Vietnam Tourism For (US) Veterans
February 18, 2015 10:45 AM   Subscribe

My Vietnam Veteran (US) relative wants to tour Vietnam. Help me find tours, companies, and experiences that will respect his experience, while also respecting Vietnam today, and the legacy of the war.

He wants to revisit his war experience and understand modern Vietnam. He is particularly interested in nature, engineering, and civic infrastructure.

I am the sort of person who feels guilty going places where I don't know the language! I worry that any tourism here is inherently problematic. Convince me otherwise! Help me make this trip into a goodness for everyone involved.

Help me (and help him!) avoid being jerk tourists.

Details: We are both in good physical shape, anglo, and open to immersive experiences. He was Army. Neither of us speak any useful regional languages.

(I expect that this will all be very emotional / challenging for him. That aspect is fine, but stories / recommendations welcome!)

1. Is this a terrible idea?
2. Good (existing) tours / guides, especially those for/by/against Veterans.
3. When to travel?
4. itineraries
5. Any good prep work (avoiding faux pas, overviews of Vietnam today)
6. What aspects / questions am I forgetting to ask? (Good routes from Mpls, US => VN, international health insurance, etc.?)

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posted by gregglind to Travel & Transportation around Vietnam (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sent you a PM.
posted by HeyAllie at 11:21 AM on February 18, 2015

It's a fantastic idea!!! I can't help you with the tour part, but I can help you with the rest....

I was born in Vietnam to a Vietnamese mother/American father. I've been in the US since I was 3. I go back about every 3 years, and no longer speak Vietnamese (I know, I kick myself all the time!).

The Vietnamese people could not be more warm and gracious. Depending on who is looking at me, I can pass for all Caucasian, all Asian, some Asian, or any number of other nationalities/races. It doesn't matter! They love tourists-tourists bring money!

I have family in South Vietnam, Can Tho specifically, and I have found in the smaller cities, it's harder to find English speakers. Younger kids though are learning in school and all want to try out their English. Last time I was there, I traveled to Saigon alone and I was astounded at the number of people who spoke really good English. I had absolutely no trouble at all. People will literally walk right up to you to say hello and ask where you're from. I sat down with two motorbike tour guides who asked me about my family and told me about theirs. It's something I'll never forget.

It's an amazing country. Don't go during Tet, because a lot of businesses are closed so people can spend time with their families.

As far as routes go, I've gone both directions (east and west) and loved flying Emirates through Dubai. The airline is outstanding and just spending time in the Dubai airport is interesting!

Sorry to hop around so much! Please message me if you need anything! I'm going back this fall!
posted by fresh-rn at 1:39 PM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

I don't have any direct experience. My dad is a Vietnam Vet and I recall hearing the singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith talk about tours she used to volunteer with specifically for vets. She described them as a really healing experience. I just googled around about tours for vets and found a few things that may be worth looking - there is more if you start poking around, too.

CSMonitor: Why US Vets are Returning to Vietnam
Vietnam Battlefield Tours (mentioned in article above)
Tours of Peace: Travel for Viet Nam Veterans
Visitors' reports from other veteran travelers
posted by Miko at 2:04 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was in Vietnam for about two weeks a few years ago, I've traveled pretty widely and think that Vietnam really holds its own as a travel destination against anywhere. Friendliness, openness to visitors, natural beauty, ancient and recent history, architecture, food (jesus, the food), safety, affordability. I ran into several U.S. vets while I was there and talked with one guy who had been back several times, he seemed to find being there very therapeutic. As a country, Vietnam is very welcoming to visitors, obviously tourist dollars are a big help to the economy, but like many countries, there is also the sense of national pride, that Vietnam is a great place that people should see and know about.
posted by skewed at 2:26 PM on February 18, 2015

I went there with my stepfather (who you can see here at 01:24) and it was really good for him. He was in the last copter off the embassy roof in '75 and felt really bad about the way the war was prosecuted. He'd been there since '59, I think. He shared a place with his friend for a while, and we teased him mercilessly about Sheehan describing him as "a moderate womanizer."

He asked me if it was ok to propose to my mother and then that book came out soon after. Good times. Always said he hated children and dogs but we wore him down. I gave him a hit of nitrous oxide one day and he said "I don't know what I'd do for fun without you." So I consented to the marriage. I was touched that he asked and I had him, this absolute tough guy on pins and needles for a few days. He planned that well.

Anyway, we had a great time on that trip. He knew what to order, spoke the language, and had to lean on me a few times at certain places in Saigon or whatever they call it now. People were overboard friendly and there were plenty of people who could speak English to me and wanted to. He was so happy on the way back. We got home and he put all his Vietnam memorabilia in a pile in the back yard and lit it on fire and shot a pistol into the air and he was done with that war. So yeah, go and help your relative purge his mind. My trip was a long time ago. Sorry I can't help much with the details of going there now.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 4:02 PM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

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