Vietnam: Good Evening and Good Night

Trip Start May 19, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Sunday, June 7, 2009

You've got to admire the work ethic of the Vietnamese. That is, until it virtually drills and hammers its way into your hotel room at 7 in the morning.  This, of course, was the pleasure of our 3.50 hotel room in bustling Ho Chi Minh City.

Having heard horror stories about the chaos in HCMC, I was fairly apprehensive about visiting, but pleasantly surprised.  It’s a sprawling and complex city that marries the old with the new in stark contrast.  Markets and street side road stalls sit uncomfortably next to the opulence of five star hotels with the constant whirr and buzz of traffic.

First stop in HCMC, or Saigon as it was once called (and is still referred to by older locals) was the War Remnants Museum, displaying on the outside artillery vehicles, and on the inside photographs of victims of the war.  The most heartbreaking photographs depicted the children born with birth defects after the use of Agent Orange.  In common with similar exhibits across the country, it’s strongly biased towards the Vietnamese, but an old black and white photograph showing a US fighter pilot in tears proved that the victims of war come in all shapes and sizes.

Speaking of which, the next day I took a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels.  These are 200km of underground passageways the Viet Cong used during the Vietnam, or as the Vietnamese would say, American War.  The tunnels were only 80cm high but incredibly the network included sleeping areas, hospitals and schools.  People lived in the tunnels for weeks at a time, although 40,000 were killed as the troops discovered the network and tried to gas or flush the inhabitants out like rats.

The trip included displays of booby traps created by the VC, like the "clipping armpit trap".  The materials were fairly crude.  I’ll let your imagination do the rest.

A short section of the tunnels has been specially widened for Westerners (really) so later we plunged down to get an idea of what life might have been like.  It was a sweaty and claustrophobic experience that only left me in awe.  I’m afraid to say that even my significant caving experience in Chislehurst did not prepare me, and I had to get out after 20 metres.

For the rest of our short stay in HCMC, we ventured to the posh part of town to check out the Rex rooftop bar, frequented by journalists during the War.  After taking in the view we had a look at the drinks prices and then made a swift, if embarrassed exit, and headed on motorbikes back to the cheap end of town for our last roadside bia hoi in Vietnam.  Cheers...or as the Vietnamese would say, YO!
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