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NYU Alumni Travel: Journey Through Vietnam

Multifaceted Vietnam offers a unique combination of stunning beaches and lakes, rural rice paddies, and bustling cities.

By Jamie Menaker (GSAS '12)

Junk Cruise in Halong Bay

In Vietnam, bucolic rice fields and traditional temples are in curious contrast with city streets filled to capacity with zooming motorbikes and activity in every corner. It is a country that has long sparked Americans’ fancy, especially since the charged days of the Vietnam War and continuing through today, when visitors are frequently impressed by the peaceful and welcoming people who make Vietnam their home. This October, NYU alumni will have the chance to see Vietnam firsthand on a 16-day trip through the country.

Starting in Hanoi, the group will visit famous sites like the thousand-year-old One Pillar Pagoda, Hoan Kiem Lake, and the Hoa Lo Prison, called the “Hanoi Hilton” during the Vietnam War. While these war-time sites are an important part of the country’s history, the Vietnamese have a national saying: “Vietnam is a country, not a war.” The Vietnamese people have been fighting off the advances of China and other countries for hundreds of years, but as the years progress, more and more of the Vietnamese people have not had to witness their country at war in their lifetime.

The Forbidden Purple City In Hue, Vietnam

The Vietnamese have an extremely deep-rooted sense of pride in their home – and in their cuisine. Their cooking is frequently recognized as one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. In Hanoi, after an evening stroll of the Ancient Quarter, alumni will experience an authentic dinner of local cuisine at one of the city’s favorite restaurants. Devon Bussell (GAL ’14), one of a group of Gallatin Scholars who went to Vietnam with Assistant Professor Hannah Gurman of the Gallatin School in January, commented on the culinary landscape of the country, “Hanoi has a really cute sidewalk cafe culture; families or friends spend special occasions sharing meals over tiny tables,” he says. “Many restaurants specialize in one type of cuisine, like lemongrass-flavored hotpot, and some are also microbreweries. You can buy a homemade pilsner for about 60 cents a glass. Most Vietnamese dishes come with rice and with fish sauce on the side. Fermentation gives fish sauce a subtle sweetness that you will taste in almost every meal.” Another stop with a culinary emphasis is Ha Long Bay, where the group will embark on a leisurely boat ride and take part in a seafood lunch fresh from Vietnam waters, before exploring the close to 3,000 islands, caves, and grottos of the Bay. Ha Long Bay is one of Vietnam’s most breathtaking vistas, with clear, calm waters and moss-covered rock formations jutting out at each turn.

Professor Carol Tosone from the NYU Silver School of Social Work visited Ha Long Bay while in Vietnam on a Fulbright Fellowship to teach some of Vietnam’s first social workers at the Hanoi National University of Education. Vietnamese social work has become increasingly prevalent as the country has become more developed. “Ha Long Bay is absolutely spectacular,” says Professor Tosone. “For your seafood dinner, they just put the net in and catch the shrimp and everything, and you eat it right there. It’s incredible. It’s a bit of a hike—Vietnam is the real deal and you’re traveling on dirt roads—but it’s worth it.”

After a short flight to Da Nang on the south coast of Vietnam, the group will make their home on the beachfront, taking the time to appreciate the serenity of the foreign waters. The Cham Museum is a highlight here, giving alumni the chance to discover the Cham people’s Hindu traditions through artifacts and sculpture—one of the favorite sculptures, Elephant, was made of sandstone in the 11th century, an ode to the animals’ prevalence in daily life both in peace and war time.

Hoi An is next on the journey, a respite from the motorbike-filled cities Vietnam is known for. Along the banks of the Thu Bon River, Old Town Hoi An is a car-free zone filled with native goods like lanterns and colorful fabrics, as well as some of the best tailors in the country. While here, the group will also visit a local rice farming community and see the water-logged rice paddies, as well as enjoy a Vietnamese cooking lesson and lunch in Hoi An. This is what the country is truly based on, the rural rice farmers and skilled laborers that keep Vietnam in forward motion.

Vietnamese market

In the nearby city of Hue, alumni will visit Central Market to see where the locals buy all their fish, meats, and produce, and feast on a Vietnamese buffet with a performance of traditional music. A cruise down Hue’s Perfume River will allow alumni to visit the Thien Mu Pagoda, an authentic Buddhist monastery, home to one of the country’s richest religious traditions.

And finally, on to the land of fairytales: Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, and its surrounding cities. The river town of Cai Rang is famous for its floating market and eateries in the Mekong Delta, reachable only by boat. The group will also explore the fishing villages along the banks of the Mekong in small, motorized bamboo boats called ‘sampans’. For the grand finale in Ho Chi Minh City, the largest city in Vietnam, alumni can explore the city by foot; on xe om motorcycle taxis where visitors sit on the back of a motorbike; or aboard the more leisurely bike-pedaled taxis called cyclos. The Vietnam History Museum gives a final glimpse of Vietnam’s rich stories, as well as the Presidential Palace and underground network of Cu Chi tunnels used as Vietnamese headquarters during the war.

The combination of stunning natural beauty, longstanding tradition, and truly hospitable people are sure to make for a fascinating alumni trip this fall. “Vietnam is really a wonderful country,” says Professor Tosone. “The Vietnamese are such a gentle people, just welcoming to everybody.”

Vietnam, operated by NYU alumni travel partner Odysseys Unlimited, takes place October 21-November 5, 2012. The base tour cost, including airfare, is $3,695 per person. Interested alumni should contact Andrew Bavelock ( 212-998-6985 for a brochure, or Odysseys Unlimited (888-370-6765) to make a reservation.


For additional information about other NYU alumni travel opportunities, visit the NYU Alumni Travel site.

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