worshipping ancestors, parents and historic figures. I haven’t figured out yet if by ‘worship’ they just mean to remember and respect their memories, or if they consider these people to be deities who will help them in their everyday lives.

To be continued…

Tags: hanoi, history, ho chi minh, people, vietnam, worship




Hi Kirsty, love your photos and stories from Vietnam. Cannot wait to get there myself. I am almost packed, having trouble keeping everything under 20kg. Nz is rainy and stormy at the moment, you are not missing much of a summer. I love the photos of the little kids. Looks like you are traveling with some nice people. Stefanie

  Stefanie Jan 17, 2013 8:20 PM

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