Corona del Mar High School

North Vietnam Odyssey

President Barack Obama visited Hanoi, Vietnam in May. This reminded me of the time I visited Vietnam three years ago.

Each summer since I was 2 years old, I have flown with my family to Taiwan to visit my disabled grandmother who lives alone. During these trips, I also have the opportunity to visit and to do charitable work in nearby developing countries.

The flight from Taipei, Taiwan to Hanoi, Vietnam takes three hours by air. It takes 3.5 hours to drive from Hanoi to Halong Bay, the most popular tourist attraction in Vietnam. On Halong Bay, my family and I took an overnight cruise on a traditional boat, called a junk. The scenery is breathtaking.

Junk Boat Cruise
Junk Boat Cruise

Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, according to the New7Wonders Foundation, contains 1,960 limestone islands of different sizes and shapes. There is an interesting legend about this bay. Long ago, Vietnam was often attacked by invaders, so God dispatched a dragon to Vietnam. The descending dragon spit out thousands of pearls all over the bay, which became the archipelago. This group of islands protected Vietnam and served as a maze to confuse its enemies, allowing the country to resist foreign aggression.

The overnight cruises on small ships, averaging 50 guests per cruise, are in stable and calm waters, since the bay is sheltered from the sea. When I woke up the morning of my cruise, I could see small green islands and emerald water through my cabin window. The view was amazingly peaceful.

I also climbed 400 steps on one of the islands, called Tip Top Mountain. The summit offers a 360-degree view of Halong Bay.

A gorgeous view of Halong Bay
A gorgeous view of Halong Bay

Bo Hon Island Sung Sot Cave, another special island, contains a variety of stalagmites, stalactites, curtains, and other interesting and beautiful rock formations.

Sung Sot Cave
Sung Sot Cave

People can kayak through another cave, called Luon Cave, and have the chance to relive James Bond’s thrilling experience in the film “Tomorrow Never Dies.”

Kayaking through Luon Cave. During high tide, kayakers cannot pass through it.
Kayaking through Luon Cave. During high tide, kayakers cannot pass through it.

When cruising through the bay, we encountered boats that sell groceries and other everyday items. These are called floating markets.

After leaving Halong Bay, we went to Hanoi and saw the sharp contrast between the two locations. Halong Bay is pristine and peaceful, whereas Hanoi is noisy. For example, the honking of the car horns are extremely loud. The traffic in Hanoi is terrible and frightening. It is absolute chaos. The street is cluttered and narrow, and the cars and motorcycles have no room to yield when a pedestrian crosses the street or when drivers change lanes. Sometimes one can see cars driving on the wrong side of the road. One might think that there is order within the disorder, but in reality, the chances of getting into an accident are high.

The two blurry motorcycles in the background are going in the wrong direction.
The two blurry motorcycles in the background are going in the wrong direction.

From 1859-1954, Vietnam was a French colony. Some French influences on Vietnam include cuisine, coffee, and architecture. But when we visited Honi Confucius Temple, which was built in 1070, we saw some hints of Chinese influences in ancient times. They include the Chinese Imperial Examination System and Confucianism.

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The style of Vietnamese architecture is slim and tall because a building is taxed depending on the width of its front facade. Therefore, a narrow width means a lower property tax. Many houses look like the one pictured above. The French inspired the designs of the bold and colorful buildings.

Vietnam is famous for its water puppet shows. Farmers were the first people to perform these shows about 1,000 years ago. Because the villages in the Red River Delta get flooded easily, the farmers performed in rice paddies while standing in waist-deep water. Today, the water is essential to the show, as it is the main stage; it serves as a link between the old shows and the modern-day shows. The water pays homage to the rice paddies in which the farmers once stood. Also, the water hides the puppeteers and the puppet strings, gives the music and vocals a resonating effect, and provides a natural sparkling effect, according to the website Learn NC. The shows present folktales and stories about daily rural activities.

Water Puppet Show (Photo courtesy of www.66.hk)
Water Puppet Show (Photo courtesy of http://www.66.hk)

While we were in Vietnam, we also did some charity work with two college student volunteers from Hanoi at SOS Children’s Villages Hanoi. They told us that the Vietnamese people are still upset about the U.S. military spraying powerful mixtures of herbicides on the forests during the Vietnam War. Because of the chemicals, “up to 1 million people are disabled or have health problems due to contamination,” says the Red Cross of Vietnam.

Today, Vietnam is a socialist country and many of its people are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A scene from the 1959-1979 Vietnam War. The nude girl’s back had been completely scorched by fire. This picture pulled people’s heartstrings, and it surely inspired others to fight for peace. The image helped create strong public desire to end the Vietnam War. (Photo courtesy of CNN).
A scene from the 1959-1979 Vietnam War. The nude girl’s back had been completely scorched by fire. This picture pulled people’s heartstrings, and it surely inspired others to fight for peace. The image helped create strong public desire to end the Vietnam War. (Photo courtesy of CNN).

Despite these facts, I am so glad that the war is over, and that everyone now has the opportunity to travel to Vietnam, understand its culture, meet its kind people, and see the spectacular natural beauty of Halong Bay. On a final note, I hope that everyone can appreciate each other’s cultures and ultimately come together in peace and unity.

SOS Children’s Village in Hanoi
SOS Children’s Village in Hanoi

For more pictures, please watch the following YouTube video.

17 Comments

  • Reply mlawson447 June 27, 2016 at 4:31 pm

    In 1971, Uncle Sam gave me a free, all expenses paid vacation to South Vietnam. It was overpriced.

    Like

  • Reply Eugene Kaptur June 27, 2016 at 5:37 pm

    Spent two nights aboard a boat there in 2006, beautiful though haunting place, especially after viewing the movie “Indochine”!

    Like

  • Reply pheonix vanle June 27, 2016 at 6:05 pm

    this is a propaganda for V.C Government and I do not believe a single word of this woman! Taiwannese? Are you sure you are or Cholonese? Please do not post these type of propaganda again! Thanks!

    Like

    • Reply Hung Pham June 28, 2016 at 3:21 am

      “Propaganda”? My oh my, aren’t you delusional, Phoenix Vanle?!!!

      Like

    • Reply Dan June 28, 2016 at 8:11 am

      Get a clue before you post moron. I’ve been to Vietnam many times. It’s not perfect, no country is, but it’s a great place to visit.

      Like

    • Reply Charles Nguyen June 28, 2016 at 6:46 pm

      Okay it’s a propaganda you fascist

      Like

  • Reply Cong An Can Bo June 27, 2016 at 6:44 pm

    I visited this place once and never return, the caves are so faked with colorful lights, they put cement to make dragon, breast shapes! the communist foods are bland, the communist service is sub-par.

    Most of the tourists never return except the homeless, old boat people, and pedophiles. right now, China is poisoning the beaches with their toxic wastes, so watch what you eat.

    Like

    • Reply Hung Pham June 28, 2016 at 3:17 am

      I’m glad you won’t come back! Vietnam and its people don’t need people like you. I have visited Vietnam and Halong bay many times over and treasured every minute of it. Surely glad that I have never run into people like you to spoil my wonderful time there!

      Like

      • Reply Quang Nguyen June 28, 2016 at 8:45 am

        Right on Hung Pham! I am glad I did not run into this loser either.

        Like

  • Reply sam June 27, 2016 at 6:56 pm

    this place will be destroy by the vietnamese themself in time to come, if not the evil chinese will do it for them on the VN behalf.

    Like

  • Reply Don Skanchy June 27, 2016 at 9:14 pm

    Why so many ugly comments. I am an adopted son of this great nation since 1970 at the age of 15. I love this country with all of my heart and I have served 8 years in the US armed forces for the love of this nation. Yes, America has lost 35,000 fathers, sons and daughters and even grandfathers to this war and yet there were hundreds of thousand of Vietnamese who also died because of this war, so whoever you are, please ease off a little bit Okay? Most people in the US have no idea how people over there have to struggle to live and they are doing the best they can under these circumstances. I have been back to Vietnam 3 times and I’ve found the country quite beautiful and the people were kind and generous. My heart goes out to them and I am grateful to both nations. One gave me life and the other gave me hope and the life I have today.

    Like

  • Reply Glenn June 28, 2016 at 12:17 am

    I am a little surprised at some of the negative comments. MLawson, our favorite uncle sent me there during the last half of ’70 and the first half of ’71. All the more reason to go back, now it is a beautiful country, not a war. If many of our soldiers today are suffering the effects of agent orange, isn’t it reasonable that the people that live there would also suffer from agent orange. I am not sure about the accuracy of the number or to what extent
    PTSD is still an issue 40 years after the conclusion of the war. The girl in the photo, Kim Phuc lives in Canada and still receives treatment for the burns. She is an amazing person.

    I went to Vietnam in February of this year. I had heard about the beauty of Halong Bay and wanted to see it first hand. Ms Chang provided an excellent description of the area. Also, I expected Hanoi to be a drab city. The part of Hanoi that we saw was entertaining and colorful. Here are some photos taken during our trip. Many are similar to Ms Chang’s experiences.

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    Liked by 1 person

  • Reply Binh Nguyen June 28, 2016 at 4:56 am

    Taiwan’s Formosa Chemical Company releasing waste on water in Central VN ( Vu Ang) poisioning and killing all sea creatures! What is an envionmental disaster to the world water!

    Like

  • Reply Pat Von June 28, 2016 at 6:05 am

    There is no North Vietnam only Vietnam. This is a poorly written article and many of the facts are incorrect.

    Like

  • Reply Dan Butler June 28, 2016 at 7:31 am

    Vietnam is a beautiful country only the people ruin it.

    Like

  • Reply Bob June 28, 2016 at 8:40 am

    But, currrently there have been too many Chineses came to visit and they messing up looking very dirty !

    Like

  • Reply KIM LEE June 28, 2016 at 3:19 pm

    Vietnamese V.S VIET CONG. It ruins by Viet Cong not ruins by Vietnamese people.

    Like

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