Phu Quoc is a tropical Island paradise, but hasn't always been that way. During our four days or so in frenetic Saigon we immersed ourselves in the history of Vietnam's wars with France and America
. We visited the harrowing War Remnants Museum where we learned about Phu Quoc Island's history as a prison where horrific acts of torture took place against Viet Cong POWs - although there's little sign of that on the Island today, half of it is still under military control and there is still a prison here. The nature of the exhibits in the war remnants museum made it hard not to feel sympathetic to the North Vietnamese cause: endless pictures of mutilated peasants, victims of US bombing; the horrific and still-felt long-term effects of napalm and agent orange; graphic detailing of the Mai Lai and other massacres perpetuated by the Americans and so on. However, to visit the museum would lead one to believe that the North Vietnamese fought their wars with sticks and stones against the might of the American Invaders - in short, it's all a little too propagandist in tone (and unnecessarily so given the weight of world sympathy already favouring the North Vietnamese). Our visits to both the eerie Reunification Palace (left untouched since Independence in 1975) and the incredible Cu Chi Tunnels (30km outside Saigon, we climbed down into them, not a pleasant experience for me) were also tainted by incessant, tiresome and unnecessary government brainwashing, as picture after picture, video after video and tour-guide after tour guide reinforced to us a warped version of history. It's all a bit of an insult to the intelligence of the everyday Vietnamese people we've met. Anyway, it's still hard not to feel a huge amount of sympathy for these people (who seem to harbour few grudges) who, if they are older than 35 (incidentally, today is the 35th anniversary of Vietnamese Independence) the war must have touched in such direct and horrific ways.
All that aside our impressions of Saigon were of a hectic, fairly modern fast-paced city, where simply walking down the pavement, avoiding a stream of short-cutting motorbikes in the process, was a huge challenge
. With searing temperatures day and night thrown in, it didn't make for the most comfortable of stays. It's also teaming with ex-pats who are, in turn, teaming with (and often unashamedly straddled by) local girls, some working, some seemingly not. It all feels like something which shouldn't still be happening, but sadly is. It seems a wife is your only defence here, as I found out when I foolishly walked a couple of hundred metres round the corner at night without Kanan. I was propositioned about five times.
Given all this, we weren't so disappointed to leave, and even though it took us two buses, three taxis, two mini-buses and a boat (over the course of two days) to reach Phu Quoc, we're certainly glad we came. Independence day - understandably a massive deal in Vietnam - has passed the Island by so far unnoticed. The food here is not the best - I had a "four cheese pizza" last night where the four cheeses concerned were four Kraft cheese slices - but we'll cope somehow. We'll be celebrating our wedding anniversary with some snorkelling and diving and no little rest and relaxation, as this may be (god-forbid!) our last beach of the trip. Currently our plans are to head for Chau Doc on the Vietnam/Cambodia border on Wednesday before catching an 8 hour boat up the Mekong into Phnom Phen in Cambodia. We had planned to travel round Cambodia for a couple of weeks before crossing up into Laos and then on into Thailand to fly from Bangkok in June
. The current situation in Thailand may mean we need to adjust these plans though, we're currently checking the foreign office overseas travel advice as often as possible. The beautiful sunsets (see pics) and stunning scenery here make it difficult to worry too much about anything like travel plans in two months time though!
Love to everyone.
Jo and Kanan
Well we've given into temptation and eschewed the heat, noise and chaos of Saigon in favour of the peace, tranquillity and beauty of Phu Quoc Island. I'm writing this blog as one of only a few quiet customers at a beach front bar, whilst Kanan reads on the beach just four yards away. As she keeps reminding me, we're really rather simple creatures - and easily pleased for it. Our accommodation is a beachfront hut complete with two hammocks and nothing more sophisticated than a fridge and fan by way of luxury items. We arrived here two days ago and plan to extend our stay to include our first wedding anniversary on the 3rd of May, neither of us can believe quite how quickly a year has passed.