We went to the ATM and withdrew some Vietnamese dong realising that I had in fact withdrew 10 pounds thinking I had 100. After the money not lasting very long, we returned to the ATM
this time getting only 30 pounds. It wasn’t until the 3rd attempt that I realised that I needed to get a couple of million out in order to pacify us. It just seemed wrong withdrawing what seemed so much.
We spent our first day in HCMC/Saigon determined to learn something about the city and desperate to find out some history regarding the war. To the locals it is still known and regarded as Saigon with plenty of hotels named after it, even the local beer but politically it is referred to its modern name which is named after the North Vietnamese leader who robbed Saigon of its capitol status in the south. By the time we actually went out and walked through a very busy market for a nosey it was pretty much lunchtime. Afterwards we went into the HCMC museum expecting to be enlightened but this didn’t happen. It was a load of artefacts quite randomly spread out with little explanation so we didn’t hang in there too long. Next we took a walk past the Reunification/Independence Palace where the South Vietnamese government were based during the war. This is where the war ended by an invasion of the North in their tanks smashing through the gates and raising their flag on top of the building. This moment defined the "Fall of Saigon". We opted not to go in but continue to the War Remnants Museum. This was very informative and we learnt a lot but it was very one-sided against the
USA who behaved appallingly at times but it was so one-sided that we couldn’t form any opinions of our own. It was concentrated on what the USA did with no information on things the Viet Cong did. What we did learn coming from ashamedly not knowing anything about the American War is that Vietnam was a divided nation. The communist north (Viet Cong) wanted control of the south. The USA stepped in to assist the south using all the latest fire power, planes, technology and extensive use of chemicals. They dropped tons and tons of “Agent Orange” all over Vietnam causing mass devastation to the land & people. There are photos of newborn children years after the war finished with severe deformities caused by the chemicals. The USA napalmed so much of the rainforest that is has never recovered. There are still tons and tons of landmines littered all around the countryside too. What was also interesting was that people all over the world were all against them even being there. There are reports of lots of war crimes committed by the USA including killing innocent villagers including some rape cases. Yet despite fighting for 20 years the USA and the south still lost the war. We bumped into Dave & Karen whilst we were in there with Dave not feeling too well this time. On our walk back we passed the Notre Dame Cathedral proving the existence of the French in the city. We booked ourselves a tour to see the Cu Chi tunnels for the following day.
We were collected early for our 1 ½ hour drive to the Cu Chi province. Our guide involuntarily
gave us a breakdown of the history of the war in a timeline style. We learnt more from him that we did in either of the two museums the previous day. We were dropped off at a merchandise factory in Cu Chi selling products made by the local disabled people. We actually got to walk through their workshop and say hello to them. Most were disabled from the use of Agent Orange. Then we made our way to the museum. During the war, the VC dug tunnels all around the Cu Chi province totalling around 200 kms. They were ingeniously multi-floored with kitchens, living quarters and common areas. They had their own wells for water and some of the entrances were even in the river under the water level. What made it more ironic is the USA put one of their main bases in the centre of all the tunnels without any knowledge. They used to get shot at at night in their tents without being able to find out how, why and where. They introduced dogs to sniff out the enemy but the VC used to take the uniform off the dead US soldiers and put them over the tunnel entrances and they also used to use US soap to wash with to remove all traces of scent. We were led into bunker style classroom where were shown a map of all the tunnels and then we were presented with a video. Our guide then walked us around the forest pointing out craters left from B52 bombings. The USA ordered a “free-bombing” zone over Cu Chi meaning that whenever there were spare bombs leftover they were permitted to drop them over Cu Chi in order to try to eradicate the tunnels. We were shown a small hiding hole which was just big enough for a man and a weapon for
surprise attacks. The entry hole had been enlarged for the museum though. Tracy was first in followed by me. We squeezed in and got some photos. We were shown fighting trenches and escape tunnels as well as secret trap doors to catch the enemy. There was a sample area specifically showing all the different trap door techniques. All of them have sharpened bamboo spikes for maximum damage. We had lunch by a firing range with more people playing with machine guns then we were given the opportunity to try some tunnels; one large, one small but both enlarged from the original size (for tourists). This bit I was really excited about. A few people couldn’t go in, Tracy included as it was just a black hole about 1.2mtrs high and 0.8mtrs wide. I managed to shuffle my way through and popped up further along the path. The Vietnamese would have just shimmied along on their stomachs so they wouldn’t need much room. They did have larger rooms once they were underground enabling them to stand eventually. Less people managed to squeeze into the smaller one which had me doubled over but I was first in and I needed my head torch as it was pitch black. A disturbed a small bat in front of me a couple of times which scared the shit out of me. I found it all so interesting though.
We were dropped off back in HCMC and we decided to visit the Independence Palace that we
passed the day before. It was quite interesting to walk through the old leader’s offices and living quarters but I found the old war relics in the basement the highlight.
We went back to our room and spent ages trying to locate a hostel for Mui Ne. We have hit a bit of a wall with this and it seems to take longer than ever. Constantly trying to find your next home is becoming tedious. I guess we will snap out of it, you go through phases. By the end of the day we had managed to secure somewhere which looked very nice but was over the budget that we wanted to spend. I think it doesn’t help when it is the weekend.
We woke the next day needing now to find a bus to Mui Ne on the coast. We were first told that it was a night bus leaving at 8pm despite it only being a 6 hour journey but we did a bit of shopping around and managed to get one for the late afternoon meaning we could go out for a nice lunch and a couple of beers whilst we waited.
Our first impressions of Vietnam were good. There is obviously a lot more money in the city here than in Cambodia and fewer people begging. We would like to see the villages and get out into the coutryside too so fingers crossed.
After an easy border/immigration control into Vietnam courtesy of our bus company we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City to tall buildings and bright neon, something that was absent in Cambodia. The bus service that we paid a couple of dollars extra for gave us bottled water and snacks and regular announcements about stops, times and border information. It was a refreshing change as we hadn't had service like that since South America. After 12 hours of sitting listening to pretty much constant horn blasts over the top of my music, we were dropped within a 2 minute walk of our hostel right in the backpacking strip where we found food and beer and called it a day.