A few years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Vietnam as a chaperone with a group of twenty public high school students. I was working at the Pacific and Asian Affairs Council in Hawaii, a nonprofit organization promoting global education programs. The organization grants travel scholarships and every summer, provides students the once in a lifetime opportunity to travel abroad. This experience leaves a lasting impression on all of the students and by the end of the trip, many have profound testimonies and a broader perspective of the world. They begin to understand how interconnected and interdependent the world is, and have a better appreciation of different cultures and people. They also begin to realize the world is much bigger than the island on which they grew up, and can start to see their role in it. Through their eyes, I am reminded of my own journey and the first time I realized there are still many more places to explore and in so doing, perhaps can do my part to shape and change the world.
Vietnam is one of those places, and every one needs to plan a trip to this beautiful country. People are optimistic and looking towards the future. From the cities to the countryside, everyone was welcoming and eager to make friends with visitors. For me, it was also a chance to reunite with old friends from grad school, who happen to be some of the most honest and sincere people I know. It’s always nice to be able to see a country through the lens of someone who grew up there, and can share some insider insight and local perspective. For me, it enables you to connect to the country on a deeper level and makes you feel less like a tourist.
We visited Sapa and minority villages in the north (more on this in another blog), Hanoi (the capital city), Ho Chi Minh (known to the West as Saigon), Hoi An (my favorite city), Halong Bay (World Heritage Site), and communities along the Mekong Delta (who happen to love boa constrictors as pets). It was an enriching trip filled with temple visits, family home stays, community projects, school visits, boat rides, shopping, and meeting new friends.The country is full of life and is changing at a rapid pace since it normalized relations with the U.S. in the mid 1990’s. I did not have much expectations prior to the trip, but am now convinced it is a country to watch in the next few decades. Writing this blog is reminding me of how wonderful it was, and makes me want to revisit this amazing country. Until then, tam biet!