Ho Chi Minh City Captured our Hearts
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam bookended our third trip to Southeast Asia and it didn’t disappoint. We experienced so much during our stay and enjoyed our extended time visiting with local residents and immersing ourselves in its storied history. I’ll be posting more about all of the experiences soon.
We began our trip in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) before boarding a small boat to cruise up the Mekong River to Phnom Penh. We came back to HCMC after visits to both Cambodia and Laos and to spend a few more days before heading to the beach in Phu Quoc, Vietnam.
Vietnam, in general, is a feast of the senses. No matter where you go there is much to see, smell, feel and hear, not to mention the amazing offerings of delicious food that tempts even a picky eater like me. The Vietnamese people are some of the kindest we’ve met in our travels and their willingness to help us never fails to amaze me.
Here are some of the highlights from our time in the largest city in Vietnam and the city formerly and sometimes currently known as Saigon.
A Contrast of Old and New
We saw mothers bathing their infants in the Mekong River, engagements, weddings, funerals and celebrations. We viewed the city from the sky deck of a skyscraper and explored the tunnels under the streets of old Saigon. We strolled among iconic war locations and marveled at the preservation efforts while recalling moments from our earliest memories of the coverage of the Vietnam War on the 6:00 news.
We heard AK47 shots in the jungle in Cu Chi province. We enjoyed countless sunsets and not a single sunrise. I offered prayers at every temple and altar that we visited. We drank gallons of water and almost as much iced coffee. We witnessed abject poverty and vast wealth. Crossing the street is a sport that you just have to live through to understand. Every step of the way, we were on the receiving end of kindness, generosity and the ready willingness to help these two Americans.
An Afternoon Learning About Kim Phuc
The most moving thing we experienced during this trip was the opportunity to visit the home of the sister-in-law of Kim Phuc, the young girl burned by napalm and depicted in the iconic photo by Nick Ut.
We visited the temple that sheltered villagers from the planes dropping bombs and napalm overhead. We then traveled to the home of Kim Phuc’s sister-in-law who lived a few miles away from the village where we received a warm welcome and greetings from her grandson, a young boy of about ten years.
Her sister-in-law shared her experience about what it was like to live through the Vietnam War and how she has made her living since then. She told us about losing her husband, the young boy on the left side of the photograph.
Only three years separate our birth.
We live on opposite sides of the world.
She is a mother, sister, grandmother and widow.
I am all of those things except for the last.
We share many similarities but our lives couldn’t be more different, simply by virtue of when and where I was born. Not to mention the endless opportunities available to me.
As we were leaving the home that had been a safe harbor for her and her family since shortly after the war, I thanked her for her hospitality. Our translator shared her parting words with me……. “Us, we are the same.”
I was reminded once again about the power of compassion and understanding as we walked away. Not one for much emotion, I was moved to tears by her words. I hear so much today about “us and them”, aren’t we really just all the same?
If you have an interest in the Vietnam War or Southeast Asia, Ho Chi Minh City is a must-see destination. We encourage you to linger, to experience the city life, to travel to the countryside, to make your way to the beach but most of all we urge you to connect with the local people. They will welcome you and make you feel as if you are an honored guest.