My family and I went on a holiday vacation to Vietnam in December 2019. Fortunately, the trip happened just a few months before COVID-19 reached South Korea and the country went into lockdown. Because we were stationed in geographically-close South Korea at the time, the flight to Vietnam was short, especially compared to how long it would have been from the U.S. So we decided to travel, and hopefully be exposed to experiences we would not have access to living in America. We were counting on it, as Vietnam's politics, economics, and culture are vastly different from those of America.
While in Vietnam, we traveled to several different parts of the country. In Hanoi, Vietnam, we saw beautiful, tranquil temples and often walked the streets of the city, which bustled with traffic. The majority of vehicles in Vietnam are mopeds, so the roads do not have cars lined up next to each other in somewhat orderly rows, like in America. The roads contain moped after moped crowded together, and sometimes even the sidewalks have mopeds on them! Also, where a family in the U.S. may own a car, a family in Vietnam may only own a moped. This means that several people sit on one tiny vehicle and drive straight into the massive maelstrom of mopeds! We also went inside the prison where U.S. Navy pilot John McCain (who later became a U.S. senator) was held for over five years after being captured in North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. After Hanoi, we hopped on a boat to see Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba Island. My family and I kayaked through the gorgeous teal-jade water, past beautiful towering islands covered in greenery. Our trip ended in Hoi An, Vietnam, where we stayed at a stunning hotel that featured silk-weaving workshops and silk from live silkworms that were raised and displayed throughout the grounds.
In the cities of Vietnam, we saw shop after shop packed to the brim with varying goods for sale. Anything you can imagine, from purses, jackets, and shoes to lanterns, paintings, and little trinkets. We ate at restaurants with names and menus we could not read, but we thoroughly enjoyed the food nonetheless. We met many different welcoming Vietnamese people who were gracious and considerate enough to show us their beloved country and ways of life.
Throughout our trip, the Vietnamese devotion to religion was nearly always apparent. The major religion is Buddhism, so small statues of Buddha could be found everywhere. Lovingly cared-for shrines and temples were also abundant. My family and I visited several temples, and each had giant flowing trees all around the property, as well as skillfully crafted towering archways and bright decorations. This was very different from the modest churches and crosses I am used to in America.
Vietnam was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Even now, after having lived overseas for years in a life the majority of American teens don’t have or don’t understand, I still consider the time I spent in Vietnam to be the most unique and eye-opening. I had the opportunity to come into contact with something that was outside of everything I had ever known, to experience a vastly different and incredibly challenging way of life. As cliche as this may sound, the world truly is so much larger than I could ever imagine. And there is still so much more out there to see!