The Vietnam War.
Not exactly the kind of mental images that make you think, “Fabulous vacation!” But America’s venture in anti-communism ended 45 years ago, and a LOT has since changed in southeast Asia. Today, Vietnam and Cambodia are booming.
[Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon]
These two beautiful countries both still have struggles, of course. But they also have fabulous hotels and restaurants, a tourism industry that bends over backwards to cater to tourists, and an exchange rate that should be illegal, given its advantageousness to Americans. If you’re a shopper, this is DEFINITELY the place to be.
Add to that gorgeous beaches, stunning UNESCO sites like Ha Long Bay, and temples and palaces that date back thousands of years, and suddenly, you DO have the building blocks for a fabulous vacation.
[Angkor Wat – Cambodia]
[Monks of Angkor Wat]
But there’s one thing in particular that makes this corner of the world absolutely unique among the world’s ancient countries: the sites that were part of the Vietnam war. For many of us, at least some small part of that war happened in our lifetimes, or it ended soon after we were born, so it has a realness that the French Revolution doesn’t.
[Soldiers – Hanoi, Vietnam]
Sites like the Cu Chi Tunnels (outside Ho Chi Minh City), are one of a kind. Cu Chi is where the Viet Cong lived underground to escape – and attack – the American soldiers. This network of low-ceilinged tunnels and living quarters is breathtaking. Climb down into them and imagine not seeing daylight for weeks at a time. (The tunnels were infested with vermin, and malaria was rampant.) The site also features exhibits of the horrifyingly creative traps the Viet Cong used to kill soldiers, like grass-covered trap doors where a soldier would fall onto spikes.
[Cu Chi Tunnels]
Then there’s B-52 Lake, a small lake in downtown Hanoi. It looks leafy and peaceful now, with joggers and city workers sipping coffee on benches. But in 1967, it’s the site where John McCain’s plane crashed when it was shot down. (He was held as a POW for 6 years.)
[B-52 Lake, Hanoi – courtesy of MissingBits.com]
Of course, a trip to southeast Asia doesn’t have to be all sobering war sites. Take a 7-night river cruise (on a ship like Brand g’s 5-star Mekong Navigator) down the Mekong River, and see how life has remained unchanged for its residents for centuries, as they make rice paper, straw mats and confections.
[All-suite Mekong Navigator]
Stay in a 5-star hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon (two nights here are part of our Vietnam & Cambodia vacations), which was occupied by the French for nearly a century and sports stunning French architecture in its government buildings.
Travel to Angkor, Cambodia (three nights are also included, here) where the deservedly famous temples of Angkor Wat await.
And take Brand g’s Ha Long trip extension and cruise through stunning Ha Long Bay, with thousands of limestone islands and outcroppings that make for an absolutely ethereal selfie moment.
If you choose to travel with Brand g, the vacation is, of course, fully escorted, so you can always rest assured that you’ll be completely taken care of. But whether you choose Brand g or a straight travel company, we’d recommend you do these countries as part of a tour. They’re some of the most memorable places you’ll ever visit, but the culture and chaos of cities like Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi can be a little overwhelming. How better to do it than to come back to a 5-star hotel and/or river cruise ship after a day surrounded by six million motorcycles?
If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path vacation, or one that connects with a tragic part of America’s recent past, you will LOVE southeast Asia.
No Agent Orange hazmat suit required.