Seems folks in the tourist business in Vietnam are concerned on account of most tourists who visit there don’t seem to plan return trips. At least that's what I was told over coffee with some ex-pat Americans living in Saigon. Me, I had turned down a free trip to Vietnam a while back. That would have been all-expense, including uniform and bullets. Another story. So this was my first time around. In retrospect, a fine trip and I loved the place. Vietnam could be exciting, mystical at times and often unexpectedly beautiful. It was also an easy place: easy to get around, easy to find whatever I might be looking for and yeah, easy on the wallet.
And I loved the food, the street food especially. Several times a day I pulled up a low stool at one stand or another sidewalk stands and downed huge bowls of pho - noodles in fragrant broth - or barbecued meats or one of the signature banh mi sandwiches all served up with lots of stuff that I am not sure of, but it all tasted great. All for a tab that rarely topped a dollar.
My trip began in Saigon and ended in Hanoi, Along the way there were some tourist sites on the list: The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Min City, the food markets of Hoi An, Hue, Imperial City on the Perfume River and the vistas of Ho Long Bay. I got to all of them and they were all as exciting and rewarding as I could have expected. Along the way I stayed in some odd hotels, a few nights in a Thai stilt house, slept on an overnight train and rode on the back of dozens of ‘motos,’ the kamikaze-driven scooters that are the best way - often the only way -to get around.
Before I left I had posted some questions on travel boards, particularly about how I might expect to be treated as an American, rather specifically an American who was of an age to have served in the military in what the Vietnamese call 'The American War.' I was told that regarding that tragic period, the Vietnamese people make a clear distinction between the American Government and the American People. Turned out to be true enough. Nobody even asked me if I had been in the
|(making new friends)|
For all the horror visited on that country, the bombings, Agent Orange and the rest, there are remarkably few signs of the war. Saigon is a booming, modern city with a skyline that rivals any Western metropolis. There is new construction and high-rise building popping up all over Hanoi and some streets resemble Mid-town Manhattan. Danang’s beaches, once the R&R destination of US troupes are now lined with huge, luxuriously overdone and tasteless hotels that look more like palaces for visiting Saudi's. But there are the red stars and the hammer and sickle flags as reminders of who won that war. That and the occasional site of people with missing limbs. Mines and unexploded ordnance are still a danger.
So anyway, I have been back home for a while and have had time to muse over the experience. There was much that I missed on this trip, places I would have liked to have seen and enjoyed. Memories are good and a few probably qualify as tiks on my bucket list. But I am pretty sure that I will not go back; I am not sure exactly why.
While I wonder about all that, some snapshots in no particular order:
|And not far away from Mr. Kim's place|
was this lady who made the absolute best
banh mi in Hoi An. Or anyplace else.
|Mr. Kim who served up the best coffee in Vietnam.. Or at least the|
best coffee along the river in Hoi An. And a Cool gentleman.
|And do, I have absolutely no idea of what was going on here. Like it makes a difference?|
Back in the Spring of 1964 me and my good buddy Pete Zelin helped a carpenter put together a sort of portable stage. Regret that I don't remember the carpenter's name, but I do remember that he did most of the design work and we assembled it outside his shop on Bleecker Street on a fine sunny day. And it worked pretty well. That stage was set up at any number of political protest events and served speakers and musician and a variety of causes. One in particular was what I am pretty sure was the first public draft card burning as part of a protest over the war in Vietnam. It was held in Union Square Park and several guys stood on that stage and set their cards on fire. I was there, but too far away to get a photo. I knew a couple of the men and at least one did spend some time in jail as a result of that 'illegal' action.
So anyway, cut to my Vietnam trip and visit to the War Remnants Museum. The museum is filled with just what the name suggests: exhibits of that document some of the horrors endured by the Vietnamese people for all those years. There is also a small section of photos of anti-war demonstrations from around the world, including several from the USA. And there I found this. 50+ years later, there is the draft card burning on that stage that we built!