Published: July 17th 2012July 17th 2012
We travelled by fast boat that had a cabin which was quite confined and a small deck on the back that got regularly splashed by water from the brown muddy looking river. Half way there it rained and I had to go inside for the last hour and a half of the four hour journey to the Vietnamese border. Two stops are required; one to leave Cambodia; and one to enter Vietnam, so much time is lost here. We finally stepped off the boat into Vietnam territory about mid- afternoon arriving in the town of Chau Doc.
The hotel was located very close to the water and was very well presented although the power was off and they were not expecting it to come on for about four hours and therefore, the rooms had no air conditioning going. This meant for us, a quick turnaround of lugging our luggage up the steep staircase to our rooms located on the fourth floor and coming back down stairs a few minutes later to take a cyclon ride.
The cyclon ride was great. The bikes do not have gears but then the land here is very flat. We drove through
city streets and parts of the countryside where there were fish farms and pools boiling with them as they were being fed a specially compiled food supplement that was shovelled into a machine that broke it up to drop into the water. Along the roads were large swathes of what looked like wheat husks but would have been rice still in its husks lying there to dry. There were many bike tyre tracks through some of it. We visited yet another three temples in this area.
The temples were all quite different from each other as there is more diversity of religion here. The people are still predominantly Buddhists but there is a very definite Chinese influence here with much writing visually evident and the use of gold and red colouring used. One temple was considered to be for the women but we were not allowed to take photos of this.
On the way back from our trip we stopped at another area where there were more temples but also included was some architectural art and a religious Christian statue that looked Catholic. Whilst here, I took one of the cyclon drivers for a ride on his bike.
The cyclons’ are easy to pedal and drive, so the drivers must have so much fun taking people around the town.
There was no time to explore in this town as the markets shut early and the town closed down. What I noticed the most though was the lovely outfits that the women wore. They were two piece with long pants and a top. The colours and patterns were amazing with some modification of the design. The material was soft and synthetic, and the women wore them with style. They all seemed to have lovely figures except for the occasional older person. I was keen to find a set that fitted me. The traditional Vietnamese hats were also evident on many of the women.
The following morning after an early breakfast we hopped on a small bus and headed for Ho Chi Min City taking us on a 7 hour journey to the largest city in the south of Vietnam. The population is around 7 million and there are about 4 and a half million motor bikes. We stopped at a lovely restaurant just out of the city for lunch and I had chicken with lemongrass and chilli
for lunch and it was the nicest meal I had had for a week at least. Vietnamese food is not as hot, nor tasty as Thai or Cambodian food, but they seem to have a large range of vegetables in their cooking.
The hotel we stayed in in Ho Chi Min City was very upmarket, well presented and in the heart of the city. The first afternoon Darra and I went for a walk and orientated ourselves to the hotel and saw the people going about their business. We went to two parks and both were being totally utilised by people exercising, playing games on the pathways and concrete, couples sitting talking and children playing in the park with their parents watching on. One of the parks had a lot of sculpture in it so I took lots of photos for you Robyn. Oh! I also got photos of sculpture in Chau Doc that were made during a symposium there recently.
Having had our exercise and not found anyone doing Tai Chi we headed back to the hotel with the goal of revisiting the parks in the morning to locate the Tai Chi. Tonight was our final meeting
with the group before we started the next leg of the trip with a slightly different group of people. The following day was to be our own. A free day!!
Darra and I got moving early and took off to the park. We had a good walk around and saw similar things that we had seen the night before as it was Sunday and a day of rest for some. Coming out of the park we were approached by a cyclon driver offering us a trip around the town for 1500 dong. Well that is less than one US dollar so we arranged to meet him and his friend at the hotel at 9.30am. Because we were quite excited, Sue a fellow traveller decided to come with us so that made three. They duly arrived and we tried to check the cost again as it sounded far to cheap and we got an answer like, ”Yes 1500 and I look after you. I work for you one, two four hours and take you where you want to go. I look after you.”
Darra and I still weren’t that happy with the amount as it sounded too low for
a whole morning so we questioned him again. He then showed us a piece of paper that he obviously uses to sell his services to others with and on it it said 1.500,000 dong. Because it is a lot of zeros we were still trying to process this as now it is $75.00US no longer 0.75cents, but for it to be $7.50US sounded more like it.
Anyway by this time we were at the markets and the driver called Minz said he wanted to have a meeting with us and then proceeded to finally give us the correct amount. He was saying 1500 instead of 1.5 and therefore, we got incorrect info. At this point Darra started to react and I was too, and Sue was like a stunned mullet. Darra felt threatened as her driver was trying to look in her purse. So with all the upset we agreed that we would pay then 1 million dong ($50.00) and they could go away. In hindsight we should have made them take us back to the hotel for that was where we later found out that we could have hired them for an hour for 50,000dong. So the bottom
line is we were ripped off paying them $40.00 too much. To make matters worse, Sue didn’t even have that sort of money on her…I did, so I paid some money for her and Darra got cleaned out…but that is not the end of the story.
Once we got across the road to the shopping centre feeling quite stressed, with no money, no way of getting back to the hotel except on foot, not actually sure where we were either and then Darra realised in all the kerfuffle she had left her cell phone on the cyclon. Well they were gone weren’t they! So that totally added insult to injury and unsettled us all spoiling any idea of having a lovely shop in the markets. After a quick look around, we trudged towards “home” making a quick visit to “Notre Dame of Saigon” and the beautiful Post Office built by the French and as expansive as the Wellington Railway station building.
In the Post Office building there were markets as well as a postal service. The following day we were back there on part of our tour and I asked how much it would cost to send a
5kg parcel back to NZ and found out it would be the same as what I paid in Thailand, $80.00US. I think I will just take back overweight bags on the plane.
Our interaction with the cyclone drivers totally ruined the day. Sue just wanted to get home, so we headed back more directly. Once back Darra didn’t want to leave the room as she was feeling really stressed because she had run out of money and to get more would have to go to a large bank to get a money transfer order. I did not want to stay inside although I was too feeling really stressed, so took myself off to the markets to suss out the clothing I had seen the ladies wearing. I checked out the shops on the way and picked up a new pair of shorts and a new pair of togs. I have not been able to get any laundry done and I was out of clothes. In the end I got two outfits for $7.00US so even if I do not bring them back with me, they will get well used while I am here, and didn’t cost a lot of
On Monday we started the tour proper with our new guide called Huy (Wee). We have kept six from our previous group and now have two new couples well sort of. There is a father and his 16 year old daughter from England, but dad lives in China and works for Mercedes Benz and the other couple are from Australia and he is at university and his girl-friend is in a gap year after finishing school last year.
Our first trip of the day was to the Cu Chi tunnels situated about an hour and a half drive from Ho Chi Min City. The environment is purpose built on the surface for the tourist, but underneath the ground is the genuine tunnels and living spaces of the Vietcong. The tunnels are very tiny of course as the people are not large. It is the propaganda that is hard to stomach as Vietnam saw themselves as having had a resounding defeat of the USA.
I can’t find the information now but it seems that 17000 Vietcong lived underground for part of the time and there were food places, hospital and a meeting place on the first
level about 3 metres down then further tunnels down another 3 meters for moving around the tunnels and yet another level deeper again for escape routes into the river and to also draw water from the depths of the earth. Special air holes were produced and these usually exited around an ant hill and therefore were not noticeable on the surface. The ingenuity of the Vietcong was amazing with contraptions for trapping and killing the enemy that generally involved spiking them in some way. Seventeen children were born underground in the hospital throughout the duration of the war. The Americans tried to bomb these underground shelters by dropping F52 bombs of the land they knew was used by the Vietcong, but the tunnels were just remade if damaged and the ground is make of a hard clay so there was no need for reinforcing.
I went into the top tunnel that would have been no wider than 30 x 20 centimetres to climb into. See photo. Some people went into these and put the lid over their heads. I also went into a much more open tunnel to have a look but did not venture down the tunnel. In
this one were several bats hanging there. See photo. The main tunnel that they allow the tourists to go through I attempted but couldn’t do it and returned to the surface. Once there was no light in the confined space my heart rate increased. Everyone except me and one other guy went through though, even though they were bent double to get there. It was about a journey of 20 metres. Fifteen metres was too far for me. LOL
While we were walking through this forest where the fighting took place, there were guns going off as people were paying $1 per bullet to shoot from the range of guns available in a shooting range area. So the walk had an eerie realism about it as we looked more deeply at the structures and equipment of war all around us. Somehow it makes you sick to your stomach for all the participants in the war and the realisation that this is not about the people so much as the governments that order the people to fight each other.
From here we went to lunch where we partook of a shared Vietnamese meal. At least it was food.
On arriving back in Saigon, we were taken to the War Memorial Museum where we viewed more memorabilia and photos of the atrocities done to the Vietnamese by the Americans as though they were the only ones fighting the war. In actual fact, Australia, New Zealand, France I think, and the Philippines had soldiers there too. Still both sides must have done some pretty awful things to each other if the photos were anything to go by. Agent Orange features strongly in the displays with many children born with deformities and conditions that Vietnam purports to have been caused by this product. At least they were able to blame the companies that made the product as well as America
There was also a large display of photography taken by the numerous photographers and journalists that were on hand to capture this war on film. Many of these people are now dead, as they were killed or went missing during the war. The display was in their memory.
I got a couple of pictures of the tanks and planes outside the museum but only because they seemed so big and dangerous but the other places I visited at this
museum were the tiger cages. These were small, low level structures made of barbed wire and were only big enough for one or two people but of which held more like five people at least. You could not sit up in them and lying down for a tall person would have been particularly hard. Here the soldiers were stripped and held here for interrogation or until they died. Some others were kept in cells with the metal bars on their feet too.
By the time we had visited both of these places I was feeling pretty sick of death, misery, war and suffering. The picture done by the child on war and peace really said it all.
By 7pm that night we were on the train to Hoi An and we have been told that the 17 hour journey will be worth it with it being a very picturesque place, nice people, beaches and a less busy place than Ho Chi Min and its hustle and bustle.
To finish off here though, I have to say that the traffic in Ho Chi Min or Saigon is fascinating. You have to be 18 years old to get a
licence and there is no test. All that is required of you is that you watch where you are going. There are few accidents in the city but more in the country. There are mostly motor bikes everywhere, and we all, pedestrians, bikes, cars, trucks and buses share the road. To get across a road without lights you just keep inching forward until you have more right of way. To cross the road, it is a waste of time using a crossing because no one takes any notice of you so you just step out onto the road, watch the traffic coming towards you and keep going. Amazing experience with the road full of traffic. You wonder just how you get to the other side in one piece.
So now I am on the train with about four hours to go of a 17 hour journey and more culture shock. We, the Intrepid group, were allocated four birth cabins. There were heaps of Vietnamese people who initially stood in the corridors until eventually some small seats were provided for them. But during the night when I needed to visit the toilet, I had to negotiate the people lying on
the floor on the 15 metre long corridor to pass through an alcove and more people to get to the toilet. Then of course I had to repeat the process to get back again. Men women and children slept there, some lying and some sitting. The train journey has been good considering the train is quite rolly and when it stopped it almost jolts you out of bed.
Now that it is later in the morning and we are all awake, the curtains have been pulled and we can see outside. The countryside is very like New Zealand in its greenery, but of course it is not grass we are looking at but field after field of rice with irrigation ditches passing through them. Every now and then there are gravesites in beautiful condition sitting in fields or sometimes near houses. Not in one place like we would have but all over the place.