The travel diaries: Vietnam, gentle people and history retold

Ha Long Bay - Vietnam
Ha Long Bay – Vietnam

The man balanced a couch, 2 chairs and a coffee table on his dirty motorbike, a scene reminiscent of India and the overloaded bikes and cars (and everything) – except instead of an extended family sharing one bike, he was moving around his lounge suite it seemed.

Vietnam reminded me of a gentler, calmer version of India.  The people are friendly, hard-working, not pushy, and calm. If you travel out of the city and the immense crush of people, heritage sights like Ha Long Bay present a beauty and serenity indescribable, with a silent majesty so amazing that you can almost feel it in your bones.  Monolithic limestone island mountains jut out from tranquil emerald water, and the village on the water is almost like a time capsule – until you look more closely and see the usual traces of Western influence, TV screens and cell phones, tie-dyed clothes and coke bottles.

Enduring a 30 hour train ride from the North to the South from Hanoi to Saigon, the breathtaking scenery of the landscape of the entire country is enough to (almost) make you forget how long the journey takes and how grunge-y the train bunker is.

The language barrier is always a small issue when travelling, but nowadays most people speak at least some English – but I always think of the word Miaow (like a cat) when I think of the guy I was asking for Milk, trying to understand what I was saying.

The country is less spoiled than many other touristy countries (because so few people think to go to Vietnam, presumably) but the people are still recovering from the echoes of the Vietnam war – although they call it the American war there, which makes sense.  History is written by humans, who choose to portray whatever they want to, it’s all just stories really.

We went down into some of the tunnels used during the war with America, and I was struck by how claustrophobic and terrifying even spending a few seconds underground could be – it was like a grave.  The tiny Vietnamese people are proud of their resilience in the face of war with a huge superpower, and I was amazed at how much they could get done underground.  They even had kitchens and hospitals built into their tunnels.

Thinking back on those tiny tunnels, it reminds me to contemplate death.  Imagine the sand being thrown over your body as you lie wrapped in white cloth, with no escape.  I need to remember death more often, it will force me to choose better what I do with my living moments.


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