Exploring Vietnam and returning to my roots

By Elise Tran, staff writer

I had the opportunity to travel to Vietnam, my parent’s homeland with rice fields and all, this summer. 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”, a sign of a Vietnamese-American struggling to fully speak Vietnamese.

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

Tam Coc, mountains and caves along with a river in between, was marvelous as we did what typical tourists do: take a languorous rowing-boat ride rowed by a local. For a bit of fun, I got to wear a rice hat, thanks to our bus driver, whilst rowing to take in the true experience. Even though it was all fun and games, my stupidity got the best of me. When we stopped 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. Long story short, I started to flow away. Luckily I didn’t flow too far and ended up using a paddle, so the boat driver held onto it and was able to 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 drastic to the personality of people living in the states. The 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, proved to be quite a sight and a bit of interesting cuisine. We went to the largest waterfall in the country, the Ban Gioc waterfall. Although that was incredible, my adventure and curiosity peaked when one of the restaurants offered a queen bee course. I’m talking about actual queen bees and honestly speaking, they were pretty tasty.

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, I got 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 using my wary bargaining skills as well.

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 really leaves 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 family that I just met.

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

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