By nature I am a slow planner, especially when it comes to long trips away from home. So imagine my surprise when in late 2016 I was presented with an opportunity to join a group tour to Southeast Asia, with the main focus on Vietnam, and I heard myself spontaneously blurt out, “Sign me up!”
It turned out to be one heck of a trip. Seventeen days in total, beginning and ending with a twenty-hour flight over an eight-thousand-mile stretch of ocean, across fifteen time zones and the International Date Line and a wide scale of climate changes. Most significant to me, it marked my first time traveling back to the ancestral homeland I hadn’t seen in over four decades.
This travelogue retraces the major segment of the tour—the final ten days—which took us on an itinerary of discovery through the length of Vietnam: from Saigon, my former hometown in the south where I grew up during the war, to Hoi-An, the best preserved medieval seaport in Southeast Asia; Hue, the ancient capital of imperial Vietnam, on the central coast; Halong Bay, a world-renowned natural wonder on the Gulf of Tonkin; and our final destination, Hanoi, the country’s thousand-year-old capital, in the north.
I tried not only to recapture the highlights of this whirlwind journey—with their historical background and mythical lore—but also to explore a few special sites that I wish we could have squeezed into our packed schedule. At times the travelogue may read like a journal because it is sprinkled throughout with all kinds of resurrected memories—of my own childhood, in a time and place long since gone.
The book contains many pictures, forty-three in all. Most were taken by me on this trip—so please kindly overlook imperfections—and the rest were generously contributed by family and friends who had visited there before. Color printing technology being where it is today, I was forced to limit the total number of pictures and pages to reduce the setup and printing fees. This is so the book can be reasonably priced for a wide audience, even though my personal inclination was to share every relevant and worthwhile photograph I have.
I also decided to include many historic names in Vietnamese, along with their English translations, of course. As it was in our age-old tradition, names were never merely names; they carried great meaning and were often used to promulgate noble aspirations. Over the millennia, many of these ancient names also took on an extra aura, as they became associated with momentous events that still resonate with the Vietnamese people to this day. By incorporating them into the travelogue in their original spellings, I strived to convey an intangible aspect of our heritage, one that extends beyond pictures and descriptive words.
To people who have read my Vietnam novel, Once upon a Mulberry Field (Willow Stream Publishing, 2014), this travelogue offers a glimpse of the story’s setting as it appears half a century later. For others, I hope it kindles your passion for travel and discovery and also provides you with a different view of this once ravaged land—and perhaps the inspiration to visit there some day. As the French writer Marcel Proust once reminded us, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
This journey across the Pacific Ocean accomplished both for me.
About the Author: C. L. Hoang was born and raised in Vietnam during the war and came to the United States in the 1970s. He graduated with degrees in electrical engineering from Ohio University and the University of California, Berkeley, and earns his living as an electronic engineer, with eleven patents to his name. Books, history, and travel are his hobbies. His first book, Once upon a Mulberry Field, is an award-winning novel set at the height of the Vietnam War. It is followed by Rain Falling on Tamarind Trees, the travelogue of his recent return trip to the ancestral homeland.