Aside from the nostalgia stepping off the plane upon touchdown in Hanoi, much of that feeling subsided as the days wore on. However, on the particular day we visited the Ancient Village, the nostalgia hit me full force during the lunch at a local home prepared by a family in the village. The food, atmosphere, and sheer amount of people in a small space was reminiscent of days in my grandmother’s home in the village where both of my parents grew up. I loved it. However, the Duong Lam Village was anything but similar to where my family came from. This was an ancient village eerily frozen in the time of its conception hundreds of years ago. The architecture, ancient houses, pagodas, agricultural lifestyle, and temples all contributed to the preservation of a section of the world seemingly unfazed by the political and violent chaos which so often occurs outside of the metaphorical walls of the ancient village. The only modern aspect of the village which stood out to me was somewhere along the walk of the narrow streets I spotted a house with a sign on the side of its wall stating a wifi name and password, this both amused and concerned me (concerned because if I could not escape the internet in an Ancient village in the middle of Vietnam, then where in the world could I truly live in my ignorant bubble of bliss when I have had enough of dealing with the capitalist, socially unjust, unequal, crazy post-Brexit, Trump run state of the world).
After lunch at the Ancient Village, we then proceeded to visit the Vietnam National Village for Ethnic Minorities where I learned that Vietnam had around 55 different ethnicities throughout the country, some of which were symbolized within this one condensed area 40km outside of Hanoi. From the the Cham towers to the Khmer Temple, it was beautiful, serene, and quite.
Nothing, however, could prepare me for the natural beauty of Ha Long several days later. Away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the cruise around one of UNESCO’s World Heritage site was mesmerizing and, due to the foggy weather conditions coupled with the monolithic towering islands created a mystical aura throughout, as if I were witnessing the scene of some Hollywood action film set in the distant past in an isolated corner of the world.
We spent two days in Ha Long Bay where we explored the Surprising Caves, went squid fishing and even went to the ‘beach’ all whilst being continually surrounded by the breath-taking scenery. It was a once in a lifetime experience and the only thing that saddened me about it all was seeing pollution in the form of floating pieces of plastic and cardboard floating around the waters of the Bay which grew along with the increasing tourist trade. Seeing this sparked a curiosity for me to research environmental solutions and the future of sustainable development along the area and my findings saw not only issues with solid pollution but also water pollution, coal shipping and forced resettlement of floating villages within the past couple of years. The beauty was there but sadly, the strict and necessary environmental regulations were not.
All in all, Vietnam was an amazing and proved my ignorant dismissal of it being a mirror image of my home country to be very wrong. The people and especially the students were active, enthusiastic, smart, and the amount of knowledge and love they have of and for their country was both impressive and admirable. The hospitality and friendship they have shown during this trip is something which makes Westminster Abroad an amazing and valuable experience. From Hanoi University’s students and lecturers to the overall Vietnamese culture and experience I had, this trip is one which has been unforgettable.
By Elerie Taylan