Who, What, Where, When, & Why

[ Table of Contents | On to Ho Chi Minh City ]


This story really starts back at the Around-the-World Journal, where Kathey and I saved our money, got married, quit our jobs, and took off for a 9-month trip through 26 countries. If you haven't seen the journal (and all of its photos), you might take a look some time and let me know what you think.

That trip was in '91/'92. Since then, we've done a 3-week trip about once a year, the most recent being to Vietnam in November/December of '95. We were trying to figure out where to go on vacation, and, well, we'd already been to Disneyland... :-) Actually we tried to go to Vietnam back in '92 when we were in Bangkok, but had problems getting all the flights worked out. So many things have changed since then, and now is really the best time to go. No more hassles from the police, no more demands for bribes, no more imaginary offenses, no more checking in with the police at every city, and no more permits needed to go between cities. The Vietnamese government has now discovered the value of the tourist dollar, and has taken drastic measures to make sure we say nice things to our friends back home about our visit. The country is really still only in their "tourist infancy" compared to their big brother Thailand that's got the whole tourist thing figured out. That can be good and bad. Prices are lower, scams are fewer, but beach cities like Nha Trang aren't as built-up and prepared for the throngs of sun-lovers wanting a cheap bungalow at the water's edge.

I also had a somewhat personal reason for wanting to see Vietnam. My uncle, Captain Paul Faris Gilbert, was killed while piloting a C-130 that was shot down over Vietnam on June 18th, 1972. He's always been in my thoughts as I was growing up, and he was certainly on my mind a lot during these 3 weeks. We here in the States have a hard time even hearing the word "Vietnam" without being flooded with negative emotions. And from what other backpackers we met said, America's not alone in those thoughts. I made it a point to ask travelers from other countries what their friends and relatives said when they announced they were going on vacation to Vietnam. Invariably, the reply was something like, "They said, 'Are you out of your MIND?'" :-) But as much as I tried to imagine what it was like over 20 years ago, it was almost impossible to really see many signs of the war left over. Vietnam's population is heavily weighted towards the young, and if you think about it, anyone you talk to younger than about 30 probably won't have many first-hand memories of the war in the 60's and 70's. And although that war is a huge part of our history, many say that for Vietnam it's only one among centuries filled with them. So it's not surprising, really, that although I was a bit concerned about my nationality, I had no reason to be. One day while being driven across town in a cyclo (a kind of bicycle-rickshaw), the driver asked where I was from. When I told him, his face lit up as he quickly said, "Ah, America number one!"

Travel guides

Words can't describe how much I appreciate the Lonely Planet series of travel books. If you're considering a trip to Vietnam (or just about any other country, for that matter), I highly suggest taking a copy of their guide book. The most recent Vietnam book came out in November of '95, one week after we were to start our trip. After pleading my sob story over the phone to their office in California, a very nice woman (who shall remain nameless), took pity on me and mailed me a pre-release copy of the book. Talk about prestige! Walking the backpacker section of Saigon with a brand new Lonely Planet Vietnam book! Even the tour operators wanted their turn checking out all the new info.

There's no use in trying to make this site into a travel guide. I could never compete with such useful information on hotels, restaurants, sights, warnings, and general advice. I created this set of pages just to give you a look inside the country, and possibly even to help you decide where to go on your next vacation -- especially if you've already been to Disneyland.

Russell Gilbert

[ Table of Contents | On to Ho Chi Minh City ]

Comments are appreciated! Please visit the feedback page.