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Published: November 18th 2018
Jackie - 1
Our excellent guide in Ho Chi Minh City.
It's day three of our tour although, quite unbelievably, it's only day two in Vietnam. It really does seem as though we've been here ages already. And Day 3 always promised to be quite an intense day and intense it was. Today, our trip focused on the history and horrors of the war. But which war you might reasonably ask? Vietnam seems to have been at war for centuries, whether it was with the original Khmer occupiers from Cambodia in the south, between the Kings and Lords in the north, with the Chinese on and off for ever, or with French colonialists until 1954. But in modern times, when people talk about conflict in this area, they mean The Vietnam War from the mid 60s until 1975. But, here's the thing, whilst we call it 'The Vietnam War', the locals here refer to it as 'The American War'. As they say, 'one man's meat is another man's poison'!
Our morning was taken up with a trip about 30 miles out of the city to the tunnels of Cu Chi, the legendary underground network originally built during the war against the French, but then massively expanded by the National Liberation Front,
Jackie - 2
Our heroic guide goes down a secret entrance to the tunnels.
or Vietcong as they were known colloquially, to carry out their guerrilla war against the US; with the tunnels assuming particular importance when the network was linked with the Ho Chi Minh Trail, itself constructed to transport troops and supplies to the south, from North Vietnam. This amazing 50km structure of tunnels was dug out by hand, over 3 levels down to 10 metres deep and housed cooking, sleeping, garment making and medical areas, together with weapon making rooms, bomb shelters and a network of underground corridors linking each mini community underground and other similar communities. This was a fascinating tour and included examples of some very gory booby trap spike pits of various design, secret tunnel entrances for the Vietcong to enter and exit the tunnels, systems by which they provided ventilation to the tunnels (methods that were intended to be difficult to detect from the outside) and even 'non-smoking kitchens' - basically, the Vietcong soon realised that releasing smoke from kitchens would be easily spotted from the air. On the basis that hot smoke would rise, they built, long, smaller tunnels through which the smoke would travel until it cooled and then, when it was vented, the cooled
The Tunnel Rats - 1
Steve inside the tunnel.
smoke stayed at ground level. Damned clever, these Vietnamese!
One other ruse used by the Vietcong was in relation to their smell! The Americans trained over 3000 German Shepherd dogs to recognise the distinctive smell of the VC and to get around this, the Vietnamese tried to use American soap and shampoo whenever they could, to wash themselves and their clothing and to put the dogs off the scent!
The tunnels were in constant darkness and were very low and narrow. In fact, the tunnels which have been opened to tourists, have been increased in size to accommodate taller western visitors, although it didn't seem much like it when we had the opportunity to go through a tunnel and had to do so in a permanent crouched position, to be able to get through; it was still very cramped and restricted. Fortunately, I did still manage to get a snap of Steve behind me, by shooting upside down, between my legs!
This trip was well worth doing, not only to see the amazingly difficult conditions in which the Vietcong lived, but also the extremely dangerous conditions endured by the American soldiers, trying to flush them out. A
The Tunnel Rats - 3
Me emerging from the tunnel.
great tour and..........what's more we had our first ice cream of the trip and tour over, it was then back to the city for lunch, after which our destinations for the afternoon were the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum.
The Reunification Palace was built in the 1960s as a replacement for the previous 'French built' palace on the site, which had been bombed during the war against French occupation. The new structure was originally called 'The Presidential Palace', but is now a museum and was renamed 'The Reunification Palace , following the fall of Saigon in 1975 and the move of the capital of the reunified Vietnam to Hanoi in 1976. To be honest, the building is a bit of concrete monstrosity; (something Prince Charles would probably call a 'carbuncle'!!) and it's not really that much better inside, with a few nice bits of furniture, but in some fairly sterile rooms. Jackie recognised that this was the case and kept us on a pretty short timescale of only 20 minutes here. And, he was right, we really didn't need any more.
Before I press on, I do need to backtrack for a moment, and go back
The Tunnel Rats - 4
Mandy, very happy to be out!
to lunchtime. Lily and I were chatting while eating and we were both agreeing about how well the trip had been organised so far and I happened to say that, fortunately, we have not been subjected to the usual compulsory visit to some handicraft factory or other, to be given the hard sell of some piece of tat! Well, I should have kept my mouth shut, because after we left the Palace, Jackie announced that we probably could do with a break from war related stuff and how did we fancy popping to a lacquering factory, to see how the process of producing lacquered arts and crafts worked. So off we went and guess what........Steve, Lily, Mandy and I were the only suckers who purchased in our group! To be fair, the factory produced some beautiful items, hand painted with inlays of egg shell and/or Mother of Pearl and lacquered with at least 17 coats, as we were told.............at least 17 times!
Onwards from the factory to the War Remnants Museum and this place simply shouldn't be missed. In addition to a range of captured American military hardware on display in the grounds, the museum has an amazing and
One of the numerous booby traps used by the Vietcong!
harrowing collection of photographs from both the French and American conflicts, although mainly the latter. Inevitably, the descriptions on each of the photos gave a fairly biased and one-sided view of the wars, but having said this, they probably feel entitled to do so. Firstly, the Vietnamese were victorious in both conflicts and the victors usually get to write the history, but also they suffered a truly shocking number of deaths in the war with America, in particular. US deaths in Vietnam totalled nearly 60,000 (a terrible figure in itself), but Vietnamese deaths were over 3.2 million and more than 2 million of these were civilians!
Apologies if this post is a bit dark, but this is clearly a subject that looms large in Vietnam and whilst the issue it is not in your face (so to speak), it is something that really has to form part of any visit to this country. To his credit, our guide Jackie, acknowledged the one-sided nature of the story told at the museum and like most locals that we have met to date, seems to have a very magnanimous, forgiving and welcoming attitude to the West and, particularly, America. And, as mentioned
Working on Eggshells!
One of the lady workers at the lacquering factory, earning top dollar no doubt!
in my last post, everywhere and somewhat ironically, the US Dollar is King!
As I said, a pretty intense day, but very rewarding and we are certainly glad that we experienced these tours. However, the rest of the trip should be taking a different approach, focussing on the beauty and culture of these countries, as opposed to the war itself.
After leaving the museum, it was back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner at 7.30 (a mixture of Asian and Western food this time and very good once again) and then back to the hotel to pack for an early departure tomorrow morning for our flight to Danang and the town of Hoi An.
Being the history buff that I am, I really enjoyed today, but there was something for everyone on these tours and we all loved the day.
Finally, I know that my regular readers will have been waiting for a quiz question, so, not being one to knowingly disappoint people, here it is: Who was US President when US troops first officially landed in Vietnam in 1965 and who was President when the Vietnam War finally ended?
And finally, finally one for those less interested in history, as provided by our guide Jackie and that us: Can you name a word that has 10 "t's"
By the way, there are fewer photos this post, simply because the subject matter at the War Remnants Musuem, in particular didn't really lend itself to happy snapping! Normal service will be resumed in latter posts!
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