Saturday, October 22, 2011

Entry for the Contest "Indochina in your eyes"!


“Vietnam 2010, A Family Affair”

After an exhausting transpacific flight, we finally touch downed in Sai Gon and waited tirelessly in line for entry into the country. We gathered our belongings and made our way into the warm tropic air greeted by hundreds of Vietnamese smiles. Confused and overwhelmed as we were, familiar faces came out of the crowd to meet us, hugging and retrieving our bags. My mother naturally responded in her first language and began introducing everyone.

Although my mother and I had visited Vietnam previously, it was a first for those travelling with us; my teenage son on his first international holiday; my older sister returning to her country of birth; my father, a war veteran with suppressed memories from his deployment; finally arriving at a small yet significant country that that made a name for itself during the 1960’s.

We were immediately thrown into a chaotic city of petrol motos, rustic bicycles, horns blaring and a multitude of Vietnamese conversation. A thicket of fumes layered the city and grills sent smoke drifting across perilous streets. After reintroductions to our extended family, a large group of us headed to Nha Trang in a stiff passenger van for a five hour road trip. It was one of the most strenuous road trips due to the lack of organized traffic patterns but we eventually made our way outside of the city into some of the most beautiful parts that Vietnam has to offer. The land transitioned from flat rice fields to rocky cliffs in the west and mountains in the east. As we neared the outskirts of Nha Trang, the South China Sea glistened like jade stones under the sun. We rested at a seaside restaurant for lunch and enjoyed the warm sand and salty mist of the sea.

Upon arrival, we gathered for dinner then settled into our hotel for the night. At the break of dawn, I was geared and ready to go on my first SCUBA diving trip. A group of divers convened at a nearby dock and set out by boat for Mun Island. Literally shaking in my skin, I suited up and had the assistance of two guides at my side. We dove in and bobbed around for a few minutes before making our descent into the bay. For the first time I encountered coral, sea stars, mirror, flute, cleaner, scorpion fish and the list goes on as we swam through rock formations sheltering dozens of fish. Fish randomly swam up to my mask kissing the bubbles as I exhaled through my regulator. As you can imagine the adrenaline rushing through me, it was as if we traveled to another planet and made our ascent back to the surface. I was breathlessly amazed by the entire experience!

Later that evening, my family and I strolled along the beach and perused the Nha Trang markets. We left Nha Trang after a few days and traveled to our next destination, Da Lat. The climate dramatically changed from tropical to cool in “the city of eternal spring”. Despite the unexpected weather, we visited the perfectly preserved Presidential Palace and Truc Lam temple. Our visit to a true Buddhist temple elucidated the purpose of our vacation. After our enlightenment, we kept an open perspective for the remainder of the trip and gained a better appreciation for everything and everyone around us.

Thereafter, we went on a few more trips, Mekong Delta boat tour, Cu Chi tunnels, War Museum and for a final amusement, Suoi Tien. It was like no other theme park I've ever visited and it was most memorable for celebrating ancient Vietnamese folklore and lack of discretion. It was as if we had walked onto the most magical place on earth, however we were dwarfed in contrast to the monumental fruits on display for Fruit Festival. We probably had the best corndogs ever at a time when our stomachs became intolerant to the variety of foods we indulged in. It was obvious we did not possess the guts of Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern. Thus, we journeyed through enchanted forests, visited ornate temples and braved a menagerie where we enticed crocodiles with raw meat. We finally ended our journey at the Olympus like Water Park which was extremely inviting after bearing the tropical humidity. This was definitely a new and exciting experience when compared to the mediocre Six Flags or Disney.

On the last few days, we remained with our re-acquainted family members and frequented the markets for souvenirs for our family back home. We prepped ourselves for the return flight and said our emotional goodbyes.

As I reflect, I realize that it was not only a family vacation but opportunities for us to establish new as well reinforce old family connections. It was a new perspective for my son, a long awaited journey for my sister and some closure for my father. Vietnam possesses breathtaking and awe-inspiring beauty and I have never seen a city so beautifully immersed in culture. We were there for only two weeks but created memories to last a lifetime.

By Jessica Montez

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