Three years ago, I decided to do a biking tour through Vietnam. I have always been intrigued by Asia, and one of the best trips I have ever taken had been to Thailand and Cambodia.
After my separation and subsequent divorce, I had taken several transcontinental trips solo, and found them to be some of the most liberating, exciting times of my life.
I went online to research bike tours through Vietnam, and found a site for Vietnam Bike tours (creativity in the name was a bonus). The rate for eleven days of riding through Vietnam was about half that of some of the higher end tours like Backroads, and traveling solo, I was more interested in seeing some of the villages and more gritty parts of this Country.
I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City about 2:00 AM after almost 24 hours of traveling. I found my guide outside the airport, as the whole airport had been vacated. There were hundreds of cabbies standing outside, and almost everyone stood about nine inches shorter than me.
I asked my guide how many people were in our group, and he told me I was it.
I was simultaneously too tired and too jacked up to register my shock and alarm. I got to my hotel, slept about two hours, and met my guide for breakfast.
What followed was an eleven day personal tour through Vietnam by bike. I stayed up late drinking Vietnamese beer with Quang, my guide. We ate street pho, walked onto beaches and greeted fisherman with American $5 bills, and were given live hulking crabs, which we put on ice, tied onto the back of our bikes and rode into nearby towns, where cafe owners would steam them for us, and sampled Vietnamese pastries in towns up and down the coast.
He told me stories of "The American War" which I greedily drank in, and answered my questions, hour after hour.
The South Vietnamese especially love Americans, and we would ride into small villages where the children would line the streets, and put their
hands up, so we could high five each of them. We would take toothbrushes and bars of soap provided at the hotels at night, and hand them out the children. It was Christmas for them.
One morning, Quang led my to my bike, told me to ride five miles, and find My Lai, the site of the infamous American massacre. There is a monument there, commemorating the slaughtered peasants, and a museum. The site saddened me, and brought me to confront the cruelty and tragedy of war.
There were many people who were affected by Agent Orange, who lived with physical deformities and idiocy. These people are benevolently accepted in Vietnamese society and treated with care and kindness.
From a trip that started with so much question for me, turned out to be eleven of the best days of my life. The bike riding, 50-70 miles per day, was strenuous, but wonderful. The country is gorgeous, with jungle, seaside, rubber and coffee trees. The people are sweet, generous and friendly.
I made a lifelong friend in Quang, my tour guide, and the memories are sweet, and vivid.
I learned to look past the way things appear, or promise, and to surrender to a future that is less certain, or expected. In life, and business, there are gifts we underestimate.