Vietnam is a complex place–including emotionally for many Americans. It was interesting–when we were telling people about our trip, we received very mixed reactions when we told people we were going to Vietnam. Most younger people were excited for us, anyone that has traveled to Vietnam as a tourist sang its praises to us–but sometimes, people from our parents generation or older reacted with horror. Why would we go there?? You can understand the reaction–for many older Americans, Vietnam is a graveyard of friends and family, a big ugly sore on America’s history from a war we should have never been involved in to begin with. One man we met on our travels said “I have been all over the world, but I would never go to Vietnam. I lost too many loved ones to Vietnam. That wall in D.C. is filled with names of people I knew.”
And yet, why wouldn’t we go? The war was a long time ago, and we’ve been to a lot of countries that used to be our “enemies”–countries like Austria, Germany, Italy, and Japan. We lived in South Korea, a country technically still at war, where American soldiers are still on active duty–a country where my own grandfather served. Vietnam presented us no real moral dilema. We knew we wanted to go.
There are so many interesting things about Vietnam, and in a lot of ways, the after affects of the war are still very visible and very much a part of the everyday lives of the Vietnamese people. So to kick off our coverage of the Vietnam, here are five interesting things about this beautiful and complex country.
1.) This isn’t exactly news, but we were a little surprised (stupidly, I guess) that the Vietnamese people call “The Vietnam War” (what Americans call it), “The American War.” It’s one of those things you just don’t think about until it’s staring you in the face. The Vietnamese perspective is that the Americans were the aggressors, interfering in a civil war. There’s definitely truth to that. But it was still weird to hear about “The American War.”
2.) Prior to the Vietnam/American War, the southernmost city was known as Saigon. After the South Vietnamese and the Americans lost the war and were pushed out of the city, it was renamed “Ho Chi Min City.” Interestingly, you’ll hear it both ways all throughout Vietnam. Certain neighborhoods in Ho Chi Min City are still referred to as Saigon, and some people still refer to the whole city as Saigon. I’m not sure if this is a sign of their loyalties, or if it’s just a habit, but we found it very interesting how the city name changed depending on who you were talking to. From here on out, we’ll refer to it as Ho Chi Min, simply because that’s its official name, and is what it’s called on maps, at airports, etc.
3.) Despite the fact that the Vietnam/American War ended in 1975, relations between the two nations weren’t normalized until 1995. Former President Bill Clinton formalized the return to diplomatic relations, and soon after the two nations opened consulates in each others countries. Relations have continued to grow stronger over time, and finally, in 2007 Congress approved Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) for Vietnam.
4.) That’s enough talk about war for now. Let’s talk about something fun. Have you ever had pho? Pho (pronounced “fuh,” not “foe”) is a delicious Vietnamese soup, popular all over the world. Since it’s a soup, it’s a popular lunch and dinner food in the U.S. However, in Vietnam, pho is a breakfast food. Yum yum yum!
5.) Vietnamese coffee is the most delicious thing in the whole world. That is not an exaggeration, and it is a fact. This popular coffee drink is made of super-strong espresso and sweetened condensed milk, and is served hot or iced, anytime of the day. This was one of the BEST parts of Vietnam.
So there you have it–five tid bits about Vietnam. Stay tuned for more Vietnam coverage as we talk about our time in Ho Chi Min City and Hoi An over the next few weeks!
What are your thoughts on Vietnam? Have you been there? Would you go there? Share with us in the comments!