My Vietnam Story
As I have mentioned throughout the blog Vietnam has a very special place in my heart since a young age. My initial interest in the Vietnam War stemmed from a book given to me by a camp counselor the summer before I started high school. When I returned home from camp I discussed the book in detail with my father who was once a history teacher, was a college student during the war exposed to the anti-war movement at home, and thus was much more familiar with the subject. At my request, this began my introduction into the history of Vietnam. He took me to the bookstore to purchase a number of first-hand accounts by soldiers and began showing me films about the conflict. This was my introduction to many of the films included on my list of Top 10 Vietnam War Movies. Members of my family and friends’ parents who were willing to talk about there involvement in the war shared stories, military paraphernalia and additional resources like documentary films, books and movies still unfamiliar to me. Throughout high school I tried at every opportunity to incorporate my interest in the conflict into projects and assignments when we were able to choose our topics.
Eventually, I made it to the University of Maryland and took many political science courses that allowed me to continue investigating the Vietnam War. During a summer film course about the Cold War I was also introduced to a handful of Vietnam War related films that I previously not aware of. This began a working relationship with the professor who basically took me under her wing and taught me everything she knows about that era of history. During that time I was exposed to hundreds if not thousands of primary and secondary documents. This continued during my time in the military where I began examining the war with emphasis on military tactics and strategy. It was then that I first read The Tunnels of Cu Chi that years later I was able to visit. After I left the military I quickly moved into the teaching profession. My Cold War unit and lessons about the Vietnam War became some of the best educational content I have developed. Vietnam has always been in my heart and in the summer of 2014 I was finally able to visit allowing me to see and experience things that I was only familiar with in print, pictures and video.
My original plans for the summer of 2014 was to spend 6 weeks in Southeast Asia. I was going to fly into Ho Chi Ming City and make a loop that would return me to my starting location so that I could fly home. (At the time the roundtrip airfare was my cheapest and easiest option.) I planned on extensively covering Vietnam and explore whatever parts of other countries I could manage with the remainder of my time. Originally, I was traveling alone, but after meeting people my plans changed. I rushed from Hue to Hanoi skipping almost all of central and northern Vietnam to travel with new friends to Laos & Thailand. Below is the Vietnam portion of my 2014 itinerary:
- Day 0 – July 4 – Departing NYC, NY, USA – Trip Preparations & Flying to Osaka, Japan quickly followed by Flying to Taipei, Taiwan
- Day 1 – July 5 – Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) – Ho Chi Minh City Arrival: Airport, Hotel & Eating at the Ben Thanh Market
- Day 2 – July 6 – HCMC – Ho Chi Minh City – Walking Tour
- Day 3 – July 7 – HCMC – Reunification Palace
- Day 4 – July 8 – Cu Chi Tunnels Day Trip with visits to the Disabled War Victims Crafts Commune & Cao Dai Temple; Sickness, Soccer & Saigon
- Day 5 – July 9 – HCMC – Silliness at the Saigon Central Post Office; Museums & Museums & More Museums
- Day 6 – July 10 – HCMC to Mui Ne – Sweating on a Sleeper Bus to the Beach Town of Mui Ne; Arranging Tours; Motorbike to Red Sand Dunes for Sunset; Nightlife
- Day 7 – July 11 – Mui Ne to Dalat – White Sand Dunes for Sunrise, Red Sand Dunes Again, Local Fishing Village & Fairy Stream; Dalat – Transportation, Lodging & Tour Booking
- Day 8 – July 12 – Dalat – Private Car Tour with New Friends of Lakes, Waterfalls & Key Sites; Dalat Food & Nighttime Markets
- Day 9 – July 13 – Dalat to Nha Trang – Early Morning Dalat Church Tour; Van to Nha Trang; Nightlife in Nha Trang
- Day 10 – July 14 – Nha Trang – Temples, Markets & Deciding to Escape the Tourist Trap
- Day 11 – July 15 – Nha Trang to Da Nang to Hoi An – Flight to Da Nang; Cab to Hoi An; Exploring Hoi An by Afternoon, Spalife & Nightlife
- Day 12 – July 16 – Road Trip to Son My (My Lai) – Full Day Private Cab to My Lai Massacre Site & Son My Vestige Museum; Meeting with Local Tailor; Hoi An Nightlife
- Day 13 – July 17 – Hoi An – (UNESCO Sites) (1) My Son Sanctuary with Boat Ride to Crafting Village & (2) Hoi An Ancient Town – all 23 sites plus more. (The local ticket agents thought I may have been the first person to do it in a day.)
- Day 14 – July 18 – Hoi An – Tailoring & Saying Goodbye; Hoi An to Hue Bus; Hue Nightlife
- Day 15 – July 19 – Hue – Complex of Hue Monuments – (UNESCO Site Part 1) – The Citadel: Imperial City, Forbidden Purple City, Temples & Places of Worship
- Day 16 – July 20 – Hue City Tour – Additional Complex of Hue Monuments – (UNESCO Site Part 2) & Other Locations: Dragon Boat Trip on Perfume River to An Hien Garden House, Thien Mu Pagoda, Hon Chen Temple, Minh Mang Tomb, Khai Dinh Tomb, Tea & Whiskey Tasting, Incense & Conical Hat Making & Tu Duc Tomb
- Day 17 – July 21 – DMZ Tour – Part 1: Highway 9: Rock Pile, Dakrong Bridge (Ethnic Minority – Bru Van Kieu, Ho Chi Minh Trail), Khe Sanh Combat Base, Part 2: Highway 1: Frame of Church, Dong Ha Town, Hien Luong Bridge – Ben Hai River, Doc Mieu Base, Vinh Moc Tunnels & Museum; 12 Hour Overnight Bus from Dong Ha to Hanoi
- Day 18 – July 22 – Hanoi – Imperial Citadel (UNESCO Site), Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton) & Additional Sites; Dinner at Cha Ca La Vong (1,0001 Meals to Eat Before You Die); Nightlife
- Day 19 – 30 – Flight from Hanoi to Vientiane, Laos where I explored various parts of the country before flying into Chiang Mai, Thailand working my way south to Bangkok.
- Day 31 – August 4 – Flight from Bangkok, Thailand to HCMC, Vietnam; Revisiting Museums & Cholon District (Chinatown) in HCMC
- Day 32 – August 5 – Mekong River/Delta Tour
- Day 33 – August 6 – HCMC, Vietnam to Taipei, Taiwan where I met my tattoo artist in his hometown for a few days of fresh ink and exploration before returning back to NYC, NY.
Before getting on the plane home I had over 100 degree fever, but I managed to deal with it the best I could. My face paced trip throughout Southeast Asia simply wore my body into exhaustion, but after a few days of recuperation I quickly began planning my return trip to Vietnam for the following summer.
After an amazing month in Southeast Asia there were still a great deal of sights throughout Vietnam (and neighboring countries) that I was unable to cover during my 2014 trip. That coupled with alterations to my original itinerary led me to the decision to return to Vietnam the following summer. My trip was designed to cover the parts of central Vietnam I skipped the previous summer before venturing into Cambodia & Myanmar. Coincidentally, I had friends in Vietnam who I decided to meet and act as a tour guide for their first time in country. Below is the Vietnam portion of my 2015 itinerary:
- Day 0 – July 2 – Depart NYC, New York, USA
- Day 1 – July 3 – Arrive in Hanoi, Vietnam – Vietnamese Women’s Museum
- Day 2 – July 4 – Halong Bay (UNESCO Site) – Thunderstorms Cancelled Multiday Tour
- Day 3 – July 5 – Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Presidential Palace, Ho Chi Minh Museum; Evening Water Puppet Show
- Day 4 – July 6 – Sick – Unproductive & Wasted Day
- Day 5 – July 7 – Hoa Lư Ancient Capital & Tam Cốc-Bích Động Tour (UNESCO Site Pt.1)
- Day 6 – July 8 – Bái Đính Temple & Tràng An Grottos Tour (UNESCO Site Pt. 2)
- Day 7 – July 9 – Private Car to Ho Citadel (UNESCO Site) & Phát Diệm Cathedral
- Day 8 – July 10 – Phong Nha National Park – Dark & Paradise Caves Tour (UNESCO Site)
- Day 9 – July 11 – Lazy Day in Quang Binh; Flight from Dong Hoi to HCMC; Nightlife
- Day 10 – July 12 – Depart HCMC, Vietnam for Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- Day 11 – July 13 – August 10 – Traveled through Cambodia, Myanmar & Singapore
- Day 40 – August 11 – Flight from Singapore & Traveling to HCMC, Vietnam
- Day 41 – August 12 – Revisiting Cu Chi Tunnels & Mekong Delta Tour; Evening Dance Performance at HCMC Opera House
- Day 42 – August 13 – Teacher Trekker (TT) Guided HCMC Walking Tour
- Day 43 – August 14 – Flying to Hoi An & Beach Day
- Day 44 – August 15 – Lazy Day in Hoi An (Top 25 Things to Do) & Connecting with Local Contacts
- Day 45 – August 16 – TT Guided Tour of Hoi An’s Ancient Town (UNESCO Site)
- Day 46 – August 17 – Flying to Hanoi & Hanoi Nightlife
- Day 47 – August 18 – Halong Bay Single Day Tour (UNESCO Site)
- Day 48 – August 19 – TT Guided Hanoi Walking Tour
- Day 49 – August 20 – Flight from Hanoi, Vietnam to a layover in Tokyo, Japan (Tokyo Rush) & finally Tokyo, Japan to NYC, NY, USA
Vietnam is hands down my favorite foreign country that I have visited thus far. Everything about the country fascinates me from the culture & history to the food & coffee. If there wasn’t so much more of the planet to see I could easily spend many years living and exploring Vietnam in much greater depth. That doesn’t mean I won’t be back, because I certainly will. I have yet to explore the northern portion of the country above Hanoi, but that will be for another trip in a few years.
Unpublished Vietnam Articles
On a final note, there are many attractions & sights that I have visited, but have yet to publish articles about them. I have many final drafts and sorted notes that will become future articles, but have chosen to hold off on their release as to not turn the website into a dedicated Vietnam site. If you have any questions about any of the locations I have previously published about or places I have yet to post please feel free to Contact Me and I will assist you in any way possible. That may be anything and everything from posting an article about a topic you are looking for to having a personal email exchange to assist your trip planning. Happy Trekking!