Every now and then a simple tour represents much more.
Mostly I’m not an organized tour guy. I’d rather launch out on my own, getting dirty and getting lost. However, we were traveling with my parents during semester break, getting a break from the gray and cold of Chengdu. Among other places, we spent a few days in Saigon and decided to book a tour of the Mekong Delta, complete with driver and guide.
Much of the day was exactly what one would expect: a tour of a candy “factory” (a couple small buildings with all work done manually), a mediocre lunch at the restaurant that offered the biggest kickback to the guide, that kind of thing.
We did have a nice stroll in the market along the waterfront of the town where our boat launched; we interacted with vendors and enjoyed the haphazard theater of a few foreigners in a local place.
What made the day worthwhile was five minutes of quiet paddling up a backwater of the delta. Palm fronds formed a canopy above us, and walls to our sides. As a child during the last stages of our war in Vietnam, that conflict was mostly an academic understanding for me, and impressions from major movies.
As I floated along, the dense jungle became a presence for me, almost an entity to itself. I could see no more than a few feet into it, and I thought about soldiers in the midst of such dense foliage wondering what dangers might lurk just feet away, unseen. The war became somehow more real for me in a way it never before had.
It’s important to say that universally we felt welcome in Vietnam; people were warm and friendly. Before we left for China, the only concern Nikki expressed about our upcoming year pointed to our travel plans for Vietnam. She said, “I know we had a war there and wonder how it will feel to be there. I’m sure once I get there it will be fine.” It was fine, and I long to return.