Legacy Learning Journey to Vietnam
In mid-November, Legacy members embarked on a 10-day “Learning Journey” to Vietnam led by Legacy Member Kien Pham. The immersive trip exposed participants to Vietnam’s rich history and the broad diversity of urban and rural life in this beautiful country. We considered the complexity of U.S.-Vietnamese relations and were fortunate to have Kien’s perspective on a country that he once fled as a refugee and later returned to help rebuild.
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The Experience at a Glance:
- Legacy Travelers: Dynamic group included 29 Legacy members from all over the United States (California, Arizona, Colorado, New York, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Florida)
- Culture: Points of view from our host, Kien Pham who escaped the country in 1974, and his wife Thuy Pham
- Philanthropy: Visited a school for the blind and a rural school Kien supports, plus a successful social enterprise for “street kids”; experienced eating in the dark as a blind person would
- Government: Our guide’s mother worked with Ho Chi Minh – stories and commentary were fascinating; a conversation with the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam
- The Country: Traveled the entire country from Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong River Delta in the South, to Hanoi and Ha Long Bay in the North; stopped in between in Da Nang and Hue; a beautiful, growing and developed country
- Food: Enjoyed different types of Vietnamese food, observing how foods vary from North to South; experienced the French culinary influence
- War: A heart-wrenching visit to the War Remnants Museum exposed an emotional past; traversed the underground Cu Chi tunnels built by Vietnamese fighters, disturbing vestiges of the American War
- Transportation: Everyone rides motorbikes; very few cars – traffic might be worse than in the US!
After arriving in Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) we ventured out on a boat trip to the Mekong Delta in Southern Vietnam, sampling seasonal fruits and coconut candies along the way. Back in Ho Chi Minh City, we visited a school for the blind where the children performed for us. There, Kien generously allowed us to award the children with scholarships that he had raised. We later enjoyed an amazing and challenging dinner at Café Noir, eating in the dark. We all came away with a better understanding of what a blind person experiences. Our time in Ho Chi Minh was punctuated by sobering visits to the War Remnants Museum and the Cu Chi Tunnels, reminders of Vietnam’s tumultuous past.
Our education continued in the beautiful city of Hue in Central Vietnam where we visited its vast Citadel. At our Imperial Court dinner, dressed in ancient costumes, we experienced typical entertainment from the Nguyen Dynasty and ate the authentic cuisine of Hue’s royalty.
Not far from Hue, we explored Da Nang, a coastal city in Central Vietnam, and the ancient city of Hoi An, a remarkably well-preserved, time capsule example of a traditional Southeast Asian trading port. We then traveled to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, where we enjoyed drinks and dialogue with the US Ambassador to Vietnam, Dan Kritenbrink. We visited a social entrepreneur who rescues street kids, houses and educates them in the hospitality field through his company Know One Teach One (KOTO). According to a 2010 report from UNICEF, the estimated number of Vietnamese street children was about 13,000 in 2007, among which approximately 37% were orphans. KOTO’s work in this space is inspiring, and we were fortunate to visit one of KOTO’s restaurants where we enjoyed a fabulous meal and met some of these extremely resilient kids.
On our way to Ha Long Bay, we stopped at a rural school that Kien was instrumental in getting built. The students, parents and teachers greeted us with such enthusiasm, willingly coming in on a Saturday just to meet us. The children waved flags, requested our autographs, and performed for us. Kien arranged a gift to the school—a projector that we presented to them along with a few books in English for their library.
Before returning to Ho Chi Minh City to wrap up our trip, we made it to Ha Long Bay to board a cruise where we savored the magnificent scenery and relaxing atmosphere, spent a beautiful night aboard our ship, and then began our final day with Tai-chi on the sun deck.
After a full and invigorating ten days, most of our company headed home but ten of us ventured on to Siem Reap, Cambodia to visit Angkor Wat, a Khmer temple that is considered the largest religious monument in the world. After that final amazing adventure, our trip came to a close.
The trip was full of lessons in empathy, humility, and perspective. Thank you to Kien Pham and his family for taking us all over his beautiful country and showing us a Vietnam that we never would have seen on our own. It was an extraordinary experience.
We are considering China as a possible destination for our next Legacy Learning Journey, likely in 2019. If you have other ideas or travel inspiration to share with us, we always welcome our members’ feedback!