Lifetime of Vietnam Memories for History Students

Senior History students had a whirlwind 14-day trip to Vietnam during the holidays, gaining insights into its tumultuous history and the invaluable experience of navigating a new country. Here’s a recap from Year 13 students Adele Arrowsmith and Erin Moore.

Us historians have been busy!

We, a group of year 13, 12 and 11 history students, flew out to Singapore on April 11 and spent the night exploring the airport. The first city we visited in Vietnam was the capital, Ha Noi, located at the top of the country. This was where we met our tour guide, Hoa, who was with us for two weeks, guiding us from the top to the bottom of Vietnam.

In Ha Noi, we toured different historical monuments and even saw Ho Chi Minh, an extremely influential figure in the Vietnamese fight for independence, lying in state. It was in Ha Noi that we had our first major culture shock, which was how hectic the roads were. As you can see in our video, the roads were constantly swarming with mopeds. Thankfully, we all came out unscathed, even when we visited the famous Ha Noi train alleyway, where we sat less than a metre away from a speeding train.

The next few nights were spent cruising around Ha Long Bay, northeast of Ha Noi, swimming, kayaking, doing Tai Chi, taking cooking classes, and much more. During this trip, we got to have delicious food each lunch and dinnertime and learned to make fresh and fried spring rolls. The Bay was more relaxing out of the city and a highlight for many of us.

To get down to Dong Ha, which sits in central Vietnam, we took an overnight train with quite tight sleeping arrangements, which was an experience, to say the least. The following days would be spent both in Dong Na and Hue, a city further down, exploring significant temples and sites, such as the 17th parallel which divided Vietnam into north and south during the Vietnam War.

One of the most important locations we visited was My Lai, where we learned about the effects of the war on the local people. It was a very emotional visit, especially when we got to speak with one of the surviving villagers who lived there during the war.

Our next location was Hoi An, which had the best markets in the country. All the prices in Vietnam were cheap and negotiable, and we all had so much fun wandering through the markets, bartering with merchants, experiencing the culture and eating delicious foods like Banh Mí (a mini French baguette stuffed with meats and vegetables). One day we floated through the coconut forests on bamboo boats, where all the boatmen would sing “Gangnam Style” and spin us around. We then flew down to Saigon, more commonly known as Ho Chi Minh City.

One of our last accommodations was a homestay in the Mekong Delta, where we took boats to get everywhere. We biked through the small villages, helped prepare the food, listened to traditional Vietnamese music, and shared some New Zealand waiatas.

Our last days were spent visiting museums such as the War Remnants Museum which showed the effects of war – not only on Vietnam’s past – but also its present. This was an eye-opening experience to the world around us and as history students, it was incredible to read personal accounts and see many more photos than we had during our research. We even got to crawl through some of the tiny tunnels used in the war, which people lived and fought in for up to 10 years. After an emotional send-off of our guide Hoa, we began our journey home on April 24.

Some definite highlights of the trip were Ha Long Bay, the markets in Hoi An, and our amazing guide, Hoa, who made this trip come together. Of course, there were some challenges, such as the scorching heat which reached 36 C but felt like 40 C due to the humidity. That, mixed with how much walking we did, made some days really tough. From a historical perspective, this trip taught us about the reality of war, how there are no winners, and how much it hurts both sides.

Overall, the trip helped us gain historical knowledge and life experience while navigating a new country. We are all so lucky to have been a part of it. This wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work of Mrs Thwaites and Grant as our chaperones. Thank you both for putting in so much effort to organise and make this adventure happen for us. Since there is no future without the past, we want to encourage Aquinas students to choose history as a subject and learn from the world around us. History is a subject we’d recommend everyone take next year. Thank you!