While in Vietnam we had an unexpected and amazing experience. Remember I am an ol’ hippie and draft dodger of the Vietnam War era. The famous Pulitzer Prize winning photo of a little girl running naked through the streets of her village after being showered with napalm has haunted me for decades, as it has many others. I’m sure you know the picture. She is called simply the “Girl in the Picture”. Well we got to spend the afternoon at her home with her family and learned all about what happened to her after that tragedy. Everyone in the house (me, MJ, and our guide) were in tears as we looked at albums and watched videos. Her name is Kim Phuc and she now lives in Toronto, after defecting there in the early 90’s. If you happen to be interested you can google her. There are info and you tube videos there on her site. My guide had never been there. I just asked her to take me to Kim’s village of Trang Bang after our Cao Dai temple visit (Trang Bang was about an hour out of our way, an advantage of custom travel) and we just ended up in Kim’s home talking to her brother’s wife and children. Her brother is in the photo in front of Kim. He was not burned.
She was burned over 50 percent of her body which has near a hundred percent mortality. The photographer who took the photo grabbed her and doused her with water then took her to the local clinic. The next day he went back to check on her and she was in the morgue. He promptly discovered that she was not dead and took her to a regional hospital where she was transferred to Saigon. She subsequently spent 18 months in the hospital and had 17 surgeries, many of them by a burn specialist from the Univ of Chicago. Many people took an interest in her and contributed to her ultimate survival and this is all chronicled on the video and how she has kept up with them over the years and vice versa.
After all this Kim decided she wanted to be a doctor but Vietnam had other ideas. The govt jerked her out of school to send her all over the country and world to talk about the American imperialists who did this to her. She obviously did not want to do this. In the early 90’s she landed in Toronto on one of these propaganda tours. She got off the plane and asked for asylum and was granted it. It took several years but eventually her mom was allowed to move to Canada and Kim met a Vietnamese gentleman and they were married and had 2 children. She went to the Univ of Chicago to lecture at the request of the burn surgeon and was the keynote speaker at a huge Veterans Day celebration in Wash DC at the Vietnam Memorial. It was here that she met the American pilot who had ordered the mission that dropped the bomb. The pilot who actually flew the mission dropped the bomb on the Cao Dai temple (where the children were hiding) by mistake. He was a South Vietnamese. Over the years she has met all of these people and made a lot of peace for herself and them. She is now a UNESCO spokesperson and is extremely gracious, lovely and articulate. The video showed a lot of this happening and you can imagine how moving it was.
You can google Kim Phuc if you are interested and see some You Tube videos about all this. They are short and not nearly as good as the one I saw which is black market. I would love to get a copy but I doubt that will ever happen. There is a book about all this called “The Girl In the Picture” which I bought and intend to read soon.
As you can imagine I have left much of the story out but this was one of those very special days which occasionally break up the monotony of life and really give it meaning. Kim’s story in complicated ways has helped me to deal with my own demons about the Vietnam War.
- Danny K.
This was Danny’s fourth trip with Asia Transpacific Journeys. On this trip, planned by Asia Travel Specialist, Tom Lastick, Danny explored Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Bhutan. To learn more about planning your trip to Asia, call 800-642-02742
An amazing extension you planned for us…we loved it.. Huot was a really good , sensitive and knowledgeable guide…he mother henned us and informed us and was open to talking abt Khmer Rouge days ..He was understanding of our need for rest and cooling down !!! Do submit our recommendation for him.
The Koh Ker Beng Melia extesion was a fantastic wonderful surprise…to feel like Henri Mouhot with no one , virtually there…. FANTASTIC !!!!
Connected with Thuzar tho all too briefly as the hotel botched up room numbers and left her sitting in the lobby. Alas. but got to see her wedding pix and cute crawler baby pix.
Our Cambodia time felt like a whole other trip …wonderful.
Many thanks for all your planning. We enjoyed the other couples as well though being younger they had a whole lot more energy.
Took in the Angkor theater also… very nicely done in air conditioned comfort.
Many thanks once more,
Sandra is an Asia Transpacific Journeys travel veteran. This was her eight small group trip, arranged by Asia Travel Specialist, Rebecca Mazzaro. We continue to look forward to helping her plan her next big journeys!
To learn more about travel to Asia, or to begin planning your journey with a Travel Specialist, please call 800-642-2742.
Howard and Miriam S. recount their experience with a custom Vietnam luxury travel package from Asia Transpacific Journeys:
We were very satisfied with the itinerary that you helped us develop for our twelve days in the country. Our days were very full. Most nights we fell asleep before 9 o’clock P.M., tired, satisfied and still a little jet lagged. I suppose we would have enjoyed the luxury of having a couple of half days with nothing scheduled so we could rest and catch our breath. Nevertheless the full days allowed us to see and experience many incredible things.
Our three guides, Lan, Hung and Vu, were excellent. Each man met us at the airport and took us where we needed to be without any problems. They were always on time. They were friendly, knowledgeable and spoke freely with us about all kinds of issues, including government corruption, the War, religion, family structure, etc. We definitely learned more from our guides on our custom trip than had we been part of a large group tour (of Vietnam).
Sometimes we enjoyed going off script with our guide. In Hanoi, we told Lan that we wanted to more closely experience life in the city. Lan took us on a meandering walking tour of the flower district near central Hanoi. That was a great detour for us. Then, at our request, Lan took us to a gritty local restaurant he knew well, that served some of the best pho’ in Hanoi.
We thoroughly enjoyed our brief stay at the Sofitel Hotel in Hanoi. The room was luxurious and the service was superior. We enjoyed waking up to the sumptuous breakfast buffet every morning.
While waiting for Lan to pick us up one rainy morning, we saw a taxi back up into a woman speeding along on a scooter. She appeared to be hurt but help came right away. Otherwise, we were amazed how motorists were able to maneuver around each other without regard to traffic rules, without running into each other. This is one of our lasting impressions of our Vietnam experience.
In our one full day in Hanoi, we saw Ho Chi Minh’s tomb, the One Pillar Pagoda, Ho’s home, the Museum of Ethnology, Hoa Lo Prison, and capped off the day with a wild cyclo ride in the French Quarter. The day was rainy and hazy which only added to the experience.
The next day we drove 3 1/2 hours through numerous small towns to Ha Long Bay. Our time spent at Ha Long may have been the highlight of the trip. We received a warm welcome from the Paradise Cruise people. We were escorted to our ship, the “Paradise Luxury,” which lived up to its name. The accommodations were luxurious, the food was wonderful. We thoroughly enjoyed a rowboat tour of a fishing village and the next morning enjoyed a hike through a large cave on one of the islands. The air was misty, just like every photograph of Ha Long that we have ever seen. We probably would have enjoyed spending one more night and day cruising around the islands of Ha Long Bay.
We flew to Da Nang and were met at the airport by our new guide, Hung. From that point we were with Hung for nearly five days. We enjoyed every moment with him. He exhibited a deep understanding of Vietnamese history and culture. He is an amateur photographer with a wonderful eye for beauty.
We were very satisfied with our accommodations in Hoi An at the Life Heritage Resort. We liked how we could take a few steps from the calm of the resort and find ourselves surrounded by the hustle and bustle of Hoi An’s marketplace. We found a nice Vietnamese lady who washed all of our clothes, same day service, for $5, whose business was three steps away from the hotel.
We have many, many exquisite memories of our time with Hung in Hoi An and Hue. The morning of our first whole day in Hoi An, Hung led us through a 16-mile bicycle loop past lovely neighborhoods, new beach front hotel developments, shrimp farms, pig farms, a spice village and finally, the center of Hoi An. Hung met us that morning, promptly, with excellent quality mountain bikes and helmets for everyone.
Along the way, we were fortunate to call on Rod Sims, an American Vietnam War veteran from Georgia who has returned to the Hoi An area to live out his days. Apparently Rod has lived with extreme feelings of remorse and guilt over his involvement in the Vietnam War. He expressed to us that he is now devoting his life to doing good deeds for the Vietnam people, including raising money for children with birth defects. We felt honored and inspired to spend 30 minutes with Rod in his home.
We spent a long day driving over 400 km to see some rather notorious historical sites associated with the Vietnam War. Hung noted that it was rare for Americans to ask to be taken to such out-of-the-way places. For many years I have wanted to visit My Lai. We drove a long way to get there. When we arrived, we viewed a short documentary of the massacre and toured the small museum, which did not shy away from presenting every horror that happened that day. We saw foundations of the homes that were burned to the ground which had signs listing the names, sex and age of every occupant who was killed. We are both so glad that we visited My Lai. We went inside the Vinh Moc tunnels (these are the ones where a person can almost stand up). We stopped at fire support base Camp Carroll and later visited the marine base at Khe Sanh. These were meaningful stops. We were able to appreciate the densely forested mountains that surround these places, which helped us appreciate where and how the War was fought. We crossed the rebuilt bridge spanning Hien Long River at Dong Ha, in the DMZ. It was incredible to stand where so much history has been made.
Hung took us to My Son to wander among the Hindu Temples. Apparently, the original 70 temples have been reduced in number to a mere 20. We arrived at My Son on a drizzly late afternoon after all of the tourists had left. I think we both felt a little like Indiana Jones. We both felt the magic that I have felt a few times in my life when standing in a sacred place.
We decided to drive over the mountain pass rather than through the tunnel on our drive from Hoi An to Hue. Glad we did. The views of the coastline were spectacular. We took a full afternoon to explore what’s left of the Forbidden City in Hue. While much of the site was destroyed and badly damaged at the Tet Offensive, what’s left still left us in awe. We wandered from building to building, through lovely ornate gates bearing images of dragons and the phoenix. We were able to sense the grandeur of the Imperial Court as it existed in the 19th Century.
A word about the Pilgrimage Resort where we stayed while we were in Hue: The resort itself is reason enough to visit Hue. The bungalow-style suite, eco-friendly landscaping and pool were beautiful beyond words. We would have been very happy to stay there for a few extra nights.
We felt particularly close to Hung, liked him a great deal and had a bit of an emotional farewell at the airport in Hue. We were met by our third guide, Vu, when we arrived at HCM City. We had a busy day shopping in the frenetic market place, stopping for lunch at Pho’ 2000 (where Bill Clinton also stopped for lunch), touring the Reunification Palace and visiting the War Remnants Museum. At this point, I think my wife, Miriam, had had enough of unexploded bombs, photos of human tragedies caused by the War, etc.. Still, these displays were informative (notwithstanding the propaganda) and deserve to be seen.
Our accommodations at the Caravelle Hotel were very satisfactory. We enjoyed the central location which allowed us to wonder away from the hotel for dinner and to explore the historic neighboring hotels, City Hall and a somewhat incongruous upscale mall.
We took a long drive west toward the Cambodian border with Vu to visit the fascinating Cao Dai Pagoda. We saw a religious ceremony in progress. We then visited the Cou Chi Tunnels. We could not resist the temptation of disappearing in the tunnels ourselves to experience real claustrophobia. As much as anything, experiencing the tunnels impressed upon us the strength of the Vietnamese people, their love of country and their will to survive.
We left HCM City for Phuket, Thailand, where we rested and relaxed for eight days. Our trip was a perfect combination of intense activity, followed by a chance to replenish ourselves.
As you know, I had had some prior experience visiting Southeast Asia in my trip to Burma in 1999. For Miriam, however, this was baptism by fire, because she had never before been to Asia. This was an unforgettable adventure for both of us. We felt as though we really saw and experienced a great deal, although Hung was quick to point out that we had merely “scratched the surface”. Still, we had a very rich experience indeed. We saw first hand, an ancient culture rooted in tradition which finally has a chance, in peace, to develop fully into a modern nation. Life in Vietnam seems to play out right on the street. Lots of contradictions, but a place that we would relish the chance to return to.
Perhaps we’ll talk in a year or two about planning an adventure to Laos and Cambodia. Our thanks to you, Lesa and your staff for orchestrating such a memorable and smooth adventure for us.
Howard & Miriam S.
John H. of Wisconsin recounts his experience with one of our group trips to Vietnam:
Linda and I returned home this afternoon after a great trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Bali.
We had a fascinating time and all the arrangements couldn’t have been better. Thanks to you and your Asia Transpacific Journeys colleagues for helping make this such an interesting and memorable trip.
The guides and drivers in each country were all helpful and informative and went out of their way to help make our visits outstanding. The hotels were excellent, and the detailed itineraries interesting and very well geared to our interests.
In short, we had a terrific time, and more than once turned to each other and said “Asia Transpacific really has done a great job!”
Thanks for making this a trip we’ll treasure.
Mineral Point, WI
Learn more about custom or small group trips to Southeast Asia by speaking with a Travel Specialist today, 800-642-2742.
Elise R. recounts her experience with a custom “travel to Myanmar” package from Asia Transpacific Journeys:
Our time in Myanmar was utterly fantastic! Loved every minute.
Our guide, Win Htoon, was the BEST GUIDE EVER. She had a expert grasp of English, a broad knowledge of everything Myanmar and beyond and a wealth of insider places to take us, off the “beaten track.” Further, she is a clothes horse– she was styling in a different wonderful Myanmar fabric every day… looked fantastic! By the end of the trip, she was just another family member traveling along and enjoying the moments with us… laughing all the way. We even taught her to snorkel at McCloud island! And, at Sharon’s super wonderful surprise birthday party at the Green Elephant (how can we ever repay your generosity?), Gregg gave her his Kindle (about 35 books loaded on it). We tipped her well. Can you get her a visa to visit us? She was superb.
McCloud Island was heaven. Our own deserted island in paradise. The bungalows were spacious, beautiful mosquito netting, immediate hot water, sheets and towels changed every day, great food. Our cabana had a more modern air conditioning unit than Gregg and Ken had … oh well. The snorkeling was fantastic. There were only 11 guests.
Unlike Khao Lak Resort (however, great room again, dude!) which was full to capacity–mostly with grumpy dumpy Germans and sequestered serious Swedes. They all looked out of their comfort zone at a beach scene.
As far as I am concerned, it was a total waste of time to go to Phuket. But I was out voted and Sharon insisted I make a compromise (Gregg and Ken wanted to end their vacation at a beach Resort–they still have to work for a living and wanted down time). It was time I would have preferred spent exploring more of Myanmar! But what’s done is done.
I would like to return and do some more tribe exploring in Kachin State and Kayah State. But I suppose there are too many places to go in the world and I probably will never return. We’ll see.
It was all so superb and remarkable. And changing rapidly!!!!! We were mostly vegetarians on the trip and Win ordered for us— great, sumptuous feasts of food.
Good bye for now,
Corte Madera, CA
There is no better time than now t0 travel to Myanmar. Find out why and begin planning your custom journey or small group trip today, 800-642-2742.
Just a quick note to let you know that we had a fabulous time! It could not have been more engaging, fun, enlightening. Even the flooding in Bangkok was interesting. The guide Nyi Nyi Naing was with us the entire time and was absolutely fantastic!
This was the best trip we’ve ever taken. Will try to call you this or next week. Thank you.
George and his family ventured on a custom trip to Myanmar and Thailand. This was their second trip to Asia, planned by Travel Specialist, Eric Kareus. Learn more about custom Asia trips by speaking with an Asia Transpacific Journeys Travel Specialist, 800-642-2742.
Patricia Schultz, author of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, recounts her experience with travel to Papua New Guinea on an Asia Transpacific Journeys group trip:
A belated e-note to wax on about our August trip to PNG — to say it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience is a gross understatement! The list of superlatives is long – from the local people, to those who comprised our group (all of whom had glowing things to say about Jarrod and Asia Transpacific Journeys btw — am cc’ing Jarrod on this so he can bask in the praise, though I imagine he hears it often!) to our leader Suzanne who everyone agreed was possibly the nicest and brightest and funnest guide we’d ever come across – and that was one very well-traveled group of people (and one of the joys of the trip for that reason).
The trip was especially wonderful to me, as I had proofread my last chapter for the 1000 Places revision on the plane from NY to Sydney — and for the first time in 4 years, I was able to truly feel liberated and free to immerse myself entirely in the adventure without any stress and deadline concerns. Now THAT was priceless!
So the revision (a complete rewrite) and gorgeous app for 1000 Places are out Nov 15 – just in time for Christmas!! :)
Big Book Tour Jan-March.
Many many (many!) thanks again for everything.
New York, NY
Patricia Schultz is the author of, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. This was her second trip with Asia Transpacific Journeys, and we look forward to helping her explore many more of the destinations on her list.