Vietnam is hands down one of the most talked about countries in Southeast Asia, and for a number of cool reasons. Travelers go crazy over how insane Vietnam is. The temples, the rice paddy fields, the Mekong Delta, the beautiful and tragic history, the weather and even the “massage parlours” are all worth the hype. I loved my time in Vietnam but it certainly wasn’t easy to spend a few weeks there.
Here’s Why Vietnam Was 1 Of My Toughest And Most Rewarding Trips.
I visited Vietnam in February of 2014. Unbeknownst to me, it was during the Tet Holiday season (also known as Vietnamese New Year and the most important public holiday in Vietnam). Random fact: Tet actually means festival in Vietnamese. See? You do learn something new every day, well maybe on most days. Okay, some days? I digress. I was informed that no Visa was required (which was a damn lie). Upon arrival, I had to explain to an unenthusiastic airport staff member that the mistake wasn’t mine it was the booking agent who had given false information.
He then calmly tried to extort a few extra hundred Vietnamese Dong from me, to which I flatly refused. However, I did tip him for helping me out regardless of his failed attempt at conning me. As I left the airport excited to not be stared at for the first time in 6 months (try being a 6’4, 200 lbs black guy in a remote part of northern China), I realized the staring wouldn’t stop. They were slightly more subtle though, and that was a relief.
War Remnants Museum:
You’ve heard of the Vietnam War. You’ve heard of the popular film “Good morning Vietnam,” (starring Robin Williams and Forest Whitaker). You’ve heard of Muhammad Ali (RIP), and if so, you’ve heard of his infamous quote about the war in Vietnam, “Shoot them for what? They never called me nigger.”
What you may not have heard, is that the Vietnam War lasted for 20 years between 1955 and 1975. You may not have heard that many Vietnamese were forced to live in an underground network of tunnels (the Cu Chi Tunnels) barely big enough for children, let alone adults to maneuver through on their hands and knees. You may also not have known that innocent men, women and children were blown up, mutilated and literally mutated due to the impact of napalm, Agent Orange (herbicidal poison) and record setting use of artillery. If I wasn’t a fan of war prior to entering the War Remnants Museum, I was doubly against it when I left.
I was born in Trinidad & Tobago, a set of sister islands in the Caribbean. I’m no stranger to heat, in fact, I love it. I love how dark and shiny my skin gets. I love the feeling of running into cool beach waters. I love cold refreshments on a boiling hot summer day. Hell, one of my favourite basketball teams is the Miami Heat. Maybe it was the contrast from the freezing temperatures I had just escaped in northern China, but the Vietnam heat was next level. No, for real, I felt like the sun rented out an Air Bnb on top of my head. More than once I found myself thinking, “What have I done to deserve this!? I hold doors open for people and don’t chase them down when they don’t say thanks. I make eye contact with the homeless, acknowledge their presence as human beings, chat and give them loose change or food if I have some on me. I even try not to jaywalk. Why have you forsaken me!?!?” So yea, it’s hot in Vietnam. Bring your sunblock.
Remember that war I got all serious and gloomy about 2 paragraphs ago? See, it had some pretty lasting effects. And although this particular reaction can be commonplace in some parts of Asia, it was a little more pronounced in Vietnam. If you don’t look Asian, they will assume you are American. Now I have family in the United States, I have friends as well. I’ve traveled to and through there dozens of times. But many countries have less than favourable views of Americans. They’re thought to be selfish, obnoxious, and a whole list of other uncool stuff.
Is it fair to judge every single person from a certain country based on the actions of others in the past? No. But it’s kind of instinctive isn’t it? We, as humans, the social beings that we are, are prone to judge, and very quickly. I know some amazing American people. But do you know what’s worse than being poorly judged because of being American? Being poorly judged because of being American, but actually being CANADIAN. I get it, to a certain extent western culture sort of just blends together, dress, speech, the appearance of certain demographics. But word of advice for non-American travelers, going through certain countries, let your true nationality be known. Say where you’re from, smile, be nice, carry a small flag or pin somewhere on your person or belongings. You’ll be treated better for it sometimes, or at the very least, not instantly hated. As for my American friends, be extra nice, extra cool, extra reasonable and understanding. It isn’t fair, but it is necessary at times.
Traveling really is about the journey. But it’s nice when that journey is made in comfort. That being said, Vietnam is a tough country to navigate, especially for a baby giant like myself. Depending on which region of Vietnam you’re in, you’ll see loads of scooters, boats, cars or buses. If you combine those modes of transport with Vietnam’s extremely diverse terrain, you’ll quickly realize exactly why it is so hard to get around. Unlike countries like Japan that have extremely well-developed means of transportation, Vietnam leaves something to be desired. But maybe that’s a part of its beauty. All in all, Vietnam was awesome, but it certainly wasn’t easy. Lesson learned, and appreciated.
Have you ever been to Vietnam? What was your experience like? Leave a thoughtful comment below! I’d love to know more about you.
Until next time,