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Published: December 7th 2016
Ho Chi Minh didn't promise much, and it delivered. Initially this trip was going to take me to the north, but due to unforeseen circumstances there was a change of plan.
So I've spent a few days in Ho Chi Minh in south Vietnam and I'm currently sat on a bus to Phnom Penn in Cambodia, where I plan to spend around a month.
Before I arrived I'd been told and read that HCM wasn't more than a big horrible industrial city, and I can't say that's far off. I'm not 100%!s(MISSING)ure but I think it's the worst city I've been to on my travels. There's not too much to do except check out the museums about the war and the Cu Chi tunnels. Tunnels dug out by the Vietcong during the war.
So that's what I did.
Upon arriving at the airport I took a 15 minute local bus into the city #109 for 20,000 Dong, about 70p. Naturally being unadjusted to Asia I was scammed within an hour of getting into the city...although it wasn't too bad because the guy took me to a cheap place to stay.
HCM doesn't have tuk-tuks, it has blokes who're “like gangsters” according to the reception at my hostel, riding around on mopeds. It was one of these guys who charged me more than a bus ticket to take me to a cheap hostel! And then proceeded to get angry because I said his price to go to the museums was too high.
Anyway, I ended up in Saigon Backpackers for $5US per night.
My first stop was food. After five months of living off cheap bread and pasta in Australia I was looking forward to some Asian food and to be able to eat meat again. Almost everyone I spoke to about Vietnam told me to try “Pho”. Now, granted I could've had a bad one...but I really didn't see what all the fuss was about, boiled noodles, veg and chicken. No flavour! It just tasted like bean sprouts.
After feeding and hydration it was off to the War Remnants Museum dedicated to the “American War”. After growing up in the West you develop a certain idea of what the Vietnam war was like, but nothing prepared me for quite how bad it was.
The museum is a series of pictures and captions starting with the French occupation and leading right through to the end of the war.
It was really eye opening to see some of the horrific injuries. The injuries from a direct result of chemical warfare, and the subsequent deformations victims of those attacks children and grandchildren suffered. The ramifications of agent orange are still being felt today, with 2000 4th
generation children still affected by deformations.
What some of the American soldiers did can only be described as vile. With one image showing four US soldiers sat with the heads and bodies of two Vietnamese they'd decapitated, smiling for the camera! The same way hunters do with their prey after taking out some endangered animal.
The only bad thing about the museum was how one sided it was. It didn't show anything about what the Vietcong did to the US, which I'm sure was nearly as bad in some cases.
Day 2 saw me get what I'm sure will now be the first of many massages, a full body Thai massage for $11US (No. It wasn't like what you're thinking.).
In the afternoon I went on a tour to the Cu Chi tunnels. Tunnels used during the war for living in, escaping and as a strategic way to counter the US forces.
A 250km tunnel network, and very complex. Visiting Cu Chi shows just how clever the Vietcong were. As I'm sure you've seen in “Platoon” and other similar films, the Vietnamese would use the tunnels, pop out of holes in the ground and attack. They used the vegetation to their advantage so well. I can only imagine the fear in the US soldiers walking through dense jungle, expecting to either be shot at from any direction or fall into one of the traps.
The tunnels their selves were tiny, having to live down there would've been horrible. There's a “tourist tunnel” which is one of the original tunnels which they've made 30%!b(MISSING)igger to accommodate the size of westerners...but it was still so small I was on my hands and knees most of they way. If I tried to squat walk like the guide suggested my shoulders and back scraped against the walls! Another clever design feature, the tunnels being too small for the US soldiers to get inside.
The best thing I heard was the US pumped water into the tunnels to try and flush out the Vietnamese, but due to the intricate design the water ran straight back out into the river, and actually forced air into the tunnels “like A/C” as the guide said. Then they tried pumping gas into the tunnels, but again due to their design the gas just filtered out. Lastly they poured loads of snakes and scorpions into the tunnels, but the Vietnamese having been living purely off potatoes welcomed this. They caught the snakes etc and cooked them!.
There's also a shooting range where you can fire an AK-47 and some other guns for around £1.75 per bullet. But being morally opposed to guns, I opted for an ice cream.
I'm glad I got to see what I saw in HCM but I won't be rushing back any time soon. It seemed very expensive and like I said could be the worst city I've ever travelled to.
Next onto Phnom Penn for more misery as I learn about the mass genocide of the Pol Pot regime.
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