The good, the bad, the sucker punch.
20.01.2014 - 18.01.2014
FYI the former name of Ho Chi Mihn City was Saigon, but it is referred to as both monikers.
We stopped in Ho Chi Mihn City for a few days before heading to Phnom Pen, Cambodia. We found a nice litte guest house located in district 1 in HCMC called Ly Loan. For $6 per person, we stayed right in the middle of the city. It wasn't necessarily a luxery hotel, but we did have a private room, bathroom, hot water, cable, a strong wi-fi signal and very sweet hosts. Both Ana and I are suffering from sore backs after sleeping on what felt like plywood with paper towels on top, but aside from that it was a safe place with much too experience just outside the door. Narrow allys, scooters whizzing by, whiffs of a dirty sewer floating through the air, the smoke from incense stinging your eyes and the smell of fried rice exploding from the ubiquitous small restaurant at every turn.
The traffic in HCMC is only a fraction less dangerous terrible than the traffic in Hanoi, which makes it the second most dangerous place on the face of the earth to cross the street. Stop lights are few and far between and cross walks are even fewer.
Traffic in Hanoi:
Traffic in HCMC:
Take a page out of this guy's book. We saw him two days in a row walking along the sidewalk near our guest house. They say the secret is to just start walking across the street and no matter what happends DO NOT STOP AND DO NOT SLOW DOWN. If you look closely you'll see he is taking his first step into traffic...or into a motorcycle/scooter....and then a bus. The only reason i'm giving HCMC a leg up with respect to traffic is because near the Ben Than Market (one of the most visited sites in town) Ana and I along with a few other tourists were escorted across the street by a traffic official.
This is a town with a lot of personality, however the more stones I turned the more uncomfortable I felt in both HCMC and Vietnam as a whole. We checked out The War Museum which was listed as one of the "must do's" when visiting HCMC. A more appropropriate name would be "The war with the USA museum". Vietnam has been at war with the Chinese, the french through 1954, then the USA from about 1955-1975; however, this museum was rich only with details relating to the war with " The Americans".
It was very painful to see the images on the wall of army troops in villages, helicopters in action in the battlefield, and read the captions under each photograph of war. I will spare the details of the photographs, but I will say that in my opinion, from Vietnam's perspective The Americans were the enforcers of the "machine of oppression" (to put it in their own words). Although it is a fact that the south of Vietnam asked for help from "The Americans" in fighting against the north, it's clear that in the government sponsored buildings in Vietnam cast a shamefull glare on the USA regarding the war. I'm confident the captions under the photographs were accurate, however there was an element of anti-U.S. propaganda laced throughout the information on display. By the time we left the War Museum I felt like someone had given me a sharp sucker punch to the gut.
The sucker punch was re-issued after we visited the Cu Chi Tunnels. This is an area of approximately 75 miles of underground tunnels used by the Viet Cong which gave them the advantage during the Vietnam War. They cooked, slept, shat and lived under ground for many years while the U.S. creatively and unsuccessfully tried to dismantle this system of tunnels, including flooding them from the nearby Saigon River and dropping bombs from B-52's from above. It was really quite somthing to see, as once we entered into the tunnels they were approximately 3-4' wide by about 4' tall (give or take).
As our tour collided with the dozens of other tour groups outside the tunnels, the guides showed us about 12 different forms of booby traps that were used "to kill the americans". Ana and I both agreed our guide had a deeper vein of hatred towards the Americans, as every time he showed us a new booby trap he'd either spin the spiked wheel or point to what looked like a trap set for a tiger or bear and say "annnnd for youuuuu, Americans." I took about 15 photos of this place, but eventually erased them all. It was both facinating and devastating to see the traps used to kill Americans. Every time I looked at the photos I felt the sudden impact of the sucker punch to the gut.
Did I mention that just before we finished the tour, 100' from the refreshment area, you can pay $1 per bullet to shoot M-16's, AK-47's and the M60 light machine gun? Serious! Even though it did appeal slightly to me, I passed as it seemed to give some sort of celebration to war which at this point was leaving my stomach in quite a stir.
Vietnam was a great place to visit and I do recommend it for anyone thinking about it. The people I interacted with who were from Vietnam left a good impression on me. They were eager to speak English and very friendly. The history Vietnam has with the U.S. played some mental games with me, but also became the foundation for some good conversations with Ana about government, military, war etc.
If I gained anything from these experiences, it's definitely knowing more about where I stand. Support out troops, bring them home.
Be well and safe travels amigos!