By Beatrice Tan
Agonizing stories of the Vietnam war, the popular Vietnamese “pho,” colorful traditional dresses and the Mekong River all paint the picture of Vietnam, the hidden charm. All the stories of Vietnam that have been thrown out there have always felt made-up, but after a trip there, one can finally understand what “seeing is believing” means.
Ho Chi Minh City, located at the heart of Southern Vietnam, is formerly known as Saigon. This city is richly engrossed in history and culture. On a bright sunny day, vendors can be found smoking, standing, sitting, walking and talking, as if without a care in the world. Neon colored shades, colorful shirts and hats, and exotic local delicacies are all displayed in racks and stalls.
Tourists are walking by blithely with great interest and curiosity to the products, while noises of bargaining are constantly swarming in the air. With a closer look at the vendors, one can sense their tension and worry for police that might threaten them with fines anytime for illegal vending.
Street vendors can be found all the way along the street. Witnessing this lifestyle is a rare and fascinating experience as this scene can only be found in some parts of Southeast Asia.
In addition, people are often drawn into the colorful dresses that the women wear. Ao Dai, is what they call it. It is a beautiful mid-calf length tunic with a mandarin collar and long sleeves. Teenage girls and women wear the Ao Dai to work, to parties and to gatherings.
Vietnam is a country with a history behind it. From 1954 to 1975 was a period of darkness and agony for the Vietnamese. People branded as Viet Cong, the communist party, were killed brutally. Stepping into the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh, its outdoor is filled with war tanks and bombs.
Tourists walk in with anticipation that what they are about to see is not pretty. Entering the room, walls are full of images of blood, corpses, and rifles. The pictures all tell a story.
Agent Orange, a deadly poison that was being sprayed throughout villages killed millions. Each microgram could kill 160 people. The barbed wires tiger cage–it was used to store up to seven Viet Cong in its tiny compartment that was only about 60 cm tall.
Stepping out of the War Remnants Museum, tourists’ faces were creased with the pain of the scars that Vietnamese endured.
Cuchi Tunnel is a long distance tunnel dug manually by Viet Cong during the war. It is perfectly camouflaged in every way, from its ventilation to its smoke from cooking. The communists planned strategies against the Americans underground and were cautious in every step they left.
Sandals worn by them were modified to create footprints that pointed backwards, and ventilation tubes were dug in termite hills. Traps were set up everywhere in the woods.
Thien Phuoc Orphanage is another location to further learn about the repercussion of the war. There, the children’s innocence and adorableness spark everyone’s joy inside, but the excitement soon turns into sympathy and sadness as one sets eyes on them.
They are born with physical disabilities and abnormal features. Hoang, a boy with sparkling eyes, lies on a mattress helplessly, and attracts the most attention. He is born with a disproportionately large head. It’s easy for anyone to burst into tears witnessing this scene when they let the gush of emotions catch them off guard.
The lady working at the orphanage stated, “Hoang is only four years old. He actually still has his parents, they come visit him sometimes.” The victims affected by Agent Orange’s poison, their descendants will continue this way for generations to come. Even though they are an unfortunate bunch, they all have the ability to love, smile and laugh like everyone does.
Entering a Vietnamese local school is a whole new exposure to people. The students of An Thanh Thuy School came flocking around to greet their guests with shy smiles and curious glares. Some children even stopped what they were doing, like soccer and tag, to come see their foreign guests. Even though their facilities weren’t advanced, they still seem like they are satisfied and content with what they have.
Vietnam owes much of its glory to its cuisine. One can enjoy the beautiful night scenes as they dine on a cruise. The food on the cruise included steamboat with a variety of vegetables, steamed mussels, crispy fish fillets, and appetizing Vietnamese spring rolls. Sweet and sour catfish is a popular local dish, the fish has a tenderness to it and its sauce will only make one crave more.
Also, their fishcakes are a common dish, its chewiness is what makes it unique, and the huge fried sticky rice balls are a mouthwatering delicacy. Of course not forgetting the legendary pho, Vietnamese most sought-after noodles.
There are many variations to it, and one of it is cooked with pork and soup. For those who aren’t pork-lovers, there are noodles served with seafood.
“My favorite is Bún Thịt Nướng, spring rolls with chicken and a special sauce. It’s really delicious,” stated Hong, the tour guide when asked about what he thinks is the best Vietnamese food.
Ho Chi Minh City provides many restaurants with seasonal
ambience, such as this luminous Halloween-themed restaurant, Barbeque Garden. As it was Halloween night, the trees were decorated with countless lanterns, and waiters dressed in costumes. It not only has great food but also has a charismatic ambience.
At night, the fun begins. People stroll along the street as a group or as couples. In the park, many motorbikes were parked in a line peculiarly. This is where most couples come to hang out. “They have an eye closed, and the other opened while kissing,” joked the tour guide, Hong.
Even though it looks peaceful and romantic, the couples are always on the lookout for police that might lurk in a corner to fine them for illegal parking. On the streets, the famous cathedral is illuminated as well as the buildings. The motorbikes are still on the road and seems like it will continue roaming around as the night goes by.
All the stories thrown out there about Vietnam, nothing will compare to a trip to Vietnam, making anyone understand what “Seeing is believing” means. Vietnam, culture and history-packed, is truly a hidden charm.
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Beatrice Tan is a freshman from Jakarta International School, Jakarta, Indonesia. She is a Singaporean who currently lives in Jakarta with her parents and sister. They have been living an expat life for many years and love it. She is a teen writer for Jakarta Post, speaks and writes in 3 languages (English, Mandarin Chinese and Bahasa Indonesia).
Photo credit: Beatrice Tan