Published: July 24th 2006July 3rd 2006
Two points I omited from the previous journal entry, that retrospectively must be added before commencing! While Elaine was looking to purchase some additional reading material (she goes through books like I go through beer) the 50+ year old bookshop owner called me over, while looking Elaine over he told me I was a lucky man, on this news I thanked him for his comments. 30 seconds later he beckons me over again and whispers ''1 book and a beer'' while pointing to Elaine.... I smiled and laughed it off, again he calls me over "1 book and 2 beers'' with a dead pan serious face...now I realise that he is actually seriously trying to procure my girlfriend!!! urgh...we quickly depart while I recount the story to Elaine jokingly explaining that for an extra beer I may have been tempted!
The second and more sombre point was that on our last night in Nha Trang (the celebration night of me passing my open water) England played Portugal in the quarter finals. Before the World Cup kicked off I was adamant England would not progress futher than the last 8, and unfortunately I was proven correct, a mix of lack of
technical skill, a clueless, lifeless manager (taking a 16 year old to a world cup that hadn't even played a premiership minute at the expense of Defoe & Bent and leaving Crouch as a first choice striker was sackable in itself) and a now serious psychological deficiency to penalties (again to be blamed on a lack of technical skill). Another World Cup of English misery, compunded even more so by the total lack of any memorable highlights (excluding Hargreaves attempt at superman). Oh well, on to a new exciting regime...well actually the FA's new attempt to clone an English version of Eriksson....oh dear...
Ok...GOOOOOOD MORNIIIIING VIETNAAAAAM.....we arrive in Saigon, now named Ho Chi Minh City at 4am...walking around a deserted city with your backpack on at that time with everything closed is a eerie feeling. The hotels on the main street all look closed up for the night..another recommended one is down a darkside street....we take the risk and head down it...ring on the buzzer and one sleepy looking security guard wakes up and hands us a key.. thank god!
Saigon is another manic city, thousands of mopeds buzzing around. Amazingly there is still a heavy American military
presence. We spend the day at the Reunification Palace where the South Vietnamese government held office until it was overun in 1975. The palace is amazing in that nothing has changed since the day the Vietcong drove their tanks through the main gate. The elaborate 70's decor of the function rooms, the equipment, transcripts and military maps in the basement used to plan the war effort are all still on show. For myself and Elaine it's mystifying in that we are looking into an era from before we were even born!
The next stop was the War Remenants Museum, another odd tourist attraction. The museum was mainly a gallery displaying horrific pictures taken by war photographers during the Vietnam war, as well as the aftermath of Agent Orange, which still affects a worrying large amount of Vietnamese today... It also covers in graphic detail the My Lei massacre where the Americans walked into a village and killed over 500 Vietnamese including woman, children and babies just to teach them a lesson. Even more surprising is to find out one of the people involved was a certain Senator John Kerry (narrowly defeated for the presidency at the last election). The
place leaves you with a pretty anti-American attitude (the desired affect I suspect!).
The centre of town is very different from the squalor of the districts, plush hotels and restaurants. We treat ourselves to a night of decadence in Saigon's poshest bars, mýself supping the overpriced Scotch and Elaine on the mojitos.
The next day we visit the Cu Chi tunnels that the Vietcong used to hide from the Americans. The tunnels themselves are massive in length, but tiny in size. At one point you get the chance to crawl down a repaired part of the tunnel and considering they have been widened for Western tourist it is absolutely amazing to think how people survived down here, sometimes for months at a time.
After our previous night in Saigon's plush bars, it's back to backpacker reality and we hit the bia hoi again. We sit by plastic tables, with plastic stools in the street and are brought plastic litre bottles that look like they should be used for industrial purposes. At 20p each we dont complain one bit!
We leave Saigon to head to Cambodia on a three day cruise through the Mekong Delta (a huge
piece of land where the Mekong deposits it's silts and currently grows at several metres per year). It's Apocolypse Now and I'm Martin Sheen working my way up to find Colonel Kurtz. Differing from the film the trip takes in floating markets, rice husking mills, fish farms and cycle rides through local villages. The Mekong is an amazing in it's size and on the final day we are fortunate to witness a spectacular sunset.
On our final day we get talking about Vietnamese life with Viet our tour guide. Viet is 23, speaks near perfect English and is university educated. We ask him if he's left Vietnam but it turns out that he's not allowed a passport. The reason his father was a policeman in the south in 1975 when the Vietcong won the war, his father was sent to a re-education camp (torture camp) for 3 years after 1975. On Viet's CV he has to declare what his dad's occupation was in 1975, which effectively means he is not eligable for any type of government or civil job. Even though he was born after the war ended and the year is currently 2006 this young, educated man is
persecuted and destined to reach a carear highlight of a tour guide and doesn't even have the freedoms of choice to leave the country and build a new life for himself. We say our goodbyes to catch the fast boat to the border. On the journey I cant stop thinking about Viet's situation and how behind the capitalist, tourist friendly face of Vietnam it, like China before is still a one party communist government!
We pass through the now familiar border checks at Chau Doc and zoom up the Mekong all the way to Phnom Penh (grateful we paid the extra 10 bucks to save ourselves from having to take a bus there).
We've had a great month in Vietnam, seen some amazing places, met some excellent people and an equal share of people desperate to rip you off (Moto drivers believe tourist are incapable of asking for a lift and instead you get hassled 1000 times a day (no kiddin) which grinds you down). Backpacker accomodation comes in the form of mini-hotels and while offering included luxuries like fridges, AC & phones for $5-$10 it's all a bit sterile and detracts you from relaxing with fellow backpackers.
There are more photos below