There isn’t a place on earth I’ve read or heard about more than Vietnam. My name won’t give it away, but I’m half Vietnamese. My grandmother came to the U.S. with her three children — one of them my mother — just before the fall of Saigon in 1975. Since then, they’ve all been back a handful of times.
For the last 20 years, a trip to Vietnam had always been a topic of discussion, but between everyone’s schedules, we could never get the timing to work out. As I was finally wrapping up graduate school and my brother was finishing undergrad, my mom surprised us with the family trip we’ve been waiting on for such a long time.
Approaching 2019 also meant approaching my 30th birthday, and I was planning on going as a personal gift, regardless. But being there for the first time during the Christmas holiday with my parents and brother and meeting family I’ve only known through photographs was the best gift I could’ve asked for.
We broke up the initial flight with a stop in Hawaii and managed to scratch through the most touristy of bullet points during our extended layover on the beach in Waikiki — managing a visit to the Dole pineapple plantation, the North Shore, and having dinner at a roof-top luau.
After one more connecting flight in South Korea, family greeted us as we exited the airport in Saigon late on a Tuesday night. We spent the next few hours visiting in the kitchen of the home that once belonged to my grandmother.
By 11 a.m. the next day, we were on a private shuttle that took us west to the coast before catching a ferry on Friday to Phú Quôc.
Along the way, there were stops in Cân Thó, which consisted of a karaoke dinner cruise followed by a sunrise tour of the famous floating markets. From there, it was on to Tra Su Forest near Châu Dôc, where we spent the night and caught a wonderful sunset from a mountain hotel. It should also be noted that I ate phó every single time I had the chance.
After a night in Châu Dôc, we were back on the road and headed to the coast to catch a ferry to Phú Quôc. After a couple of nights around the island, we flew north to Hanoi. After an 8 p.m. arrival, we were on another shuttle that drove us six hours through the night to Sa Pa. I don’t believe any picture can do a place like that justice, but I’d like to return one day and try.
We spent the next couple of days around Christmas in Hanoi, followed by a night in the Ninh Binh countryside. The peacefulness of Ninh Binh hit hard after being on the go since arriving in Vietnam a week earlier — especially after coming from a new level of hustle and bustle that can only be witnessed in Hanoi during the holidays. The last bit of our trip took us back to Saigon for a couple of days. And, in what felt to be no time at all, we were back at the airport with the entire family — only this time we were saying our goodbyes.
Vietnam has been and still is a mystery for a lot of us, and I suppose the war was certainly of no help in that regard. It’s still fresh in the minds of a lot of people — my family included — but as time moves on I do wish for the best for this place. Vietnam is stunning on every level and has infinitely more to offer than what I was able to capture on this trip alone. I only hope it won’t be another 30 years before I return.