Vibrant Vietnam: Always Forward, Never Back

Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam - 15 Feb 2021: Beautiful traditional decorations and details on the roof of the temple at Vinh Nghiem monastery with many visitor in Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam

By Evelyn B. Kelly, PhD 

Over a hundred mopeds are coming right at us as we try to cross the street in Ho Chi Minh City (the city was formerly called Saigon). We panic, close our eyes, and return to the sidewalk. Where is the crosswalk? How do you cross the road? The joke, “why did the chicken cross the road?” did not make it to Vietnam. The chicken never would have made it to the other side. 

Motorbikes and tuk-tuks are kings in Vietnam. They appear in the streets like a gaggle of geese running in all directions, honking and beeping. But our guide, Duc, is beside us. “Go ahead,” he said. He smiles calmly, sticks his hand into traffic, and slowly walks across the bustling street as mopeds buzz around us.  

We ask, “How did you do that?” Duc replies, “It’s a Vietnamese traffic trick—always look forward, never back.” We make it without a hitch, bump, or even a scratch. “Looking forward, never back” is the motto of this country.  

Never Back 

As we left our hotel in Hanoi, a happy young man was at the desk. He had a different haircut—a variation of the long-haired crew cut. I commented on it, and he said in perfect English, “I am the new generation of Vietnamese.” We see this new generation as a beacon of progress, immaculate and service-oriented, filled with friendly, helpful, and smiling people, instilling a sense of reassurance and confidence in our travel plans. 

Vietnam: Land of Lanterns 

Vietnam’s beauty is astounding. We see temples, shops, picturesque countryside, endless rice paddies, and a fascinating world, from the French-style architecture of Ho Chi Minh City to the cruise along the Mekong Delta River. You will see bright lanterns hanging if you enter any city or village market. 

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The War: Long Ago but Many Memories 

Our guide talked very carefully about the war we Americans called the Vietnam War. We saw many of the areas we had read about in the news. Hue was the scene of some of the most intense fighting and was 90% destroyed. Today, it is a bustling city with amazing skyscrapers, great roads, and a terrific air terminal. Our guide said, “Twenty years ago, there was nothing here. It was flattened.” 

Our Perspective 

We had mixed emotions about this unusual adventure. We realized these were charming places with fascinating history and people. Travel made us fall in love with this country, yet we realized our friends’ and neighbors’ sacrifices. Going and seeing the areas constantly in the news was unsettling. 

In the spirit of adventure, we found what travel does: it has changed our lives. We appreciate our country and our servicemen, many of whom we know personally. We also have to look at other cultures and how change has come to them. We must look forward, never back. 

Evelyn Kelly and Natalie Kelly, a mother/daughter writing team, have traveled to 88 countries, 50 U.S. states, and seven continents. Their book “Have a Love Affair with Travel” will be released in September.