Travel Log

Vietnam: Shaking Hands

I didn’t know quite what to expect in Vietnam. I think American visitors there rightly carry a lot of guilt about the war

By Teresa Stack, President emeritus of The Nation and a founder of the travel program.

I didn’t know quite what to expect in Vietnam. I think American visitors there rightly carry a lot of guilt about the war, even those of us too young to have been involved. But more than half of Vietnam’s population today were born after the war ended. And what we encountered was an amazingly friendly and energetic country eager to look forward, not back.

The Owner of the Pho Binh café with our amazing guide, Huy

We had such a fun and smart group of travelers – people from all over the country and even Canada and New Zealand were on our program. Several had personal experience in what the Vietnamese call “The American War”, as soldiers, as anti-war activists, or as children of servicemen. Their insights added so much to the program.

A student strolling by the lake in Hanoi in her ao dai…

Probably the most surreal part of the trip was an afternoon lunch in Ho Chi Minh City (where the manic motorcycle traffic is in itself surreal). After enjoying a delicious bowl of homemade pho in a modest café, our group was led upstairs for a lecture. There, in a room lined with old portraits, we heard from the current owner. As a teenager during the war, he worked for his father at the cafe. This upstairs room was the secret Saigon headquarters of the Viet Cong, used for planning the Tet Offensive in January 1968. The lecture was fascinating and watching the owner smiling and happily shaking hands with former American soldiers and their adult children was surreal.

At the Citadel in Hue…

We all loved the beauty of Vietnam, especially lake-filled Hanoi and historic Hue. And the food was wonderful. Most of all, we were overwhelmed by the enthusiastic hospitality of the people – so gracious and so kind.

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