Arriving in Vietnam was an interesting experience. Unlike most countries it was an easy entry process. Effortless, really.That was a welcome surprise in a land seeped in tradition.
As we drove to our hotel it was eerie to see the War Museum and all the weaponry from the Vietnam War lining the streets acting as museums to those who drove out our young men. Driving past empty barracks that United States soldiers lived in was likewise very strange. My kids, of course, don’t remember the war, but I do. It was a really big thing when I was growing up and every night I watched the news on t.v. to see how many soldiers had been killed that day. My mother woke me up to watch the news when our Prisoners of War returned home from the Vietnam and I saw many of the protests when I was growing up. I grew up with Vietnam in my conscious memory…in fact, my brother-in-law was a soldier here when he was 18-22. The war changed him and his experiences in Vietnam made it difficult for him when he returned home. I always wondered who he might have been had he not gone.
About a 15 minute ride from Danang is the town of Hoi An. On the way to this ancient city we saw women working in the rice paddies with water buffalo also standing in the fields. I will tell you that working in the paddies has got to be some of the hardest work anyone can do anywhere! I am fortunate that I do not have to labor in the hot fields while standing in water and mud all day long.
Hoi An is a town built around centuries old canals. It is a beautiful ancient place with various periods/types of architecture from French Colonial buildings to Chinese shops and the famous Japanese covered bridge (Chua Cau) with its pagoda guarding the walkway. While its now a tourist stop the town and its people are still definitely wrapped in a soft silk-like tradition, plenty of old time charm, lots to see and do.
When we were Hoi An, the New Year Celebrations were just around the corner and as a result the entire town smelled of a mix of pungent incenses that were sometimes so thick that it threatened to choke you. In preparation for the holidays locals were paddling their boats down the river and opening brightly colored paper lanterns and placing them on the water. The brilliant yellows, reds, blues and greens of the lanterns floating along as we strolled made the river look as if it was a moving body of vibrant flowers.
We also saw boys out in the park playing soccer and elderly ladies carrying baskets laden with fruit for sale…the things these women must have seen and endured during the war and after the fall of the country!
For lunch we had a drink made from grapefruit, passion fruit, and mint. It was a lovely sweet and tart explosion in my mouth that I craved for the rest of the trip. I even had a salad made of banana blossoms which tasted somewhat sweet with a slight citrus flavor. Those noodle looking things in the picture…banana blossoms.
The people from Hoi An among the kindest I have ever met. Everyone asked us how we are and where we were from. The serenity of this place is intoxicating. The people are quiet and gentle…we could learn some important things from them.
As for me, I felt like I saw some of what my BIL must have seen and I feel a sense of awe and a sense of sadness too. It is hard to explain how this trip to Vietnam effected me but it was unlike anything I have felt before. I come away from this place feeling like I know my BIL better since taking this trip than I did when he was alive. And this is a blessing and a sense of closure descends over me like the clouds rolling through the rice paddies and finally my brain quiets after years of wonder.
Oh, and if you decide to travel to Vietnam yourself I can hook you up with an incredible tour guide. Just leave me a message and I will contact you with the information you will need.