Exploring Vietnam and returning to my roots

By Elise Tran, staff writer

This summer I traveled to my parents’ homeland of Vietnam, rice fields and all. Despite being born and raised in California, I felt as if a part of me really belonged to Vietnam. With my scrappy bargaining skills and a sweet spot for adventure, it was truly an experience I would never forget. I even got to improve my suffering “Vietglish,” as I struggled to speak Vietnamese.

On the way to our first destination, Tam Coc-Bich Dong in North Vietnam, my mom told us childhood stories from the area that my grandpa would describe to her and her siblings. This was the first time my mom had ever been to this town because my grandparents were originally from northern Vietnam. Then in 1954, when Vietnam started to separate, they fled to the south.

To enjoy the mountains, caves, and rivers of Tam Coc we did what typical tourists do: take a languorous row-boat ride rowed by a local. For a bit of fun, I got to wear a rice hat (thanks to our bus driver) for a true rowing experience. Even though it was all fun and games, my stupidity got the best of me. After stopping by an island area where the set of “Kong: Skull Island” was filmed, I walked ahead of the boat driver and stepped in the boat by myself thinking that it was tied down, but I started to float away. Luckily I didn’t drift too far and I grabbed a paddle and held it out to the boat driver so he could pull me to the dock.

We then stopped by the luscious, grass-covered mountains along with the terraced rice fields in Sa Pa, a town located in the northwest of Vietnam. It proved to be a sight I couldn’t see anywhere else. The fields were bright and lively, and my family and I walked down into the villages where the H’mong people stayed. The villagers in Vietnam were so drastically different to people living in the states. Their hospitality level is through the roof; even one lady, as my tour group and I were walking down a small path, offered us to come inside for some tea. Unfortunately, our tour group declined.

One of our city stops, Cao Bằng, offered a bit of interesting cuisine, a course of queen bees. Actual queen bees. Honestly speaking, they were pretty tasty. We also went to the largest waterfall in the country, the Ban Gioc waterfall. Although that was incredible, the queen bees were a bigger adventure and piqued my curiosity more.

Our second-to-last stop was, Can Tho, which is one of the largest cities along the Mekong River. We got to see the largest floating market on the Mekong and more impressively, a woman carved my name on a grain of rice. The city also had a night market and a delicious Che Thai, a Vietnamese dessert with various tropical fruits paired with coconut milk. We bought a few scarves and souvenirs after I haggled down the price.

My trip ended in Saigon where I had the opportunity to meet my distant relatives, who I didn’t even realize existed. Living about 8,500 miles away without any communication whatsoever had really left me clueless about my relatives in Vietnam. I had to go through a couple rounds of explanations with both my mom and dad on how I was related to my Saigon family that I had just met.

While in Saigon, my family and I went to my mom’s childhood temple to visit the ashes of my great-grandparents and other family members. I bought a bracelet at the temple and it holds such a sentimental value, because it’s something that connects me to my mom’s past in Vietnam.

I stayed about two-and-a-half weeks total, which in my opinion, isn’t nearly enough. I didn’t even want to return home to Southern California. As I am typing this, I still want to go back and hopefully, I will.