yellow periscope vietnam blog post ho chi minh city

Vietnam Sightings Part 1 – Culture and History

Travelling to a new country exposes you to new sights, weather, people, food and language. It is an opportunity to find inspiration and your creative spirit. This article is for everyone who wants travel to become a deeper experience and allow themselves to be surprised.

All I know of you is all the sights of war.
A film by Coppola, the helicopter’s roar.
One day I’ll touch your soil.
One day I’ll finally know your soul.
One day I’ll come to you.
To say hello… Vietnam.
-Translation of “Bonjour Vietnam” sung by Vietnamese-Belgian singer Quynh Anh about her feelings as a small girl who had never seen her homeland. The song is truly special for the Vietnamese and was played when our flight landed in Vietnam.

Backstory

Why did we choose Vietnam? We could have traveled one of the many European countries that are still on our must-visit list. Why Vietnam? The answer lies in Mahesh’s visit to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) 4 years back for a business meeting. He was instantly bowled over by the food and something about the culture had an inexplicable spell on him. And he knew he had to share it with the Yellow Periscope team.


Taking to the streets

I have noticed many people booking themselves into standard tour itineraries and missing out the experience of exploring a new place by themselves. While package tours serve as a starting point, exploring the streets by yourself is the best way to feel the vibe of a place, meet local people and sit down for a leisurely drink at a roadside cafe. Not to mention get great photographs and write a blog about it. You could even sit down in that cafe and sketch.

So like many of our earlier trips we explored Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi by walking the streets.

yellow periscope vietnam trip travel culture two wheeler street hanoi traffic cop
When we landed in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam felt no different to me. The topography seemed familiar – chaotic traffic with hordes of two wheeler’s weaving their way through it, metro construction work in progress and hot-humid weather, it felt like we were still in Mumbai.
vietnam travel yellow periscope ben thanh market streets sighting culture two wheeler
In well-rehearsed dialogue, a tour guide asked, “so what’s your first impression of my country?” I deadpanned and said – it still isn’t feeling like I left mine.
yellow periscope vietnam ho chi minh city trip travel creative things to do ben thanh market
With google maps in my arsenal, I morphed from traveller to fearless explorer. We walked all the way from our hotel in the city center to the bustling Ben Thanh market that was lit up for Christmas.
yellow periscope vietnam trip travel creative things to do ho chi minh city street market ben thanh
Strolling through the night markets gave us a feel of the place. We interacted with local people and got to sample the street food they eat.
vietnam yellow periscope travel culture art painting street hanoi artist
While Ho Chi Minh is all about business, Hanoi is about culture. It reminded me of the difference between Mumbai and Delhi in India. These street artists are painting electricity boxes on the streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter district.
vietnam yellow periscope travel culture history hanoi street night market new year party
Hanoi streets getting ready for the New Year’s Party. Night markets are popular here too and so is dancing on the streets! In the morning, we saw small groups of people dancing in public parks for fitness.
vietnam yellow periscope travel culture innovation grab taxi two wheeler motorbike app
Along with four-wheeler taxi rides similar to Uber, I was very excited to discover the model being adapted to Vietnam’s two wheeler culture. Grab taxi offers motorbike taxis that you can book on their app and when they arrive you hop behind your driver and off you go!

Discovering Vietnamese Culture

When we were inside the One Pillar Pagoda in Hanoi, I asked a tour guide what religion do people follow in Vietnam? He said “now we not interest in Buddhism, we interested only in moneyism“. Just like people in other Asian countries, the Vietnamese are ambitious and industrious. At the same time they are friendly, hospitable and highly respect their older generation and family.

vietnam yellow periscope travel culture history people youth american brand ho chi minh city
We spotted these young Vietnamese students posing in their graduation dress on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City where we also saw many reminders of the traumatic war. While the older generation yet feels the pain, the young embrace American influence and brands.
yellow periscope vietnam travel explore women streets status gender role
In modern life in Vietnam, genders are equal. I saw women working, running businesses, driving taxi’s and being comfortable in public spaces.
ellow periscope vietnam trip travel creative things to do hanoi city street opera house
When walking the streets in Hanoi, Vietnam’s Capital, I saw influences of both, the French colonial past and Chinese culture in its architecture as well as food.
yellow periscope vietnam things to explore water puppet theatre culture
Being an agricultural nation, its influence can be seen in Vietnam’s culture and arts. Water puppetry is a traditional folk art that depicts rural stories of farmers from the northern delta.
vietnam yellow periscope travel culture history installation musuem hat Non La
If you were playing Pictionary and the word was Vietnam, drawing this hat would be enough. Nón lá (palm-leaf conical hat) is a traditional symbol of Vietnamese people without age, sex or racial distinctions. These are the various stages of how this trademark hat is crafted.

Haunted by the Horrific War

In Vietnam you can feel the remnants and see the reminders of war everywhere.

At Ho Chi Minh City’s War Remnants Museum, one of the galleries exhibits photographs that helped turn the course of the Vietnam war. These award winning pictures are spine chilling, disturbingly real and played a major role in turning public opinion about the war across the world. In the end is a list of photojournalists who died while shooting the war so that its horror was relayed to the rest of the world. It is a must visit for people in the creative industry to realize what powerful tools lie at your fingertips should you choose to harness them.

yellow periscope vietnam trip travel visit war museum cu chi tunnels
Another remnant of the war worth visiting are the Củ Chi tunnels. This tunnel network, once spread around 250 kms, is a spectacular feat of indigenous engineering, a system of tunnels having several floors and alleys with places for dining, living, meeting and fighting . During the Vietnam war, strategic use of the Củ Chi tunnels by the Viet Cong troops frustrated and outwitted the US military continuously.
Cu Chi tunnels vietnam war travel
The tunnels complex at Củ Chi has been preserved by the government of Vietnam and tourists are allowed to crawl into some of the safer parts to experience them. This is me trying to use the really narrow, perfectly camouflaged, cover for entering a tunnel.
vietnam yellow periscope travel culture history war cu chi tunnels shooting m60 machine gun
After much fierce talk about the horrors of war, boys will be boys. Both Mahesh and Dhruv had a go at shooting an actual M60 machine-gun and AK47 with real bullets!
vietnam yellow periscope travel culture history war aircraft wreckage installation musuem hanoi
This overpowering structure is an installation created from wreckage of aircraft shot down by the Vietnamese troops during their wars with the French and US. During the different wars that happened, they shot down 435 French and 4,181 US aircraft. Some of these are proudly displayed as trophies.
yellow periscope vietnam reason to visit travel explore blogpost
At the end of our trip, what struck me most was how resilient the Vietnamese people were. They fought and claimed their freedom first from the Chinese, then the French and finally the Americans. I realized that’s where the spirit of the country comes from.

A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving
– Lao Tzu

Also read about our experience of visiting a local joint in Ho Chi Minh City to try some truly authentic pho: Eating Vietnam’s National Dish – Pho


Coming Soon: I am writing about sightings from our food trails and cooking lessons in Vietnam and a ringside view of Vietnam’s world heritage landscapes!


 

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