Tamar Lowell said that Viet Nam is a name that stirs the senses and emotions. It conjures visions of proud farmers in conical straw hats tending their rice paddies. It conjures smells of lemongrass, ginger and mint, savory spices used in Vietnamese cooking. It conjures the romance of a bygone colonial era, and the hope of a resilient people who look to a modern future, even as they retain the exotic culture and deep traditions of their ancient past.
Tamar Lowell’s article was begun like that. Tamar traveled to Viet Nam and her greatest feelings are exciting, even mesmerized by Viet Nam.
From an early age, Tamar read everything she could on Viet Nam, watched every movies, and even participated in a course in college on French and American Indochina wars. So when the USA and Viet Nam normalized the diplomatic relation in 1994, Tamar immediately planned a trip before her graduation. In July 1994, she was among the first Americans to visit Viet Nam after the war.
Tamar vividly remembers the day she arrived in Sai Gon, the overwhelming wave of excitement. The city looked exactly as she pictured it. The Vietnamese (particularly the Southerners) are very outgoing, although they knew that she’s an American. She can't profess to understand how or why the Vietnamese people were able to move on, despite having lost. In all her time in Viet Nam, she has never, not once after that first day, been uncomfortable about being an American.
“I have always been treated graciously, kindly, and warmly. I was scheduled to stay for two weeks, but the following day I extended my stay to a month. It was not always an easy trip, but it was incredible, and life-changing in so many ways. I was about to start my first job in the travel industry, and I vowed I would one day come back to Viet Nam to work.”
Over the past two decades, Tamar always watched Viet Nam embrace rapid change while still retaining its distinct character, longstanding traditions, and the warmth and openness of its people.
Since that first trip, 20 years passed and now she is a director of a tour operator, which has just launched a culinary tour to Viet Nam. Her tour highlights the experience of culture, cuisine from the North to the South, creates opportunities for visitors to visit UNESCO world heritage sites (Complex of Hue Monuments, Hoi An Ancient Town…) and connect with villagers, urban hipsters, street food, vendors, artists, allowing them to experience the evolution of complex and rich Vietnamese culture.
“The first time I was there, Viet Nam was very much a communist country in name and in practice, and the service levels, or lack thereof, reflected it. I clearly remember thinking that this country had so much to offer visitors, but they needed to get their act together and understand what Westerners expected service-wise, or people would not come. Well, they did just that. Tourism to Viet Nam has grown almost six-fold over the past twenty years, and the service we experience now in hotels, in restaurants, and in stores, is excellent. Unlike other developing countries, you are not bombarded by hawkers on the street - approached, yes, but respectfully. In taxis, if you tell them you want to use the meter, they turn on the meter, no hassle. I'm so inspired by both the individuals I've met in Viet Nam, and by the resilience and spirit of the society as a whole.” Tamar said.
At the end of the article, Tamar Lowell stressed, “The country is moving forward, but the charm remains: in the beautiful old buildings; the hanging silk lanterns; the women who still wear traditional cone hats, not because they're iconic, but because they are functional; and in the kindness and warmth of the locals. It is truly amazing how Viet Nam tourism has evolved in the last twenty years, without losing its soul or its character.”