Justine Shapiro travels to Vietnam, a country which stretches 1000 miles along the east coast of the Indochinese peninsula.
She begins her journey in Ho Chi Minh City (called Saigon until the coming of communism in 1975), where she explores the Cholon quarter, where a vibrant market takes place every day. She’s in town for the new years TET festival, and that evening she joins the crowds letting off firecrackers in the streets to scare away the evil spirits.
No American can visit Vietnam without confronting the war issue, and next morning Justine travels 22 miles northwest of Ho Chi Minh to Cu Chi District. Here she sees some chilling reminders of the conflict, such as the 100 mile network of underground rooms and passages where the Viet Cong both hid and lived. She also visits Cao Dai in the province of Tay Ninh – the centre of one of Vietnam’s new religions, which combines the beliefs of Buddhism with Cofuscism, Taoism, Christianity and Islam. Their god is represented by one huge eye.
From Tay Ninh Justien travels by bus to Vietnam’s premier seaside resort, Nha Trang. She finds a room for the night at the Bao Di Villas, once the private seaside residence of the Emperor. She takes an all day boat trip to some of the islands off the coast, all including a fantastic lunch, comprising squid, tofu, stir fry noodles and fresh fruit.
Justine travels into central Vietnam on the Reunification Express. After North and South Vietnam united in 1975 one of the government’s first programmes was to replace the rail system that had been destroyed in the war. It takes 16 hours to reach her destination, a peninsular in the middle of the country called Lang Co. It’s one of the most tranquil spots in Vietnam with miles of unspoiled beaches. She also visits the nearby city of Hue, where the Emperors lived from the beginning of the 20th century until the second world war, but most of the splendid buildings they constructed were bombed during the Tet offensive of 1968. Justine takes a day long trip down the Perfume River on an old converted barge to see the way of life that the river supports.
Justine flies from Hue to Hanoi, the political capital of Vietnam. She hires a bike to see the sights, discovering the soul of the city can still be found in the ancient town centre. She then travel by bus to Halong Bay on the Gulf of Tonkin. It’s Vietnam’s most spectacular & surreal landscape, dotted with over three thousand limestone islands. She meets a woman whose family live on an old fishing boat, and they take her along to visit a limestone cave three miles from shore which was inhabited by a friend of theirs.
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