Linda Johansen and fellow travelers’ latest adventure was a 15-day excursion through Vietnam.
“Vietnam has been listed in the top 10 countries to travel to for quite some time, but I was hesitant at first because of the Vietnam War. I finally decided traveling to Vietnam was a way that I could honor and show respect to my fellow classmates and friends who perished serving our country in that atrocious war and to the veterans who returned home living with the scars of war,” Johansen said.
The trip from Feb. 22 to March 8 began in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, which is a regional hub and a cultural melting pot. Sights there included the Cu Chi Tunnels, a maze of underground passageways and village used as hideouts by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War.
“They literally had an entire three-story village underground where they had their headquarter offices, made uniforms and housed and fed the Viet Cong,” she added.
The group also visited many colonial landmarks and some toured toured the Hanoi Hilton, the prison camp that held many American POWs for years, including Sen. John McCain.
The group also cruised along the Mekong Delta, wearing race-paper hats to avoid the heat.
The next stop was Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, which retains a lot of French influence from colonial days.
When visiting the mausoleum built to honor Ho Chi Minh, the group was herded in line, and ordered to stay silent, by very strict and disciplined soldiers as they passed Ho Chi Minh’s body.
The trip also included a trip to the village of Ky Son, where the tourists took a cooking class highlighting the region’s cuisine.
One of the highlights of the 15-day tour was an overnight sailing on a luxury junk in Ha Long Bay.
“The exquisite emerald green waters and 1600 untouched islands and limestone pillars that rise out of the sea take your breath away,” Johansen said.
The area is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site for its 500 million years of evolution and its rare ecosystems.
“Attending a tai chi class at 6 a.m. on the deck of this junk boat was the most Zen thing I have ever done. The hair on my arms still stands on end when I speak about that experience in this most beautiful serene and exotic setting,” she added.
The last two cities on the tour were Hue, the Imperial capital city, and Hoi An, another UNESCO World Heritage site.
“Tourism is Vietnam’s way to move forward and to allow the pain of war to subside somewhat,” Johansen said. “The country is captivating and poignant at the same time, and the people are gracious, kind and attempting to make a better way of life for themselves and their families.”