I toured Vietnam with the Minnesota Ag and Rural Leadership (MARL) program. We’re a mix of 30 people from across Minnesota, involved in ag and rural development. We have been meeting for 18 months so we are familiar with each other, but could we survive two weeks together in a foreign country? We did more than survive; we thrived!
Our group didn’t choose where to go, the MARL board selected our country. I was hesitant about Vietnam. I was certain the war would overshadow our trip. I was nervous about being a U.S. citizen in communist Vietnam.
In the north and south, we were welcomed with open arms. During a visit with the U.S. embassy, they told us the U.S. has an 80% approval rating in Vietnam. One Vietnamese person joked he wished he could have been on the final plane to the U.S. so he could be wealthy and living in the U.S. They don’t hate us, they want to be more like us. It’s a communist country but think of it as “communism light.”
Since many on the trip were farmers, we took time to visit Vietnamese farms. A pineapple farmer in the north told us his biggest concerns were weather and prices. I could get that same answer in the Stephen café! We traveled around the world to find a farmer just like us. The family was so generous. They saw a bus load of people viewing pineapple fields, and invited us into their yard for tea.
We ambushed a rice farmer too. The bus made a rest stop, and while we were using the WC and grabbing snacks, the bus driver ran across the road to see if the farmer was interested in visiting with us. We lined up along the muddy field border while she showed us how to transplant rice. A few group members hopped into the rice patty and tried their best, but the farmer just laughed and laughed at us. Rice planting by hand is an art we don’t know.
In the north, nearly every undeveloped piece of land is devoted to rice production. There were more bare patches of land in the south.
And the beauty of Vietnam cannot be overstated. We started in Ha Long Bay. I never thought I’d be cruising through Ha Long Bay. The tourist town of Hoi An was beautiful with lanterns everywhere at night. We looked longingly out the bus window at China Beach in Danang, but we had no time to stop. I’ll save that for the next trip.
This trip really changed my opinion of Vietnam. The only thing preventing Vietnam from becoming a major tourist destination is the flight. It really is a killer. You can visit Vietnam on a shoestring budget for hotel and food. If you can afford it, splurge for first class, or even premium economy. I’m only 5’3”, and my knees were hitting the seat in front of me on the American Airlines flight home. It was a brand new plane, and nothing extra was spent for comfortable seats or leg room. We flew Japan Air to Vietnam, and I’d recommend that airline. The few extra inches of leg room are well worth it.
You can even visit via a cruise ship. Your one star budget will get you a 5 star vacation. Enjoy a hot stone massage for $10, or a pedicure for $3. A beer for $.75 (also available for $.25 but pay for the can or bottle, not the local brew), a big plate of spring rolls for $2, and all of our hotels included a big breakfast buffet with fresh fruit, croissants, pho (Vietnamese dish), omelet bar, fresh juice, and best of all Vietnamese coffee. Enjoy your trip!