Three generations of family visit Vietnam

On Nov. 5 at the Monticello library, Dean Schwendinger of Monticello shared about his family’s two-week trip to Vietnam. The goal of the trip was to return to Schwendinger’s granddaughter’s place of birth. (Photo by Kim Brooks)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

Dean Schwendinger, his daughter Angela, and 12-year-old granddaughter Karli all traveled together recently to Vietnam. Karli was adopted from Vietnam at 3 ½ months old. This was the first time the family took her back to see her home country. 

The Schwendinger family spent 16 days in Vietnam. 

“It was so packed,” shared Dean Schwendinger during a recent presentation at the Monticello Public Library. This was part of the library’s “Arm Chair Traveler Series.” 

Schwendinger admitted it was his wife, Marty, who encouraged him to go to Vietnam. 

“I truly learned a lot,” he said. 

Schwendinger added that this trip made him respect everything surrounding the Vietnam War even more. 

During part of the trip, the Schwendingers visited and toured the orphanage where Karli was born. 

“We spent a whole day there,” he said. 

Karli was able to meet her mom’s sister, her aunt, for the first time. She was unable to meet her mom. Schwendinger said Karli’s aunt told them to take good care of her. 

“Some day Karli wants to go back to Vietnam,” said Schwendinger. “The whole purpose of this trip was to show her where she came from.” 

The Schwendingers’ trip was a fully guided trip, complete with a driver and guide. 

Their first city was Ha Noi in central Vitenam. There, the narrow streets were extremely crowded with people on motorcycles/ mopeds, the preferred mode of transportation. 

“That’s their family car,” said Schwendinger. He showed many photos of multiple people riding on a motorcycle, or people hauling groceries, and of people hauling construction material, all while driving. 

With so much traffic on the streets, Schwendinger said it’s hard for emergency vehicles to get around. 

They visited the site of the Ha Noi Hilton, the place where Sen. John McCain was imprisoned as a POW during the Vietnam War. 

“Most of it is torn down now,” said Schwendinger. “The cell where McCain was is gone.” 

They also saw the Ho Chi Minh’s tomb. At this sacred spot, no laughing or talking is allowed. During the months of October and November, Ho Chi Minh’s body is sent to Russia for preservation. 

“The line was four hours long to see his body,” said Schwendinger. 

The family did a walking tour of the French Quarters, taking in the temples, colonial-era buildings, and the old quarter that dates back a thousand years. 

“You’re not supposed to wear shorts inside the temples, so I stayed outside,” recalled Schwendinger. 

During the Halonong Bay tour, the family saw “Surprise Cave,” what was known to be the largest cave in Vietnam. 

Schwendinger said the food in Vietnam was fantastic, especially the shrimp and spring rolls. 

In Da Nang, the Schwendingers took a scooter tour of the small villages. They saw women making lotus paper flowers out of delicate paper. The lotus flower is their national flower. 

In Hue, Vietnam, they took in the imperial citadel where the imperial family lived until 1945. Schwendinger explained the emperor had 400 wives (major and minor wives) and 100-plus children. Families gave their daughters to the emperor to assure their loyalty. 

Eighty percent of the palace was destroyed in the Vietnam War. Today, Schwendinger said they are trying to rebuild it. 

In Hoi An, the Schwendingers went on a tour of the night market. 

“You could buy anything you wanted there,” recalled Schwendinger. 

In addition to vendors selling their wares outside, people were also sitting outside of restaurants eating as well. 

This area is prone to flooding during the monsoon season. Houses are made from ironwood, which is impervious to water. Some of the shops and restaurants have trap doors allowing them to move everything from the first floor to the second floor in a hurry in case of a flood. 

Dean and Karli went on a bamboo round boat tour where Karli was taught how to fish with just a net. They also helped a local farmer plant his garden, using seaweed as a natural fertilizer. 

“Plants there grow 24/7 365 days a year,” Schwendinger said of the atmosphere, which is ideal for fast-growing produce. 

In Saigon, they were met with heavier traffic, but this time people driving motorcycles and cars. 

Here, they saw many tall skyscrapers, and Schwendinger said there is so much construction going on in the city. 

Also in Saigon, they were shown a tunnel system that was used during the war. 

“Karli went into a 12- inch hole and disappeared,” Schwendinger said of how easy it was to hide from the enemies. 

Since the war, the tunnel system has been enlarged for tourists. Schwendinger admitted he was too claustrophobic to go through the tunnel system. 

They also toured the Saigon war museum, which contains remnants from the war. 

“It left nothing to the imagination,” said Schwendinger of the somber feel inside the museum. “There’s a lot of gruesome stuff; it was hard to take photos.” 

Today, Schwendinger said birth defects from Agent Orange are still prominent in Vietnam. 

Before the end of the trip, the Schwendingers went on a bicycle tour. 

“I hadn’t ridden a bike in years,” joked Schwendinger. 

There were no guardrails along the streets and bridges. “They were wide open,” said Schwendinger. 

They also had to deal with scooters passing them going both ways. 

Overall, Schwendinger said it’s very economical to travel to Vietnam. The Vietnamese dong is equal to .000043 in U.S. dollars. And it was only about 12 years ago that tourism started to gain traction in the country. 

“We’d go back in a minute if we could,” said Schwendinger. 


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