Cathy and I needed to re-imagine Vietnam from the images burnt into our brains from the Vietnam War era . The impetus was when Cathy’s mentored a Vietnamese student at Ryerson University in Toronto, who then returned home to be a ‘wealth manager’ at a Vietnam bank. How did this square with a communist state? So this trip moved up our bucket list, and we visited in November of 2017.
The Hanoi Hilton and other reminders of the Vietnam War
Our first stop was the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ . This is the nickname for the infamous Hoa Lo Prison that housed captured American pilots including John McCain. Later we saw displays of captured American equipment. What is particularly difficult are the pictures of victims of Agent Orange, both Vietnamese and American soldiers on the ground. History is written by the victors. The story-line goes as follows: brutal French colonialism and the American attempts to bail out the French, forced Ho Chi Minh and Vietnam to align with Russia and China. Though more Confucian than communist, this perceived communist threat was the instigation for the Vietnam War.
Walk about Hanoi
The students were enjoying their graduation and this added to the color of our day. The street scene is eclectic and this is where we first learned how to cross a Vietnamese street swarming with motorbikes. The trick is to put your hand out and start walking. Never stop. If you stop the drivers will get confused and hit you. If you keep walking they will part ways. It works. And it was good practice for when we got to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) which is truly swarming with motorbikes. I will put a pretty cool video into my next blog. And a quick point about travelling in north Vietnam in November. You can see that it is cool and rainy.
Famous Ha Long Bay
I like anything water, and so I say cruising Ha Long Bay is a must. What we did not expect was to stumble upon a commando drill. Their objective was to take out ‘terrorists’ who had taken over a boat by the dock. Several frogmen swam in from zodiaks and dozens of commandos arrived by military trucks. The highlight was the hand to hand combat and final kung-fu take-down. So much for a sleepy beach town.
Heading south into a Monsoon
Things got windy and wet as we headed south to the imperial city of Hue and beyond. Our travel mates were all stalwarts as we trudged through inches of water on the streets, and saw wonderful things.
Backgrounder – Vietnam Cambodia Tour
Cathy and I traveled for 18 days. For 14 days we traveled south through Vietnam. The last 4 days we visited Cambodia. We took domestic flights from Hanoi to Hue, Hoi An to Nha Trang, and Seim Reap to Phnom Penh. The balance of our travel was by bus.
Our tour organizer was Sinorama based in Toronto. Sinorama closed down as of August 2018, which is unfortunate because this is a tour company that I would recommend.
To get to Vietnam, we took a direct 16 hour flight from Toronto to Taipei, and then a 3 1/2 hour flight to Hanoi. To return from Cambodia, we took a 3 1/2 hour flight from Phnom Penh to Taipei, and then a 14 hour flight with a tail wind back to Toronto. All of these flights are on the Taiwanese airline EVA Air. A big plus is that we were into the Asian experience as soon as we got on the plane. It was especially nice when we upgraded to Economy Plus for the trip home to Toronto.
Vietnam – Cambodia Blog Series –
Re-imagine Vietnam is the first blog of three in our Vietnam – Cambodia Series. The second will focus on southern Vietnam, and the third will be about Angkor Wat in Cambodia.