I hadn’t planned to go to Vietnam. What I really wanted to see was Angkor Wat in Cambodia. And I wanted to get there before I was too old to climb all those steps. However, the company I usually travel with, both because it features groups of from 14 to 16 maximum and doesn’t charge single supplements, didn’t have such a trip. Most of their trips included Thailand, but I had visited Thailand twice already, once very recently. But, there was a trip to Vietnam with an add-on to Cambodia. So off I went.
Vietnam was an unexpected (for me, at least) gem – the people and the countryside. One of our fun outings was to join some local senior citizens at 6:00 a.m. for “laughing yoga”. In Hanoi there were many groups exercising outdoors at that hour in the morning. Our guide chose the laughing yoga group. He left us there. We were accepted with open arms and had a wonderful time. Music came from a recording, and one of the women called out the moves. We followed as best we could.
It’s rare to find Western style bread in Asian countries, but Vietnam is different. They still bake the French bread and pastries that became part of their diet during the French occupation. We even visited a baker and ate his baguettes straight from the oven!
In spite of the war, people were friendly. We even had a luncheon with some veterans. The prevailing attitude seems to be that the past is the past.
An, our wonderful guide, was pivotal in making the trip so outstanding. At one point he had everyone’s camera around his neck, so that he could take photos for us.
On a rainy day in Hoi, An he found an alternate activity – we went to a local lantern making factory and learned to make lanterns, which are a trademark of the city.
Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is definitely worth the honor.
And yes, I did get to Angkor Wat, which was everything I had hoped for. But, Vietnam was the surprise – just a reminder to always keep an open mind.
Catherine Mitchell holds a master’s in Italian from Middlebury College and lived in Italy for ten years.
She has taught English at European language schools and Italian in the United States.