Elin Hilderbrand in Vietnam

Elin Hilderbrand, Chip Cunningham and Family Back from Vietnam

I ran into New York Times Best Seller author Elin Hilderbrand just after she and her family returned from Vietnam, so excited about her trip that I asked if she would write about it for this newsletter. She said maybe, and just two days later, here’s what Elin sent. Photographs are by Chip Cunningham. Thank you Elin and Chip.

Hi Gene!

Chip and I took our three kids (Maxx 10, Dawson 8, Shelby 4) traveling through Vietnam for 6 weeks this winter. We started our trip in Ho Chi Minh City, which everyone in the world is now back to calling Saigon. Saigon is a very modern, very hip and capitalistic city (there was a prevalence of big, clean, expensive retail such as Gucci and Roberto Cavalli…suffice it to say, it was the only place in the country we saw Gucci…the rest of the country is decidedly NOT Gucci.) We then began traveling north.

Our first stop was a ten-day stint in the beach town of Mui Ne, about 4 hours north of Saigon. (Most of the time we traveled by private car; this was very convenient and inexpensive.) Mui Ne is a beach town, the beach is stunning and popular with windsurfers. It is fronted by resorts, and there is a town, though they have yet to shed the communist look…the side of the street that was not on the beach needed a) a sidewalk and b) some upgrading, as it was pretty ramshackle and much of the signage was in Russian. We stayed at the Victoria Phan Thiet resort which we loved and where we were able to become adjusted to the way things worked in Vietnam. I (surprise!) would go running 7-8 miles each morning and so I would see the old women in the triangle hats crouching down over their little grills where they cooked pork and warmed baguettes for the traditional banh mi, a sandwich which they eat for breakfast.

Mui Ne is home to mammoth red and white sand dunes, and the thing to do is to “sled” down the dunes. So out we go and there was a mob of school-age children hawking plastic sleds for $1 US a ride. (Side note: the currency in Vietnam is called the dong — this made Chip and I chuckle and truly never got old — but you can use American dollars absolutely everywhere.) My kids were swarmed by Vietnamese children wanting to rent their sleds and I think our children were intimidated/afraid, especially when I pointed out that it was mid-day and those children weren’t at school but were, at at the ages of 7-9, out working. In fact, children in Vietnam only go to school half day — either from 8-11 or 1-4 and the other half of the day many are expected to work. At any rate, we all sledded down the sand dunes and it was thrilling (though red sand is HOT.)

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