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Published: March 8th 2012
Happy to be communist!
Vietnam was one of the stops I was most looking forward to seeing. I’ve seen so many movies and documentaries on the Vietnam War that I had to see for myself what this country had to offer. The sun had been getting to me over the last few days and I think I might have been fantasizing how my entry into Vietnam would go. I was traveling by bus from Cambodia so I expected to take small arms fire upon entry. I figured I’d be ushered to an air base where I would be given orders to team up with Rambo and head 5 clicks up the Mekong Delta. Rambo
and I would discover that our mission had been compromised by a Washington bureaucrat and well, you know the rest.
This was not my experience. The road from Cambodia was equivalent to any back road in the US, except this was the main highway. Arriving in Vietnam was like going into the future by about 30 years. One shared lane turned into four lanes and there were no more livestock whose rib cages were visible. The trip to Ho Chi Min City (Saigon) took another two hours.
The FamilyHo Chi Min City (Saigon)
The family I stayed with in Ho Chi Min City
– Ho Chi Min City was a pleasant surprise. The former French colony of Indochina
had clearly left its influence. Ho Chi Min City has large boulevards, has high rises, is clean, and has great architecture. It literally felt like a European city in the middle of a communist country.
I decided to take a chance and book a room on airbnb.com. Basically it is a site for people who have an extra room to rent. The place I stayed was right across the river from District 1, the main area. I thought it was a pretty good deal for $12/night. However, getting there was an adventure. I took a taxi to the address, which was 216 ‘Something’ Blvd. When I got there I noticed that the house numbers were 216/1, 216/2, 216/3…. I had no idea which one was mine. A nice Vietnamese lady must have had an inclining for what I might be looking for and lead me down an alleyway to a home. The family was outside and looked at me like I was from Mars. Then the girl who had made the arrangements with me online, Lin, came down and confirmed I was at
An enlarged spider hole so fat Americans can get in.
the right place. The home was six stories, but very
narrow. The first thing I noticed was a huge shrine with pictures of Ho Chi Min
and Che Guevara
. Apparently, Lin’s dad fought for the Viet Cong
in the war against the US – The American War – as they refer to it.
The first night involved a lot of walking. I had planned to meet up with the guys I had met in Thailand. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to book the Sheraton so Lin’s dad took me on his moped and dropped me off at the hotel. I asked the front desk if they had arrived, but apparently they had changed their plans to arrive the following day. Jim and I were emailing through facebook, but apparently it’s blocked in Vietnam. It was Ash Wednesday so I walked to the Cathedral of Notre Dame. On the way there I saw a Lamborghini and Bentley. There is a lot of growth in Ho Chi Min City with the shops to prove it. It felt very modern. There are a lot of French cafés and nice restaurants too! Good Morning Vietnam!
- The next day I got in touch with Jim and John and
M-41 tank - US
A M-41 tank that was stopped in Cu Chi.
we went to see the Cu Chi tunnels
. The tunnels were a hideout for the Viet Cong during the war and took some 20 years to build. Our guide was very informative on the war, how the Vietnamese recycled the US bombs to make land mines, and how effective the tunnels were during the war. We ended the tour at the firing range. The bullets were pretty expensive so I bought a few rounds for the AK-47
. Jim and John fired the M-60
. I wish I could have fired that and the M-16
, but at almost $2 a bullet, I decided to just stick with the AK. I have to admit that I hit the target dead on. I must have my dad's sniper gene. We finished the day grabbing a bite to eat for lunch and met up later for a late dinner.
Lin, the daughter of the home I stayed at, took me to a few museums the next day. We grabbed breakfast first. This was the first time I had pho’ for breakfast. We went to the Ho Chi Min Museum, the History Museum, and the War Museum. The Ho Chi Min and History Museum had a lot
of general colonial type displays. They were good to see. However, the War Museum was what I was most interested in seeing. I was curious as to how the Vietnamese would portray the war. Those who control the present control the past. The Vietnam War is very complicated. The US was involved in war it didn’t understand. We thought we were fighting Communism, but in reality Ho Chi Min just wanted to unify the country, which had been controlled by the Japanese and French since the 1800s. We supported a dictator
that was counter to our values in order to focus on what we thought was a greater war – Communism. There were atrocities on both sides, however the war museum just showed the American atrocities. Not our finest hour though. The pictures don’t lie. I felt most bad for the innocent civilians who died and those affected by Agent Orange
. It really brought the horrors of war to reality. I hope we never go into another war so cavalierly.
That night we all went out and met an American (Ben) and an English guy (Paul) for dinner that Lin knew. I also met some Australian/Vietnamese who were traveling through
B-52 bomb crater
About 15 feet deep
Vietnam and we decided to try to meet in Hanoi in a few days. The bars/clubs in Ho Chi Min City were pretty cool. There seems to be a lot of energy there.
The next day I flew to Hue
. Hue is the old capital and sits in the middle of the country. Hue was just south of the demilitarized zone that was set up after the first Indochina war (with France), which separated the north and south. The main reason I wanted to see it was because my uncle, Sam Anderton, was killed there in 1968 and I wanted to get a sense of where it was that he died and to see the area he last saw. Hue was a bit cooler than Ho Chi Min City. It was also rainy and overcast – a big difference from the previous month’s travel. It clearly was years behind Ho Chi Min City, but still had a certain tranquility about it. There were a lot of bicycle taxis and stores. Walking on the river was really nice too. I was only there for 24 hours but I saw the Citadel and the tomb of Tu Duc. The Citadel was
huge and served the royal families though the different dynasties. After I was done I grabbed a bite to eat at KFC. This was the first time I had American fast food. It tasted pretty much the same though, apart from not having much chicken on the bones. I hired a bike taxi after lunch to take me to Tu Duc. I made a deal for $5.00 to go and return. It ended up being about 8 km each way. My driver was beat after we got there. I told him he could have the money and I’d just take a motorbike back. The ride was good because it made me think of how hard some people have to work for money in some of these countries. That evening I took the night bus to Hanoi. What was advertised as a 12 hr trip took about 16. About 20 minutes into the trip we got a flat tire and had to go to a service station. The bus was a sleeper bus and I had fallen asleep, only to be awoke by the sound of someone hitting a bus tire with a sledgehammer trying to dislodge the rim from the
Glad I left my dynamite and poison at the hotel!
was like two towns. There was the market were you could by lots of trinkets. Then there was the nicer area with fancy stores and hotels. It was overcast the entire time I was there. Compared to HCMC it was like East Berlin. There was a nice lake in the middle of the city that had coffee shops all around it and a walkway. Maybe it was just because it was overcast, but it was just a dreary place. My bus left me off downtown and I was lucky because it was only a few blocks from the hotel the Australians were staying at. I decided to just book there. It was worth it given I didn’t sleep much on the bus and didn't feel like searching for a place.
Like most cities, museums are closed on Mondays. Hanoi is no different. The ones that were open were just open in the morning. We ended up doing a lot of walking for nothing that day, but at least we got to see a lot of the city. You can definitely see the French influence in the architecture in Vietnam.
The Australians invited me to go
Grade School on Ha Long bay Float City
Every child's favorite to color - Piglet, Oscar the Grouch, Elmo, Winnie the Pooh, and Ho Chi Min!
to Ha Long Bay
with them. It was an overnight cruise on a junk boat. Ha Long Bay was one of the most beautiful sites I’d seen so far. It has about 2000 islands that pop straight up out of the water. The tour included kayaking and hiking through a cave, which was pretty cool. There were 10 people on the boat (7 Australian, 1 German, 1 Polish, and me). The boat served us great meals too. The bathrooms didn’t have curtains, but I guess it didn’t matter being secluded from everything.
After the cruise we all headed back to Hanoi to see the museums. I got to see Ho Chi Min’s mausoleum. He was on display. He looked a little white from all the care, but in good spirits. ‘Uncle Ho’ seems to be beloved by everyone in Vietnam as the one who was able to unite the country. The man had a very interesting life and had lived all over the world. The last stop was the Ho Chi Min Museum that chronicled Vietnam’s history and expansion into the 21st
Vietnam is a must see in SE Asia. I really would like to go back and see
more of it. Sapa is supposed to be amazing. Next time!
Next stop – Laos!
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