Go to the Holiday in Vietnam 2017 photo album if you want to see the pictures.
It was the family's wish that Sisi (Thi Chau) was to be placed in their family cemetery in Dai Trach commune, Bo Trach district, Quang Binh. Since I did not want to travel alone to Vietnam I had agreed with Le Ha, a cousin who lives near Rotterdam, that we would travel together to Dai Trach next year January. Huong, a cousin who lives near Hamburg in Germany, called met at the end of May and told me that she planned to visit Vietnam and asked me if I would join her. Her family also lives in Dong Hoi, so I decided to travel with her. I informed the family that I was coming to Vietnam in the beginning of July, so they would have enough time to make preparations on their side.
It had taken me a couple of weeks to get all the required papers and stamps from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the embassy of Vietnam, in which Le Ha had assisted me a great deal to find out what was needed to get the final permit from the embassy.
Saturday, July 1
I arrived at Dong Hoi Airport around noon and was welcomed by Van, Hai and Lem. We drove straight to the house of Sisi's parents where everyone was busy preparing for the upcoming funeral ceremonies. It was an emotional reunion with the family. One year earlier we all had celebrated Tet together and now within one year's time another child of Mr. and Mrs. Duong had passed away. And this was also my first visit to Vietnam without Sisi waiting for me somewhere in Vietnam.
The vase, containing Sisi's ashes, was placed on the table, dedicated to Sisi, in the living room. Mr. and Mrs Duong burning incense sticks to honour her return home.
After lunch a group of 4 people, 3 musicians and the ceremony leader, arrived. The ceremomy leader took charge and told the family how to place the vase in the special made wooden box. He was also busy saying prayers, burning incense sticks and offering food. In the meantime people were cooking food for later that evening.
The table for Sisi was placed in front of the living room, so that newly arrived family, neighbours and friends could pay their respects by burning incense sticks. More decorations were hung up at the doors. The band was playing traditional funeral music. Later that afternoon the tables with food and drinks were moved from the garden to the street in front of the house. Some family members and I took place on a mat and the ceremony leader performed more rituals.
More rituals were performed in the evening while the band kept playing, a bier, that would contain the box, was being prepared, people came and left. The atmosphere was solemn but not sad and I finally felt at peace. After all the problems I had in getting that final permit to enter Vietnam with the vase, containing the ashes of Sisi, and the strange flight to Vietnam, carrying the vase with me all the time, it felt good to be here, going through the funeral rituals together with my family-in-law. The circle was round for Sisi. Born in Dai Trach, she had lived in places like Ho Chi Min City and Da Nang and the last 20 years of her short life in Breda, the Netherlands. Now she was forever back in Dai Trach.
Sunday, July 2
Around 7 o'clock I was called downstairs. More funeral rituals were about to begin, where I also had to offer food and drinks for Sisi. Finally the box with the vase was placed in the bier by 4 guys in red dresses and in a parade we walked through Dai Trach to the cemetery, while people were throwing fake money on the road. It was a short walk of about 600 meters when we arrived at the cemetery, just outside the village.
A grave was already dug in the family graveyard. The box with the vase was taken from the bier and placed inside the grave and people threw sand into the grave until it was completely filled.
A few mats were placed in front of the grave and food, fruits, flowers and drinks were placed on it. And again more rituals were performed. Finally it was all over and quietly we walked back to the house where lunch was served.
After lunch I was brought to Dong Hoi where I would stay the rest of the remaining 10 days at Huyen's house and Lan's house when Huyen was on holiday in Phu Quoc wit her husband and friends.
Monday, July 3
In the morning I visited Sisi's grave, together with Lan and Hong, to place flowers on behalf of Tuyet from Antwerp, Belgium. The beautiful tomb, built with the support of her sisters and brothers, was already placed on the grave. The cemetery, surrounded by trees on the village's side and ricefields on the other sides, was quiet and peacful now.
In the afternoon I visited Huong who was, together with her daughter, staying at Hoan's house. Hoan was her husband, but he did not get a permanent visa for Germany and returned to Vietnam years ago. He lived within walking distance from Huyen's house and every now and then I would visit them. Later that afternoon Huong, her daughter and I visited her sister who also lived in Dong Hoi and in the evening we all went for drinks in the top bar of a hotel, which had nice views over the river Nhat Le and the city.
Tuesday, July 4
In the morning we visited Nuoc Mooc stream, a beautiful spot, 10 kilometers north-west of the famous Phong Nha caves. We walked over wooden bridges through the beautiful forests of this little river park to a small beach where we swam and played in the water for a few hours. After lunch we drove back to Doing Hoi.
In the evening we played volleyball outside Van's house and had dinner afterwards.
Wednesday, July 5
In the afternoon we drove to the beautiful Bai Da Nhay beach, 40 kilometers north of Dong Hoi, with some amazing rock formations. Da Nhay in Vietnamese means "the rocks that jumps".
Friday, July 7
We left early morning for the 2 hour ride to Ben Hai, where we visited the Hien Luong Bridge over the river Ben Hai that seperated North from South Vietnam for many years, the Museum of the 17th Parallel and Dreams of Reunification, the Flag Tower and a pavillion where an Agreement on Vietnam was signed.
We also visited the famous Vinh Moc tunnels, 10 kilometers north of Ben Hai and a bit difficult to find. With the help of 2 navigation apps on our telephones we finally found the place. We first visited a small museum, that showed scenes, photos and letters from the war and all sorts of tools and weaponry used during the war. Hong and I visited some of the tunnels while Lan waited in a nearby stall. This was the first I visited these tunnels in Vietnam and was amazed how people could live in a place like this. Even children were born here underground and there was a small hospital.
Saturday, July 8
Lan and Van came up with the idea to spend the weekend in Da Nang. So after packing some clothes and other things we left Dong Hoi in the morning. Around lunch time we stopped for a lunch at a seaside restaurant near Lang Co beach where Van and Hai finally caught up with us. Another hour later we drove into Da Nang, over wide boulevards along the seashore to our hotel.
After a short rest we, the women and the children, went to My Khe beach for a refreshing swim while the men found a seafood restaurant nearby for a few drinks. We joined them later for dinner.
Finally after so many years I was back in Da Nang, where it all had started. In December 1995 I flew to Vietnam for a bicycle trip and the plan was to cycle from Hanoi in the North to Ho Chi Minh City in the south, a 1700 km long trip. In Lien's café in Da Nang, a small backpackers restaurant, I met a young and beautiful Vietnamese girl who called herself Sisi. She wanted to show me around, so I decided to stay for a few days. The next days Sisi and I visited nearby Hoi An and the Cham temple ruins in My Son and together with Lien and her young daugther we travelled by train to Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City. So much for my bicycle trip. The next year in May I went back to Vietnam and we got married and Sisi arrived on a cold day in December in Holland to spend her life with me.
Sunday, July 9
The city had turned from an easy going place into the third largest city of Vietnam with many skyscrapers, expensive hotels, other buildings and bridges. I did not stay long enough to explore the city and to see if there were things I remembered.
Van had finally found out where Lien was living. During her study in Da Nang, she had stayed with her aunt Lien, so she was also anxious to meet her again. Lien's café was already long gone and now she was living together with her mother. Lien was really happy to see us and a few tears were pledged when we held each other. After lots of talks and cups of tea it was time to say goodbye.
After visiting Lien we drove to Linh Ung Bai But Pagoda, a huge complex with a very large Buddha statue and some nice temples, situated on Son Tra peninsula near the city.
After a delicious lunch we drove a few hours over small roads to the newly opened Nui Than Tai Hot Springs Park. The park, beautifully situated in the hills, contained several swimming pools with attractions, sauna's, hot and cold water pools and much more. The more you paid for the entrance tickets, the more attractions you were allowed to visit. We had much fun and during a thunderstorm we warmed ourselves in a very hot water pool. The water temperature was around 70 degrees. The last attractions we visited were the sauna and the high waterglide that had just opened again after the thuderstorm had left the area. It was already getting dark when we left the park to drive back to Dong Hoi, where we arrived around midnight.
Wednesday, July 12
After a few days of relaxing it was time for me to say goodbye to the family and fly back to the Netherlands. At the airport I met Huong, Hoan and their daughter and together we flew to Ho Chi Minh City, where we would we stay for a few days.
Thursday, July 13
In the morning I was picked up by Minh Tuan, the son of Sisi's aunt. The family lives in one of the many suburbs in the southern part of Ho Chi Minh City and we always paid them a visit when we were in town. And this was also the first time I would meet them without Sisi. The family was sad when I met them. But as always they were good to me and I stayed there the whole day, talking to Minh Tuan. He took me on a motorbike ride to the beautiful Chua Thien-Ton temple nearby and to their old house. The house was taken down, but the land was now used for growing fruits and vegetables.
After dinner I took an Uber taxi, for a fixed price, back to my hotel.
Huong and her family had spent all day shopping in some of the big shopping malls that could be found all over the city.
Friday, July 14
Huong and I stayed all day in our hotelrooms, while Hoan and their daughter explored China town.
In the evening we went to the airport where we said goodbye to Hoan and flew back to Europe. We had a stopover in Frankfurt, where I said goodbye to Huong and her daughter. They would fly further to Hamburg and I to Amsterdam.
In a way I was glad that I had brought Sisi back to Vietnam, but I also felt very sad when I left Vietnam. We had had some great times together in Vietnam, visited many places and there were still places, including Cambodia and Laos, we wanted to visit. Vietnam will always be in my heart and I will definitely come back, if only to visit Sisi's grave and my family-in-law. Hen gap lai Vietnam!
On the map you can see all the places I have visited.