. . . AROUND THE WORLD 2001/02
Africa 1999
Around-the-World 2001/02

The Team

Jeff Willner
1. Start: Recipe for Adventure
2. Zimbabwe: Hyperinflation
3. Namibia: Southern Circuit
4. South Africa: Circuit 2
5. Zambia/Malawi: Sketches
7. Kenya: Bandit Country
8. Ethiopia: Diary
9. Ethiopia: Border Run
10. Sudan: Across the Sahara
11. Egypt: Cape to Cairo
12. Jordan/Syria: Sept. 11th
13. Turkey: Hospitality
14. Bulgaria/Romania/ Hungary
15. Slovakia/Austria/Poland
16. The Baltics & Russia
17. Scandinavia
18. Western Europe
19. Brazil: Clearning Customs
20. Argentina: Revolution
21. Argentina: To Ushuaia
22. Patagonia Disaster
23. Buenos Aires Beautiful
24. Uruguay: Beaches
25. Chile: Expedition Life
26. Bolivia: Atacama
27. Peru: Transit
28. Galapagos: Gorgeous
29. Ecuador: Jungle Run
30. Knifepoint
31. Dubai: Lay over
32. Singapore/Malaysia
33. Thailand: Hospitality
34. Cambodia: Ankor Wat
35. Vietnam: Hanoi & Halong
36. Laos: Back to Basics
37. China: Beijing Tour
38. China: Shanxi
39. China: Western Province
40. China: Tibet
41: Nepal: Mountains
42. India: Driving Struggle
43. Pakistan: Dodging War
44. Iran: Overcharging
45. End: One Last Laugh

Sally DeFina
1. Cape Town: Robben Island
2. Zanzibar: Mike & I
3. Kenya: African Driving School
4. Sudan: Mud Crossing
5. Patagonia: Goodbye Max
6. Malaysia: Mike Update
7. Thailand: Ko Phangan
8. Cambodia: Phnom Penh
9. Vietnam: By Train
10. Laos: Vang Vieng
11. China: Meet Mr. Chen

Jody Finver
1. Start: Surreal Solipse
2. Great Zimbabwe
3. Brokedown in Kenyan Desert
4. Egypt: So Should I Hyphenate
5. Poland: Home is Where the Truck Is

Gulin Akoz
1. Start: Bits and Pieces
2. Zambia: Diaries
3. Egypt: Africa Memories
4. Turkey: For Your Information
5. The Team and The Bean
6. Somebody Else's Child
7. On My Own
8. Long Lost Memories of Childhood
9. The Tree and the Boy
10. Jealous
11. The Aftermath


Panamerican 2003
Various Trips
Planning an Expedition


Kensington Tours can help you plan your own expedition anywhere in the world.




#35 - Vietnam
Jeff Willner - 7 April 2002

(Hanoi, VIETNAM) My Dad is Canadian but that didn't stop him from getting drafted for the Vietnam war when he was attending college in the US. He went through Basic Training with the rest of his unit, won his sergeant's stripes and was due to be shipped out in a week before being called into the Personnel office. 'Hey, you are a Canadian', they said. 'Yes I've mentioned that quite a few times'. 'Well do you want to go to Vietnam and fight?'. 'Thanks but no', said Dad, 'but I'd really rather not.'

Though we were born in the States as Americans my father was careful to register my brother and I as Canadians as well, and he made sure we registered our ineligibility with the Draft Board every year while at university. To be honest I was a bit disappointed. Growing up on a steady diet of Vietnam movies where Stallone kicked butt and Chuck Norris took no prisoners left me with the conviction that I would be a deadly good forward scout. After all, weren't we on the side of right?

Hanging out in Saigon was weird enough, I kept wondering if I was passing an alley where they had Russian roulette betting matches a' la 'The Deerhunter'. But visiting the War Remnants Museum (formerly known as the American War Crimes Museum) really shook me up. I expected the propaganda and one sided slant, but I had never really put together the entire scope of the war. The Tet Offensive was the beginning of the end for America, much was made of the hundreds of casualties, but the North Vietnamese lost 500,000 men in that one action action alone. So many bombs were dropped in neighbouring Laos (which was being used by the Viet Cong as a supply route) that the country earned the dubious distinction of being the 'most bombed country in history' - and it wasn't even officially part of the war. Once known as the country of a million elephants, foreign journalists dubbed it the country of a million irrelevants. War, what is it good for?

That is not to say that the army is bad. In the words of a former president, 'Military security is like air, you don't notice it when you have it but you can't live without it!'. A competent armed forces also functions as a very effective deterrent that allows progress in political negotiations. And in the worst case when all else fails a responsible country can oppose tyrants and challenge bankrupt ideologies directly. But maybe what leaders lose sight of is that history will judge them by their process not their vision, by their means not their end. The United States became entangled in Vietnam with the best of intentions - to slow the spread of communism and allow the local people to enjoy the fruits of capitalism. But in the process something very American got lost and the soul of the nation was torn up. We are a young nation, America, anxious for results and impatient with process. The war was lost but thirty years later capitalism is all over Vietnam. So we were right after all. Right idea, wrong execution.

One might argue that hindsight is 20/20, the reasons were more compelling at time. Maybe. But maybe if we spent as much money and energy demonstrating the goodwill of America with schools, hospitals, roads, medicine, trained judges, administrators, scholarships, as we do on a couple of stealth bombers, foreign nationals might force their own governments to change. Even if it takes decades, that is a process we could be proud of. Even my Dad would approve.

Driving in from the Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) airport we were swamped in a flood of motor scooters. Mopeds and motorcycles poured through the streets. Stoplights were only a suggestion. At intersections the scooter streams tangled briefly and poured out the other side. The quantity was astonishing. Later my guide on a tour explained, "In Vietnam you see many scooters because people get money and want scooter, and before they were $3000 from Japan but now from China they are only $500. But not very good quality. Sometimes they stop working in the middle of traffic which is a big problem for the people behind!" 
I met Kat and Tricia in the Siam Riep airport, we were all flying to Saigon. Since there were very few foreigners we decided to share a cab into town and hunt for a good place to stay. They were great fun and we hung out for a couple of days, walking around the city and sampling the nightlife. 

While strolling through the downtown park we saw these bottled snakes for the first time. They were completely disgusting. Evidently the jars are full of rice wine and the snakes are put in to create a tonic. The more venomous the snake, the more powerful it's properties. I still can't look at this picture without wincing - neither can Kat.

The museums are pretty good in Saigon, but the best thing to do in town is shop. Crowded markets and blocks of shops with some really cool stuff kept us occupied for hours. Travelling with a backpack limited my purchases - but I plan to return someday and fill some hefty suitcases with cool stuff like carved clipper ship models in full sail, embroidered clothes in funky colors, and semi precious carved stones.

Running on a short schedule, I decided to fly from Saigon to the capitol Hanoi. A more peaceful and laid back town, Hanoi still has quiet shaded streets lined with aged French mansions. An altogether more peaceful place to wander. Right in the center of the old city is a lake, and in the lake an island, and on the island a cool little temple. This is the bridge to that temple. 
Right after arriving I signed up for a two day tour to visit Halong Bay - a UNESCO world heritage site to the north east of the city. That left the afternoon to wander the streets of Hanoi and take in the sidewalk activities. Later that evening I went to a water puppet show. A uniquely Vietnamese art, the stage was a pool of water. Puppeteers sit behind a screen controlling the puppets with long submerged bamboo rods. It was really impressive. 
Nhung (translated; Rose) was our guide on the two day trip to Halong Bay. Though I usually tune out when the guide starts droning on and on, Nhung's stories were too funny to miss. While touring a cave she confided in us... "I am new speaking English only 3 years, and at school we learn about fighting cocks, you understand, cock fighting? And so my first tour group they ask me about lunar new year and I say it is time for bringing offerings, money, saffron, and cock. And my group start to laugh. I was soo nervous. And later when I am explaining in this cave I say that some people think this rock looks like a cock - and they laugh again. And so I ask one person later, why they are laughing because cock is man chicken! But he explain to me what is the meaning. I was so embarrassed. So that is why I will tell you that these two islands look like kissing... roosters!' 

Halong Bay was beautiful, hundreds of tiny limestone islands dotting the water. On our two day cruise we slept overnight on the boat. That long twilight on the deck as the islands turned grey and then black, stars overhead, and the quiet lapping of water on the wooden hull made it an night to remember. 

I expected a bit more hostility, after all I wasn't traveling with a Canadian flag sewn on the back of my backpack. But I was impressed at the friendliness of the Vietnamese and the beauty of the place. Maybe angst goes to the defeated. They made huge sacrifices to install a terrible ideology that kept them in poverty for decades, but they did win the war. Their attitude seems to be 'what the heck, let's be friends, and would you like to buy some fine embroidered pieces'. The noodles are great, the coffee is almost without equal (first nod goes to Ethiopia), and if you have some spare pennies you can really stay in comfort. So it was quite a good visit after all.



Copyright January 1999-2011
All rights reserved - Jeff Willner
Contact: jeffwillner@yahoo.com