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It can get cold in Seoul in the winter, and with the skyscrapers

blotting out the southern horizon and what little sun there is in

December anyway, it stays dark.  I had had enough. Being 5000 miles away from

anyone that I might spend a Christmas with, my calendar was free. I

checked my bank account, and tried to a find a flight that would get me

closest to the equator for the cheapest amount possible. Ho Chi Minh City–

left in a week on Christmas Day, 600 bucks. Seemed feasible.


I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City nearing on midnight, with no pre-conceived

notions of what I might find there.  I landed on Christmas Eve. It might

as well have been New Year’s Eve.  The streets were packed, the shop

doors wide open, firecrackers going off at every street corner.   I did

a double-take as a short, black-haired Santa, wedged between his parents

on a motorbike, zipped between cars trapped in traffic.  I reached for

my passport and checked the visa — sure enough, “Socialist

Republic of Vietnam” … THIS was the big bad communism they had warned

us about in school? Over the next few days I got a few subtle hints of communism

— at least the pop culture sort I’d expected to see.  On the back of

the motorbike at night, I couldn’t see the monuments to the fallen

comrade.  I couldn’t read the missing sentences in newsstand magazines

in the market, which had been there just hours ago in the same magazines

in the Busan airport.   I drove right by the poster, two stories tall,

with an angry, beautiful mother (baby on her back, machine gun with

bayonet fixed in hand) marching forward across a field.


But, for now at least, no one seemed dour.  Moms handed kids wads of

cash to spend liberally on trinkets and toys,

fried somethings on a stick, and beers; full-faced smiles

passed easily between old men; young boys and girls dressed for Los

Angeles flirted with each other and texted their friends on iPhones.


My motorbike driver dropped me somewhere close to where he thought the

hostel was.  I wandered for 15 minutes, admittedly lost.  But, I didn’t

care. My night was free and so too did it seems was everyone around on

me on the sidewalk.


A little jet-lagged, I popped into a corner store to pick up a

pick-me-up.  I grabbed a couple bags of dried fish strips and a couple

of drinks I hoped were alcoholic, and headed back to the street.  I

found a low wall facing a busy boulevard, plopped my bag on the

ground, cracked a beer, and just sat there watching the people roll by

while I took stock of what I just stumbled upon.


I was happy, genuinely so; and for the first time in a couple months of

winter since I’d first arrived in my temporary home in Seoul. Why?  Was

it the 60 degree change in weather? I always prefer shorts and flip

flops, but weather isn’t everything. Was it the beer? At 4% alcohol,

that was doubtful.


No, I said to myself, I was happy because I had the privilege of

independence, the freedom to wander or linger whereever I felt. I had

the freedom to discover. Months ago, I was excited to move to Seoul to

do dissertation work in graduate school not because of knew what made

the city great, but rather because I knew so little about the place.

Sure, you google practicalities in advance (is there a bus from here to

there, a place to stay the first night, etc.), but then you just let the

city itself educate you. And now, I felt the same thing was about to

happen with Vietnam.  I spent the next week or so, setting a few

priorities for the day (seek out this park or that museum), going out

and finding it. But, never was an itinerary inviolable — sometimes a

sound of music or a smell of lunch down a sidestreet leads you away from

the destination you originally struck out for, you go wander and soon

enough you’re discovering yourself someplace new. Before going to

Vietnam, I had quickly sketched out a plan to go from HCMC to Hanoi by

train. All was set except the tickets — until one morning at

breakfast. I chatted with a Cambodian truck driver who’d stop for lychee

on the way to work about his home.  So intrigued, I hopped a bus to

Phnom Penh and 24 hours later was waking up in Siem Reap.   That’s, for

me, independence.  To be able to set your own path, using the collective

knowledge of guidebooks, locals, travelers as waypoints to make sure

you’re not missing something stupendous.  But the rest, the rest is up

to you.

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A place that inspires me


The place that inspires me to be brave is Vietnam. It inspires me to be brave because they were brave when they were attacked during the Vietnam War. Of course The United States helped defend and fight with them. But Vietnam did most of the work. Here is the description of The Vietnam War and why Vietnam inspires me to be brave.


South Vietnam and North Vietnam went to war because one of the sides wanted to unite both sides but it didn’t work because the other side didn’t agree with their decision. So they went to war to decide who is right. People remember the war as what not to do in all future U.S. foreign conflicts. Countries also included in the War was America and Australia. Many soldiers in the war didn’t die by being shot in the war. They mostly died from Diseases but they were still strong about it. The North Vietnamese won the war in the end. There was a huge celebration for the soldiers in May 1963. The only reason US got involved in the Vietnam War is because President Lyndon Johnson was the main person that wanted to stop communism. During the Vietnam War, North Vietnamese attacked two US destroyers. Johnson tried to Americanize the war. Pleiku US Base was attacked. Nearly 40 thousand American troops were sent to war in Vietnam. The war caused Major loss of lives outside the country ever in American History. Nearly 58226 American Soldiers were killed or missing in Action. Their names are listed on the Vietnam Wall.  2.59 million People served in this war. Vietnam War was the biggest defeat the US Army has ever faced. The Vietnam War was the longest battle to have been fought ever by The United States. There were mainly two sets of people whose ideas clashed and these were the Democrats and The communists. Their ideals clashed and they often fought against each other. It led to a serious divide of the country leading to the formation of two countries-North Vietnam and South Vietnam. North Vietnam was formed by the communists and South Vietnam was formed by the Democrats. Diem had democratic views on the government. The United States decided to support South Vietnam in spite of Diem’s Nature. North Vietnam being a communist country was supported by Russia and other communist countries. However, because of communism several countries in the world like Australia and China were involved in the War with America and The Soviet Union being the two superpowers at that time. North Vietnam’s strongest strength was its army and they had huge troops on foot. For the United States, The territory was unknown and airplanes or helicopters did not work well on those terrains. However, The War lasted for 16 years then it came to an end. The country reunited and became one after that. The first attack of the war came in November 1955. It is during that time Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam as an independent country to reunite his countrymen. In 1959, under his leadership he declared an all-out military struggle and this is when technically the Vietnam War started with The United States stepping in to the help the democratic South Vietnam. They went through all of these moments and they still want to be an independent country.


It also inspires me because that is where my dad comes from. My dad comes from South Vietnam. The culture of Vietnam is so interesting and the language is unique even if you can’t understand it, it is just fun to learn and talk in their language     “Vietnamese.”


That is why Vietnam and its culture fascinates me so much for me to write about Vietnam and why it inspires me to be brave. I wouldn’t have been brave all these years if it weren’t for Vietnam.

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Vietnam Today

By Ferida Wolff

It was in the sixties. I was recently married and worried that my new husband would be drafted and sent to Vietnam. I spent time protesting, marching, and writing letters. The pictures of our eventual withdrawal, particularly the photos of the frantic rooftop evacuation in Saigon, were seared into my mind. I ended up working with organizations helping the people who managed to escape by boat to establish themselves in a new life here. It was a traumatic time for both our peoples.

Now, half a century later, my husband and I decided to visit the country we had so long ago feared. When I told our friends that we were going to Vietnam I could see the question in their eyes. Why, of all places, did we want to go there? They had painful memories, too. And to be honest, I was concerned about how Americans would be viewed all these years later.

What I found was a friendly welcome. While there are museums and monuments that refer to our war involvement, for the most part Vietnam is a country that is putting aside the past for a vibrant future. It is a communist country but one that is enjoying peace, a change from an often war-torn history.

I had imagined a land of flat fields and much of it is that, a countryside where rice fields abound. Rice is a staple in Vietnam, with several crops a year harvested. There are other parts, though; a UNESCO World Heritage site at Halong Bay where islands shift in and out of view in the morning mists and hide treasures like magnificent caves, and the winding road through the dense green hills in the center. There are also fishing villages and fish farms and islands in the Mekong Delta where coconut and banana trees are plentiful. How lovely to swim in the coral coves off the South China Sea.

But this is not a languid country; Vietnam is on the move – literally. It isn’t easy for a westerner to figure out the traffic rules (are there any?). There aren’t too many cars on the road yet – too expensive – but motorbikes abound and they are all traveling at breakneck speed wherever there is room. Six vehicles in the space of two lanes? Sure, why not if they fit? Can’t wait to get through? Move into the opposing lane. Stuck in a traffic jam? Drive on the sidewalk!

You literally have to step into the line of onrushing vehicles to cross the street. We were advised to walk slowly and steadily, be aware of the traffic coming at you but don’t make eye contact. We found the best way to get across was to wait for a native to go first and we would follow close behind. Once, while we hesitated at a curb in Saigon, a woman took pity on us. She indicated that we were to follow her and then, in a moment of compassion, reached behind her to take my hand and lead me across. I thanked her as she waved goodbye and continued on her way. But there was to be no slacking off in our traffic awareness; we still had the sidewalks to contend with.

Markets are bountiful offering food, souvenirs, hardware, clothing, incense, you name it. Night markets are just as active and cooler. Stores beckon everywhere, often with blaring music (no noise-prevention laws, I guess) to entice buyers in. President Bill Clinton lifted the trade embargo with Vietnam in 1997 and the US has been both exporting to and importing from the Vietnamese since then. There are lots of joint-venture enterprises and the country is booming with construction sites.

We had the opportunity to chat with students at the University of Dalat. They wanted to practice their English (a language now required in their high school studies) and to learn about life in America. We were able to ask questions about their lives, to hear about their dreams and their plans for the future; the younger generation in Vietnam has the same enthusiasm as our young people at home.

It was a privilege to experience the terrain and its citizens, to share in the local foods and customs, and to remember about the commonality of all people in our desire to live joyful, peaceful, successful lives. A larger global understanding is needed in a world where a minor disagreement can lead to a major confrontation.  A good way to get that connection is person-to-person, one member of our human family sharing with another. I know that family members don’t always agree but the bond is still there. And, I hope, the caring that keeps us respectful of each other. Vietnam is a great place to embrace our commonality.

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My peculiar visit to Hanoi had become more bizarre!

I used to work at the China Daily in Beijing. I figured I I would look into similar newspaper editing (while monitored by the state) work in Hanoi, which is where a paper called the Vietnam News is based. So I grabbed a copy of the paper and found the address and strolled on over.

Anyone who visited me at Metro knows we liked to keep the crazies out, but I had emailed this paper in the past with no success. I thought if I just showed up, the worst they would do is tell me to email a CV… or talk to me in Vietnamese and we’d all stand around, bewildered. I’ve learned that being brave sometimes means you need to let go of your inhibitions, no matter what the outcome of risk-taking might be.

So I looked in the masthead and demanded the editor-in-chief to come say hi to me! One of the deputy editors came down, and said they were good for editors but “have you done TV?” I replied that I’d been on it, guest reporting the Edmonton weather on Citytv and appearing on strange panel shows on Christian television.

“Good enough, do you want to shoot this untitled project about the Tet holidays, seen through the eyes of a westerner?” I was aksed. “Oh, and this other thing about random Hanoi night markets? Can you stay for two weeks?”

 I said “sure!” Pay is not as good as teaching ESL… But who cares?

Which brings me to the title of this article. Is it the title the name of a new band, or actually has something to do with life in Vietnam?

It does indeed, if you are shooting “Crossing Vietnam!” Yesterday was the last day of filming, but it was a long one… We went a couple of hours outside Hanoi to Nam Dinh Province, to the Vieng Market. This market happens only once a year, and I won’t get into the details but anything you buy there or eat there will bring you luck in the New Year.

Suffice to say, the place gets jammed with people, which made shooting TV challenging. I was meant to be looking interested while a wacky older gentlemen haggled over a pair of scissors, presumably to trim his wiry beard, when I had to swat away a hand from my ass as a pickpocket tried to steal the script out of my back pocket! Whether this will be left on the editing room floor remains to be seen.

I also blew a horn from an “antiques” vendor, even though all his stuff were imitations, and then the gelatinous-rice-pig-on-a-flower. Basically kids here love these little sticks with a little flower/cartoon character/animal on the end, which I thought was made of plasticene. In fact, it’s sticky rice! The camera crew set up and it was decided it would be good that I make one of these things with the vendor, but I was starting to become Mr. Crankypants by this point. It wasn’t like my inner diva was coming out, but we’d been at 11 hours and I’d been blasting a horn, trying to look interested at bonsai trees and now I’m making a pink pig sitting on top of a green flower out of sticky rice with 50 bewildered Vietnamese onlookers, and being told to smile while I did it.

Still, if that’s your biggest complaint, how bad can your life be? Getting outta there took forever though! Easily the most hectic traffic I’ve seen in this country, and I’ve seen some jams! Anyway, I said goodbye to the camera crew as that was our last shoot! Possibly forever? (sniff)

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by Joey Bui

 At the entrance to Vinh Nghiem Temple in Saigon, you can buy wreaths of jasmine. My grandmother buys me a wreath every time we go together. We have been twice, once when I was six, and then when I was sixteen. The petals are twisted into thick bulbs, and the stalks are knotted end on end. When I wear it like a necklace, the last jasmine reaches my tummy. Women with wrinkly eyes and sundarkened skin sell it for 20,000 dong a wreath, which is a little less than a dollar. We don’t bargain because we are at temple.

The spiral stairways are narrow and painted red. As we climb up, the air is smooth and smoky with incense. My grandmother buys a handful of incense sticks for another 20,000 dong. She counts the sticks, deftly passing them from the bottom to the top of her palm and gives me fifteen.

We step into a circular room on the third level and through the smoke I can see walls of shelves in glossy red wood. Each has a name and a tattered photograph glued onto it. Some have wilted flowers tied around the knob, and some have fresh flowers. I linger behind to study the faces on these photographs.

An old man with dramatic cheekbones, a spiral goatee, and wet lips looks down at me. White creases run through his face and the skyblue background. His face is severe and frightening like a painted dragon. It is one of the oldest photographs on the high shelves and there are no flowers. I think about taking his photograph and putting it in my pocket.

I have so many stories to tell you, my child. But you are too distracted, I can see it in your eyes. You live so far from the land. The land used to be the whole of my life. I slept on the land, sewed the land, and ate from the land. When I was 18 and fell in love with Minh, I traced her path home from school through the land. I laid banana leaves where she left footprints in the dirt. Where is she now? Can you find her for me?

My grandmother calls for me and I move further inside. My grandfather’s shelf is at eye level, which makes it a more expensive shelf. She has tied fresh jasmine to his shelf and her incense sticks are glowing red at the tips. I dip mine into flame and hold the incense sticks between my palms. I look at my grandfather’s picture.

I only met you when you were a baby. But I do remember you. You were two inches taller than the other babies so I told them that you should be a model. You are not very tall anymore. You are not like my other children. You stand with such straightness in your back, you must have learnt that from the white people. What else have you learnt, all this time that you have been away?

I glance at my grandmother. Her head is bowed, lips moving soundlessly. She is chanting the prayer. Nam mo a di da phat, nam mo a di da phat. My mum has taught me the prayer, but I don’t know what it means.

I think of you, grandfather. I think of you. You look so much like my dad. I am back in Viet Nam today, and I like the strange smells. They are sharp like burnt wood but I still feel lost in them. I wonder about my grandmother and her sure, nimble fingers. I wonder about the man in that photograph, and what happens when somebody thinks of him.

It is a relaxing place because nobody feels anything.

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Dear Halong Bay,

I don’t know if its appropriate to ‘thank’ a place. But to me, like many of my loved ones, you hold a special place in my heart and your memories make me a better person.  I met you a year ago, when I was lost and hurting from a relationship gone terribly, horrifically sour. I had traveled from Sydney to Vietnam to escape my demons and attempt to repair my soul.

It was initially hard to shake my looming pessimism. The dock at Halong Bay doesn’t reveal much about the archipelago paradise that lies no more than an hour boat ride away. Somewhat scrappy, tarnished Junk Boats bob at the moor, waiting to pick up hundreds of eager passengers, waiting beside their luggage sporting excited perspiration in the stifling northern Vietnamese humidity. I’d seen the postcards and friend’s photographs of Halong Bay but never really taken much notice. Photographs, as much as they open our eyes to unknown places, only provide a droplet of a view, an atmosphere and an experience.

An hour later, I found myself situated in a bright red junk boat, in the middle of the calmest, tranquil blanket of sapphire ocean, archipelagos of various sizes dotted all around me, witnessing a sunset that was cascading a million sparkles on the water.  I was transfixed in awe by the overwhelming beauty that surrounded me from every angle. I stood at the front of the junk boat, the setting sky illuminating slowly transitioning shades of yellows, oranges and pale pinks. I marvelled as the heavens opened up to perform nature’s greatest pantomime, it felt like it was just for me.

It turns out that travel doesn’t repair your soul. Only you can do that. Your thoughts and attitudes are 100% your own. But positioning yourself somewhere you can find peace and beauty, whether around the corner from your home or half way across the world, you will feel the little pieces of your soul slowly tessellate back into place. It took 30 000 kilometers of travel and a whole lot of hard earned money to learn that, but the beauty bestowed upon me that day made me appreciate the beauty in aspects of ever other day I have lived in since… and that is worth more than anything in the world.

The tremendous magic of Halong Bay restored joy to my heart once more, and from then on, every sunset I see, every boat bobbing on the ocean, even something as simple as a crisp droplet of rain tumbling down a leaf, no matter where I am, I feel another piece of my soul come back to me, and I grasp it fiercely with joyful might.


Thank you Halong Bay, I am surrounded by beauty. I am forever grateful.

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Darkness surrounds me, and I am alone.

Rain pounds down around me, and I know that my backpack is getting wet; I lost my pack cover a few weeks ago to a gust of wind. I feel a building sense of dread – will I find a place to sleep tonight?

I had left my friends in Hanoi, who sought out the temples and history of Hue. I was headed towards the promising adventure of limestone cliffs that jutted straight up out of the ocean. I wanted to go rock climbing, and I knew northern Vietnam was famous for it.


After a motorcycle taxi, bus, and ferry, I landed at Cat Ba Island after dark. I refused to carry a smartphone, or a guidebook, and had stubbornly decided to find my own accommodation upon arrival. It’s more fun that way, right?

But in this moment, I was not so optimistic. Here I was wandering the streets, alone at night, looking for a place to stay. What would my parents say?

As I trudged up the steep street, a motorbike approached me slowly from behind. At first I was apprehensive, and my paranoia kicked in: It’s late at night, and a stranger on a motorbike is following you… be careful!

I immediately noticed that the person driving the motorbike was female. As if she could read my mind, she told me in well-practiced English that she had a room to offer behind her house.

I looked into her eyes and felt a connection. Just from this one exchange, I trusted her. So I climbed on the back of her bike, and she took me a few blocks up the street to her house. Turning left into her driveway, I followed her up the stairs, and as soon as I saw her home, I had no doubts that I was safe.

I was greeted by her husband and daughter, who were happily surprised to see a tourist in their home.

Sure enough, there was a spacious and clean room behind her house, which she offered to me for $8/day, which I later learned was much cheaper than most of the hotels in the area. I was happy to support an individual and her family rather than a hotel. I was the first American to have stayed with her, she proudly told me as she asked me to sign her guestbook.

For the next few days, I went rock climbing on cliffs that seemed to grow out of the ocean. I kayaked around miniature mountains, returning each night to be greeted my by surrogate Vietnamese family.


When I left, I gave them a postcard from California as a parting gift. She liked it so much that she gave me some Vietnamese candy in return.

It’s not easy to trust a stranger. It goes against what society teaches us is safe. But what is a stranger, really? To me, everyone is my friend until proven otherwise. And in my two years of travel, never once did anyone steal anything from me. Never once was I taken advantage of. All throughout New Zealand, Australia, and Southeast Asia, I was shown hospitality and kindness, and that’s what I’ve learned to expect from people.

The world can be a big, scary place, depending on your point of view. For me, I consciously choose to see it differently. I’ve decided I can go anywhere in the world and make friends. And so far, it’s worked!


Winslow - VietnamProlonged exposure to the frenzied pace of Southeast Asia’s mega-metropolitan areas is perhaps best remedied by a detour to Hoi An in central Vietnam. In addition to the beautiful Cua Dai Beach showcasing views of the Cham Islands, the former port trading center offers a picturesque and historic, UNESCO-designated downtown featuring centuries-old Vietnamese homes, museums and even a 16th century Japanese Covered Bridge. The sagging wood homes, several of which are still occupied by descendants of the original occupants, provide an intriguing look into traditional Vietnamese architecture and culture.

A destination’s most memorable charms, however, can reveal themselves through unexpected detours, as I discovered one afternoon during a quest to photograph the abundant rice paddy fields on the edge of town.

From the soggy fields, I steered my rented one-speed bicycle to Cua Dai Beach and then, on an impulse, turned right, pedaling about 4 km to the lighthouse and boat docks. Aside from the occasional boat tour, there is very little in this area of town to attract the average tourist, so non-natives are scarce. This was the “authentic” Vietnam I so desperately wanted to photograph.

I positioned myself on the edge of a dock and spent the following hour photographing the fishermen as they leaped from brightly colored bows onto the concrete to file paperwork. Seemingly amused by my presence, the fishermen smiled and waved at me. Some asked where I was from, giving me thumbs up when I felt brave enough to utter, “America.”

Despite the friendly nature of the fishermen, I could sense the port official was growing tired of the distraction. I decided it was time to inspect the adjacent jetty and so pushed the bicycle onto the sandy spit of land leading in that direction. There I encountered an elderly, bare-chested French tourist who admired my camera gear and informed me that if I followed the water line, I would soon come across some cast-net fishermen who might let me photograph them as they hauled in their catch.

Sure enough, I found a waterside lean-to and its occupants: a stick-thin, glassy-eyed fisherman, his smiling wife and their grown son. None of the three spoke a word of English, but they welcomed me into their home, showing me the exposed, straw platform where they slept and the scale they used to weigh their catch. From somewhere unseen, the woman produced unopened packages of cookies and sesame sticks and offered me some. I deduced the store-bought snacks were a special luxury and felt honored to share them.

By writing in the sand, the fisherman indicated he was 65 years old and his wife 62. I traced a “30” in the sand and pointed at myself. Then, because I suddenly felt awkward and didn’t know what else I could easily communicate, I turned the LCD screen of my camera in their direction and scrolled through the pictures I had taken of the fishermen at the dock.

The woman grew excited when I pointed to an image of an odd, bowl-shaped dinghy. She motioned for me to follow her out onto the beach to the base of a giant, handmade reel. She pointed up, instructing me to climb onto the raised platform behind it. We sat side-by-side, our legs dangling off the platform, and she demonstrated how to pull the spokes toward me and then shove them downward with my feet. Eventually, our efforts caused a massive net – large enough to easily wrap a Fiat — to surface just offshore. The work became more difficult, the sodden netting heavier and heavier with each rotation of the reel.

Halfway through our hauling, the woman scrambled down from the platform and motioned for my camera to take a picture. At first, I balked.

“This family has next to nothing,” I thought. “What if she runs off with my camera?”

But then I gave it to her. She snapped a few (surprisingly good!) shots of me in action and then passed the camera back with a smile. More trusting now, I left most of my photography gear on the beach with her as her husband rowed the two of us out to the net in his own woven bowl boat so we could collect the few wriggling fish suspended there. My gear was all there when I returned. Of course it was.

Back on shore, I thanked the trio for their time and generous hospitality by leaving a 100,000 VND bill, the equivalent of $5 USD. It didn’t amount to much, but the woman’s smile and glistening, grateful eyes said otherwise. I instantly wished I had offered more. I still do.

About the author:  Megan V. Winslow is a writer and photographer who recently returned to the U.S. after a 6-month adventure around the world with her husband, Matt. Originally from Florida, Winslow relocated to San Francisco in January. She enjoys hiking, gardening and swing dancing.

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Gold Dream PoemOnce upon a time in Hue Vietnam, lovers didn’t need a sense of direction to find romance–they would follow their nose and arrive at the Perfume River.

A saccharine fragrance carried by the Perfume River lured artists and romantics from all over the city. Some say the captivating aroma came from wild flora that fell into the water as it slithered its way through Day Truong Son Mountains. But that was decades ago, one war veteran told me, before the river became an unlikely victim of the Vietnam War and lost its scent.

I knew none of this history when first I visited the river. All I knew was on this particular night, at the waterfront near Le Loi Street, I sat beside my husband on a stone bench captivated by the riverside ambience. A restaurant shaped like a lotus at bloom, fiery dragon boats adrift, Truong Tien Bridge with its coruscating kaleidoscope of colors glistering on the waters–this place was clearly a refuge for love.

Moments like this might have gone unnoticed if I were back home in California, but it was our fifth month backpacking in Southeast Asia. When you’re married and traveling on a budget, romance in the air can get overpowered by the miasma of spattered urine from public squat toilets, sweaty T-shirts reeking of underarm must, or bug repellant to ward off malaria-carrying mosquitos. The Perfume River gave me a kind of ease where I could, at last, hold Russ’ hand without holding my breath. On that bench we sat in the most enchanted, uninterrupted bliss.

Until an older man approached me.

He rode bicycle, metal basket attached. Even after months of living abroad, I still had trouble turning down peddlers. But I refused to let him rob us of our bliss. So when the man reached into his basket, I firmly shook my head. He moved on to a group of French tourist who blew right past him. Unrelenting, he came back and asked if we would read his poem. I didn’t have the heart to shoo him again.

“All right, go ahead” I said. “Show us your poem.”

He extended a folded piece of paper which I flattened and held between Russ and I, the side written in English. I skimmed the cursive letters in forced silence while the poet lingered.

His name was Le Cong and his poem “Gold Dream” tells the story of how he longs to be with the woman he loves. A fragment of the poem reads:

Now you’re leaving,
Thousands of ocean separation.
You sing love’s song.
The wind crying.
I seem to find your fragrance,
Then fall unsteadily
Soul is losing in eternity,
Looking at you, laughter broken up…

“You say here ‘ocean separation’,” inquired my husband – always the journalist, “where’s she now?”

He told us she lives in Hue. But it feels like a great distance to him because she is married to someone else.

Perhaps I caught a faint whiff of the mystical river and fell entranced because, for a spell, my mind went elsewhere. I ruminated on the times I sat pitifully beside my husband, tormented by motion sickness on decrepit overnight trains. Or the time our beach bungalow in Lombok, Indonesia came with a family of gargantuan cockroaches, making any touch from Russ trigger thoughts of tingly tentacles. Ever since we left the U.S., seems like Perfume-River moments have come a lot less often. Had I let romance become a casualty of our nomadic life?

I then asked Le Cong how he managed to survive his loss.

“If I love, I make poetry,” he said. “If I never love, I make nothing.”

The difference between Le Cong and me is that he had figured out a way to make the most of his conditions, even if they were less than ideal. Whereas, there I was in Vietnam, seeing for the first time how many moments I let slip by because of my quixotic ideas of romance, rather than seizing each moment that we are given.

When we rose to leave, I slipped my arm through Russ’ arm and urged him to give a few Vietnamese Dong. But Le Cong refused any money.

“Cảm ơn,” I said.

He thanked us in return for simply engaging. Soon after, we left the banks of the Perfume River, headed to our backstreet budget hotel. Behind us, where bridge lights glistened on the river, I spotted the poet pedaling in the distance, in search of someone else who might spare a moment to hear a love story.

About the Author: Asia Nichols, a freelance writer from the Bay Area, has been vagabonding through Southeast Asia, India and Nepal since 2011. Read more about her marriage and travel adventures at

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Eco and Ethno tourism: Sustainable adventures for the Traveller on a Budget

world wide gifts beaches
Photo Credit: World Wide Gifts

For most of us, finance is the driving force for the choices we make when we jet off on our next holiday. While the cheap resort package will always prove popular, two recently emergent trends in shopping for bargain holidays are eco-tourism and ethno tourism, and some might argue these new ways to get away from it all make for a more worthwhile travel experience than the most luxuriant of escapes.

With growing concern for the heavy carbon footprint of travel, and the effects of commercial tourism, governments have started to take responsible steps to encourage visitors to less economically robust places, destinations of exceptional environmental beauty or with vulnerable habitats. Diversifying into tourism can often be of long term advantage for many areas of the world, providing sustainable cash flow in the place of more destructive sources of revenue like deforestation and hunting

Not only do these steps benefit the destination, there are also some distinct advantages for the traveller. Eco-tourism is all about preserving natural beauty, enhancing existing assets and showcasing the uniqueness of a place. One renowned example is the rainforest of Costa Rica, the ‘poster child’ of the eco-holiday. Its initial campaign was about the encouragement of nature tourists to visit and explore is vastly biodiverse habitats. Now, it’s one of the most successful and beautiful eco-tourist resorts in the world.

Ethno-tourism differs simply by focussing more on people than environment, and often is aboutimmersion in the everyday life of the destination country. For example in Hoi An, Vietnam, tourists can learn traditional Vietnamese cookery, spend the day growing herbs at the Tra Que herb village, take up yoga, learn the ancient art of silk making, head to the carpentry or pottery village or the local handicraft workshop, or spend a day fishing at the Thanh Nam Fishing Village.

You can also give something back without putting your hand too deep in your pocket. There are ways of off-setting the cost, and carbon footprint of visiting some of the more remote eco-tourist destinations. Opportunities to volunteer your help abound, and meaningful activities range from working on ecological design in Israel and repairing hiking trails in Montana to helping conserve turtles on the beaches of Costa Rica and dolphins in Greece.

Another way to travel more immersively on a budget is by way of the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) initiative.

For a small membership fee, members can travel and work on host farms, reaping free accommodation and food while learning about organic lifestyles and, in some cases, forging lifelong friendships. Destinations are becoming widespread, and opportunities everywhere from Hawaii to Japan can be found on the WWOOFing website.

About the Author: David Waterlow is a blogger, travel writer and a keen supporter of eco-travel ideas. When he’s not writing, he’s most likely to be found in Elgin, Scottish Highlands, where he runs a self-sustainable organic farm.