The Vietnam War was a defining moment in U.S. history that continues to profoundly impact the lives of veterans today. While painful memories endure, many veterans feel drawn to return to Vietnam for meaningful tours that can provide healing, fellowship, and closure.
Vietnam tours catered for U.S. veterans allow former soldiers to revisit places that hold deep significance. By returning to sites of battles, memorials, and POW camps, veterans can reflect on their experiences during the war and honor fallen comrades. For many, it provides perspective and helps the lingering weight of unresolved trauma.
The Vietnamese people show great hospitality, further helping veterans find peace through people-to-people connections after so many years. Vietnam’s beauty and vibrant culture adds to the restorative nature of these tours. By planning the details ahead of time, veterans can embark on meaningful tours offering camaraderie, reflection, and reconciliation.
Planning Your Tour
The cooler and dryer months between December to April are ideal times to visit Vietnam. During this peak season, temperatures range from 60s to 80s Fahrenheit. The humidity is lower, and rainfall decreases, especially in major cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Popular destinations on veteran tours include Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh Trail, DMZ, Khe Sanh, My Lai and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). Visiting former battle zones like Khe Sanh Combat Base allows veterans to return to pivotal sites that still echo with memories. Touring the network of roads along the Ho Chi Minh Trail provides insight into infamous supply routes. For many, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in DC lists names of friends that will never be forgotten. Revisiting these places together can help veterans connect with shared experiences and pay tribute to the fallen.
Vietnam is filled with beauty and culture waiting to be explored. Destinations like Halong Bay and Phong Nha Caves showcase the country’s awe-inspiring natural landscapes. The Cu Chi Tunnels display Vietnamese resolve and historic sites like the Imperial City of Hue reflect Vietnam’s storied past. Exploring the local cuisine, markets, and everyday life presents eye-opening cultural experiences.
Reputable tour organizers like DuVine Cycling + Adventure Co., Far East Adventure Travel, and Operation Peace of Mind understand the unique needs of veterans. They employ experienced guides to navigate the emotional landscape and handle logistics. Many also incorporate humanitarian projects and cross-cultural connections for further healing.
Veteran John Murphy recounted, “Returning with other veterans made me appreciate the kindness and sincerity of the Vietnamese people today.” Peter Nelson said, “I left with a sense of relief that I’d never thought possible.” Their personal stories echo the profound, cathartic impact visiting Vietnam can have.
What to Expect On Tour
Vietnam veteran tours allow former soldiers to reconnect with meaningful places and gain new perspective. While emotional, many veterans speak of the incredible healing and closure these return trips facilitate.
Most tours incorporate visits to pivotal battle sites, military bases, POW camps, and memorials. Veterans recall sobering memories and pay respects to those lost. Despite the passage of time, the connection to these historic sites remains vivid. Places of natural beauty, cultural encounters, and social interactions also play a restorative role.
Having experienced combat and trauma firsthand, veterans have a shared understanding. Tour organizers prioritize empathy, flexibility, and camaraderie. They adapt schedules based on individuals’ experiences and needs. Every veteran processes differently, so patience and support are crucial.
Visiting memorials together enables comrades to mourn and speak of memories otherwise unspoken. As veteran Frank Lowe described, “I was able to talk about things that had been long buried and properly grieve friends lost too soon.” Tim Marshall reflected, “I’ll never forget gathering with vets at the wall, hugging, crying, finally healing.”
For many veterans, the most affirming part is connecting with the Vietnamese people. They offer flowers, meals, and smiles, bridging decades-long divides. Veteran Lou Carlson said, “I was surprised and grateful for the chance to forgive, ask forgiveness, and build new friendships.” These profound human interactions often resonate as the most transformative tour experiences.
Types of Tours Available
Veterans can choose from an array of tour styles and customize their experience. Group tours foster connection, while private tours allow families and friends. Cultural immersion excursions showcase daily Vietnamese life through markets, street food tours, and homestays. For the adventurous, there are trekking, cycling, kayaking, and multi-country tours to also explore Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.
Group tours range from 10-15 veterans on average. They often bring together strangers, bonded through shared military pasts. Camaraderie comes easily. There are opportunities to share stories, laugh, cry, and experience emotional moments together. Lots of veterans keep in touch long after. Larger groups have the benefits of shared costs and built-in support.
Private tours allow veterans to bring along loved ones. They provide flexibility to fully customize their experience. These tours work well for families who want to learn about the veteran’s experiences together. They also enable veterans to revisit meaningful places solo during moments requiring privacy and reflection.
Cultural tours focus on emerging into the fabric of Vietnamese life. Veterans can join cooking classes, visit bustling market stalls, fish with locals, and homestay with Vietnamese families. These immersive experiences provide cultural exchange and people-to-people connections that humanize former enemy lines.
Vietnam’s diverse landscape allows for exciting adventure tours. Visitors can explore jungle terrain, spectacular bays and waterfalls, and cascading rice terraces. Activities include trekking national parks, kayaking Halong Bay, biking the countryside, or unwinding on pristine beaches. Adventure stimulates new perspectives.
Hotel stays offer comfort and amenities, while homestays provide immersive cultural exchange. Some tours offer a mix. Homestays are often considered a highlight, forging bonds with Vietnamese hosts through shared stories and meals. Either accommodation style provides opportunities to reflect and discuss the days’ experiences.
Considerations and Preparations
While incredibly meaningful, tours can be physically and emotionally taxing. Adequate preparations optimize veterans’ experiences.
Visas: Americans need tourist visas approved in advance through the Vietnamese government. Processing times vary, so apply weeks in advance. E-visas offer a convenient online application option.
Health: Managing PTSD triggers, medication regimes, mobility limitations, and other health factors is critical for well-being. Don’t over-schedule. Build in downtime. Hydrate often in the tropical climates.
Insurance: Comprehensive travel insurance covering health, evacuation, cancellation, and lost baggage protects against unforeseen circumstances that could disrupt tours. Review policies closely when purchasing.
Packing: Bring lightweight, breathable clothing along with hat, sunglasses and an umbrella for sun protection. Sturdy shoes are ideal for walking and climbing through rugged terrain at historic sites. Also pack medications, snacks, and photos or memorabilia to share.
Safety: Vietnam is very safe, especially for Americans. Still, protect against petty theft and scams. The State Department website provides up-to-date travel advisories. Stay vigilant as you would in any new place.
Making the Most of Your Vietnam Tour
Tours can facilitate profound healing, but veterans play an active role too. Here are some ways veterans can make the most of travels:
- Document Extensively: Keep a journal. Take ample photographs. Record videos recounting daily reflections. Capturing visceral moments and feelings preserves memories.
- Honor Your Comrades: Visit gravesites. Bring pictures, medals, or other mementos to leave at memorials. Sharing stories keeps their spirit alive.
- Connect with Fellow Vets: Group tours provide built-in camaraderie. On individual tours, connect with others along the way. Shared understanding enriches experiences.
- Immerse Yourself: Sample Vietnamese cuisine. Learn Vietnamese phrases. Talk to locals. An open and curious mind leads to rich encounters.
- Give Back: Many tours incorporate humanitarian projects like school donations, meals for orphanages, medical aid. Giving back aids healing.
- Share Your Experience: Relay your travel story to family and friends. Consider speaking engagements or joining veterans’ groups. Finding purpose aids reintegration.
Why Tours Can Provide Healing
Returning to Vietnam through inclusive tours allows veterans to reflect, memorialize, forgive, and gain closure. These trips offer:
- Perspective: With distance from war’s rawness, visits can shift outlooks on controversial events. Healing arises from nuanced understanding.
- Spiritual Release: Paying respects fosters moving on. Seeing former battlegrounds and memorializing lost comrades allows veterans’ spirits to rest.
- Cross-Cultural Ties: Interacting with Vietnamese people dispels outdated notions of enemies. Building bonds through shared humanity replaces anger with compassion.
- Natural Serenity: Vietnam’s sublime landscapes of emerald jungles, verdant rice fields and azure waters have restorative powers. Nature’s tranquility calms, and instills hope.
- Final Reflections: Moments of stillness at meaningful places provide space for veterans to process trauma and find forgiveness, for others and themselves. Death can give way to rebirth.
While shadows of war never fully dissipate, returning to Vietnam can illuminate pathways to reconciliation. Purposefully planned tours help veterans write final chapters and transition from soldiers to civilians seeking community and revival.