Spelt Ho Chi Minh City
Trip Start Jun 15, 2004
105Trip End Jun 15, 2005
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Wailing Vietnamese music over the tanoy wakes me up as we glide into Saigon followed by a stream of very important information...in Vietnamese.
So I'm in Saigon..at 5.00am in the morning - this is the place where you have seen the pictures of burning monks, where a South Vietnamese soldier point blank shot dead a VC suspect on TV, where you saw Americans board helicopters in panic as the city fell, and, just 40km away, the girl in the picture, running naked from her village that had just been napalmed - this place has got history, recent history.
Luckily manage to find the other 3 westerners who were on the train and share a taxi to downtown Saigon, where everything is closed, but hotel owner finds me (you can usually rely upon that!), and down a dark alley to an OK place.
Off to the Reuniification Palace, but as closed for lunch, get persuaded by cyclotaxi guy to go and see a Pagoda (weird buddha's, turtles etc) - though, upon returning, and him failing to persuade me to book another trip, he trys to charge me double. Now I know I'm incredibly rich to him, and even paying double would only have cost me 50p, but there was a principal at stake here - especially as there was no ambiguity - we clearly agreed the price at the outset. I paid him the original price, and declined his offer to shake his hand.
Reunification Palace was the former base of the South Vietnamese government, and was where North Vietnamese tanks rushed in 1975. I'm reading Robert McNamara's autobiography from when he was US defence secretary, and being in this building with so much recent history is eerie
Onto the War Remnants Museum (formerly the American War Crimes museum until the realised that kinda put Americans off). Highly anti-american anyway, and all about the heroic struggle, but also some very disturbing images of children deformed due to agent orange.
Thursday 5th August 2004
Walked what felt like the entire city of Saigon, and only had 600 motorbike taxi, 200 cyclo taxi, 300 booksellers, 150 newspaper sellers, 10 shoe shine and 100 coconut sellers to contend with (and you think I'm exaggerating)
Onto super super advanced road crossing now - same as Hanoi, except streets are wider.
Friday 6th August 2004
Visited the Cu Chi tunnels - you've seen them on every Vietnam war movie - and they gave the VC effective control of the area, just 40km from Saigon. The tunnels themselves, widened for westerners, are nevertheless very small, crawling penguin style.
In the surrounding forest, numerous bomb craters around. To add to it all, for authenticity, you can hear gunfire! - As we discover later on, you can shoot, for a dollar a bullet, every conceivable gun, from pistols, AK47's and heavy machine guns. Decided against at this stage I'm leaving that to Cambodia
Saturday 7th August 2004
Felt very guilty today, as I sat sipping my coconut shake, watching all the hawkers and beggers go up to every westerner (and the occassional Vietnamese). Most of the hawkers are young kids, and the older beggars usually have one or more limbs missing.
I know the kids get next to nothing from what they sell, and their lifes cannot be great, and I can just give up my job and travel the world. I resolve to buy some chewing gum of one of the cripples next time, but, as my brain has programmed an auto response of "No, No thank you, No, No", so I still end up buying nothing.
Spend another day wandering the streets, and buying lots of clothes, as my existing lot are beginning to resemble rags. Despite everything being "very cheap for you sir", there is almost a frenzy in the market when a westerner walks buy, but not when the Vietnamese walk buy....could we be better payers than the locals????? surely not?