Vietnam: It's Complicated

1.20.2011
by steve wilson
We are excited to have a guest blog post from one of our travelers, Steve Wilson. Steve is taking an amazing trip and is chronicling his adventures on his blog, A Hungry Man Travels. Follow his travels by reading his blog and checking out his photos. Thanks, Steve, for sharing your Vietnam experience with us!
Vietnam

The reason why I chose to tour Vietnam wasn’t complicated, despite this post headline. I was fascinated by the country, its people and in particular the food. To me Vietnam just wasn’t going to be your typical tourist destination, and I was looking for that in my travels. Its war-torn history shapes its culture almost as much as the landscape, people, and the cuisine do. It’s impossible to come to this country without thinking about the Vietnam War. There are memorials everywhere. There are also absolutely lush, stunning green fields and tall palm trees – images that have been shown time and again in films about the country and the war. There are gorgeous red soils and tall mountains that straddle the rice fields where people in non las (conical hats) are hard at work. It’s so amazing to look at, yet so hard to take in. It’s akin to looking at a beautiful painting. You see it, you try to ‘get’ it, you even have a guide there to help you understand it, but even she can’t properly explain it. No matter what you do you still feel like something is off or missing - a vital piece of information that would bring more sense to the overall picture. See what I mean by complicated? Then again maybe it’s supposed to be complicated. Believe me after talking to other visiting tourists I was relieved to know I’m not the only who feels this way about Vietnam.

I've been here for close to two weeks now. I have made my way through crazy Ho Chi Minh City, then up to relaxing, tranquil Qui Nhon. I’m currently in the town of Hoi An, a beautiful south-central town of about 120,000 people. The architecture is not like anything you’d find in the country – French and German influences, quite colonial looking. It’s mostly been untouched by the ravages of the Vietnam War and to be perfectly honest Hoi An has provided, at least for me, a bit of a breather where you’re not reminded of the war.

Hoi An

I had the opportunity to go on a cycling tour called the farmer to fisherman tour, basically a chance at getting my hands dirty in the name of tourism. My guide Hieu met me at the hotel with bikes at around 9am and we began a leisurely (at first) stroll along the streets of Hoi An. The cycling got progressively harder as we biked along the banks of the rice fields and I had to be careful. One awkward twist of the bike wheel and next thing you know you’re plunging head-first into the muddy waters plus of course having the added indignation of being laughed at by the rice farmers! After twenty minutes of that we made our way to a farmer’s fields.

Vietnam farmer's fields

The gardens were amazing. They had fresh herbs, green onions, and lettuce among other vegetables growing - it smelled fantastic. I loved this part: playing in the dirt; planting seeds; spreading seaweed on top of crops – all things I used to do when I was a little kid in our own gardens (ok maybe not the seaweed part, that’s new but I did plant seeds)! Even the farmer I was working with was impressed with my work (so ‘Ha’ to all ya’ll who think I’m just a city boy!!) After about half an hour I reluctantly left to go on the next part of the eco adventure- fishing with the local fisherman. Now I’m going to be clear; fishing just isn’t my thing. It’s boring (to me) and I’ve never got into it. So as to be expected, the fishing just wasn’t as successful as the farming. In fact, can I just say Man, that’s hard work! In one situation you have to literally use your hands and legs on this giant wooden contraption to haul up the fishing nets that are in the river. You’re rolling it along and it starts off easy enough but it gets tougher and harder to turn very, very fast. You’re practically struggling (and sweating) to finish PLUS you want to show the locals you’re not some lightweight tourist either – pain be damned! But, this isn’t your average machine. You have to put all your muscle into it and when the locals do it they make it look so easy. Showoffs! No wonder they are so thin here!! Well anyway the fish that was in the net was supposed to be my lunch. We caught exactly one the size of a goldfish in a net that measured 20 by 20 feet. We had other dishes for lunch since my fishing proved to be less than stellar. Thank God we didn’t rely on that for lunch or we’d starve! It was overall a pretty educational glimpse into the everyday lives of the working men and women of the area and I loved every minute of it.

Afterwards I was asked by my guide what I thought of Vietnam so far. I explained to him that I was having difficulty defining my feelings towards the country, I love it but yet something’s missing etc. etc and then he said it himself; it’s complicated here. He also added that that these feelings are only natural but there is no point in struggling or even dwelling over it. The only thing you can do is to try to follow what the people here have learned to do: live, love and let it go when it’s over. Wise words as I continue on my journey in this amazing, crazy, incredible country.

Fishing with the locals

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Comments

Stefanie - you'll be the first to know when I figure out what's missing!!!

Monica - I'm happy to hear you think you may return to Vietnam for a visit. I'm definitely not a travel expert but I think you'll enjoy your visit should you decide to go. My guess is you haven't been back since you were 12? If that's true you'll be surprised/shocked at the changes, particularly in places like Hoi An where serious developments are taking place!! If you do go may I recommend a place to stay for you and your family? In no way, shape or form do I represent the place, but I stayed for a coupe of days at The Nam Hai Hotel in Hoi An - it was pricey but worth every penny.So if you happen to go to Hoi An, think about it, it's truly an amazing experience! Just my two cents.

I do hope you decide to return, wherever you decide to stay!
Steve

says... Stefanie

1.24.2011

You said you love Vietnam but there's something missing? I want to know the missing part?
Stefanie Bill

says... Vietnam

1.24.2011

Hello there, I enjoyed reading your blog. I am vietnamese, came over when I was 12... 3 days before the country fell into the hands of the VietCong. I was too young to really remember all the details. Planning a trip to Vietnam is my son's (15) idea. (He's ameriasian)
Monica

says... vietnam

1.20.2011

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