By Mary Jo Plouf
The majority of the time with my Gateway1 Travel in the Far East was spent in Vietnam. Vietnam is bounded by China, Laos and Cambodia. We also visited Thailand and Cambodia, but for me Vietnam was by far, the most interesting, diverse and culturally stimulating. I found that Vietnam had it all, including beaches, mountains, dynamic cities, interesting culture and fantastic cuisine. Our trip in Vietnam started in Ho Chi Minh City and ended in Hanoi 9 days later. In between we visited Hoi An, Da Nang, Hue, and Halong Bay. Much of our travel was by bus and we were able to get a pretty good idea of how rural life in Vietnam was conducted. It can be pretty much summed up by saying “rice farming.” The small farming villages are the backbone of Vietnamese culture and most of the residents return to the village where they were born when they are ready to retire or die. Many of the rice fields contain family tombs, although in recent years it has become illegal to bury farmers in their fields. Small cemeteries are located nearby.
Vietnam is officially known as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The country is communist, but according to our guide, Tuyen, the average citizen cares little about politics. They are far more concerned about their day to day existence which is sometimes tenuous. Since there is only one party in the country, elections are not exactly of major importance. In recent years Capitalism has had a great up-surge, especially among the many small businesses and restaurants. This has contributed greatly to the well- being on many of the citizens and the economy of the country in general. Vietnam has unfortunately been involved in civil and outside wars for the past 1,000 years, including the rather recent war with the United States, where 3 million Vietnamese and 55,000 Americans were killed.
Vietnam currently enjoys about 3.3 million tourists per year. Unfortunately they do not make as much money as Thailand on their tourism. The primary religion of the country is Buddhism and the majority of the people are ethnic Vietnamese. Of all the invading countries, France probably has had the greatest influence on the country. They left behind a great legacy of coffee, wine and baguettes,
Vietnam is large enough to have a varied climate. The spring months of March and April are very pleasant with little rain. June through November can be very rainy and the months of December through February are again dry and temperate. In general it is not as hot as other parts of the Far East and the temperature varies from one part of the country to another.
A visa is required for U.S. tourists in Vietnam and must be obtained in advance. Gate 1 Travel will help explain this process.
Our introduction to Vietnam was in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) were we did an extensive walking tour through the city. Part of our group participated in the optional tour to explore the Cu Chi tunnels They spent close to six hours exploring the underground tunnels which run for 125 miles and were entirely hand dug without the use of cement. The rest of , including myself, explored the busy and lively Ben Thanh Market.
From Ho Chi Minh City we flew to Da Nang and took a bus to Ho Ann. This was perhaps my favorite city on the tour. It is a World Heritage Site and one of the more traditional Vietnamese cities. We did a walking tour and then many of us were free to research the over 200 tailor shops were it is possible to have clothing done from your own patterns or pictures brought from home. We chose Mr. XE and had quite a few items hand tailored within twelve hours for a fraction of what they would have cost at home.
Another day was spent in Halong Bay where we took an old wooden fishing boat to explore the miles of fantastic limestone formations. It was a magical area. Afterwards we traveled by bus to Hanoi, Vietnam’s vibrant capital.
In Hanoi we visited the world famous Museum of Ethnology included native artifacts and native architecture. Later we attended a performance of the unique Water Puppet Show.
The next day, day 17, we boarded our plane trip for the long journey back home. We brought with us many trinkets and memories and most of all a lasting admiration for Gate 1 Travel and the magnificent job they did for us. We shall return and many of our group members have done….some doing more than 5 or 6 trips with Gate 1 Travel. It was a memorable experience.