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Published: November 19th 2009
This is hard to say, but, we have just got stamped into our last country. Although we’ll be returning to Thailand again, this is our last new country. The border crossing this time wasn’t that bad, but I still cant figure out why you cant just walk up to the counter, the official checks and stamps your passport and you just go on through. Your passport always needs to go through many different hands just to get the stamp. I’m sure there’s a method to their madness, I just haven’t a clue what it is! Ho Chi Minh city formerly known as Saigon was to be our first destination in Vietnam. Everyone still calls it Saigon and for the remainder of this blog I will too. We met up with Martin, a Scottish guy we had met in Thailand and Laos and went out for a few drinks. They have, what you might call street bars, in Saigon. They consist of small plastic chairs and stools, which are big enough for a small child and beer is served in plastic 2ltr milk cartons for the extortionate price of 11,000 dong. That’s 40c to me and you in euro language. 2ltr’s, 40c,
it would be rude not to go there! We met up with others there and had good craic (Irish term for fun, long before the drug came to existence) for the night.
Next day we just took in a few of the Saigon sights near our hostel and sampled some of the local food. Pho is my new found favourite. It’s the same as noodle soup, except better. Same Same, but different! For those who are now picturing a packet of Knorr soup, it not quite the same. It consists of onion, spring onion, noodles, bean sprouts and you get a plate of different things like chilli, basil and lime that you can add. It is all put in with a broth and makes for very tasty eating. Beef Pho is my favourite. We booked a tour for the next day to go and see the Cu Chi Tunnels. These were tunnels used by the Viet Cong in the war against the US from 1959 To 1975. The tunnels are over 200km’s long and stretch all the way to the Cambodian border. During the war the Viet Cong used the tunnels to escape from the American army. They also
I swear I wasnt posing!!
contained shelters beneath the ground where people lived. On the tour we got to enter the tunnels and travel through a section of them. They have been increased in size for ‘westerners’ but are still very small. To climb through you basically have to walk on your knees with your back bent over. They have some lights in the tunnels for us so that we can see what way to go, but it is very minimal. A few times the guy in front of me got a head butt on the ass! I had agreed with Michelle for her to wait at the first exit to get a photo of me coming out. Unfortunately she hadn’t seen my exit and was at the next one. There was me, coming out of the tunnel, trying to look the part for the photo, and not a sinner outside the tunnel. Everyone including Michelle was at the next one. In fairness we both pointed out the tunnel that she was at before I went in so it was my own fault. It’s just when your underground in pitch dark, it’s not exactly clear where the hell you are. Imagine if I got out
and someone said ‘welcome to Cambodia, have you got your passport sir?!’ or ‘you need tuk-tuk to Vietnam sir, very good price for you!’. Luckily that didn’t happen.
The amount of people at the tunnels was crazy. You could barely see anything our listen to our guide. He apologised numerous times but then rightly pointed out that he cannot control the amount of visitors. We also saw lots of other things. One was sniper hole that supposedly a western woman got stuck in the day before, because she had ‘very fat ass’ and when pulled out her trousers and underwear went down the hole. I didn’t try to fit in. We also saw a lot of traps that the Viet Cong set to maim American soldiers. The purpose of maiming someone rather than killing, is that his fellow soldiers then have to look after him, making them even weaker than if he was dead. Most of the traps used spikes that would go right through a soldier. To get him back out they generally had to pull him through spikes pointing in the other direction. I can imagine some would have preferred death. Half way through the tour you
Parts of the US declation of independnece were used in the Vietnam declaration, just before America invaded the country. Ironic!
can shoot an AK-47 for around €10, including 10 bullets. I didn’t do it or have any want to do it. If some people get kicks from it that’s for them but not for me. I’d rather shoot a home made peg gun at a few crows than an AK-47. After leaving Cu Chi we visited a handicrafts factory, to see the workers and what they make. The handicrafts they made were of a very high standard and came with a very high price. Some of the crafts were amazing and it would be a good place to visit if you wanted to decorate your house. I watched some of the workers design their work and it looked like they were very talented. I didn’t take too many photo’s as I’m sure they are sick of tourists coming in, looking at them like they were some kind of zoo animal.
Next day we went to visit the museum formerly known as ‘The American War Crimes Museum’ and now referred to as the ‘War Remnants Museum’ for political reasons. This was the highlight of our trip to Saigon. If in Saigon and only have time for either the tunnels or
museum, I would pick the tunnels. Only because they are unique. The museum though is far more interesting and gives a great, all be it Vietnamese, side of the story. I have discussed with Michelle about how to write about the subject. We have a lot of American friends and family and would never mean to offend them by saying things which I clearly know nothing about. So everything I will say, is only what I saw and not what I think.
For those who nothing about the Vietnam war or as it is also known as the Second Indochina War, here is what I could make out. North Vietnam was communist controlled, South Vietnam was democratically controlled (or American controlled). America come to help south fight the north. A regular war ensues in the North and a guerrilla type war in the south between Viet Cong (communist’s in the south) and the American army and the South Vietnamese army. The Viet Cong controlled the network of tunnels. What happened next is one of the most controversial wars in modern times. America used crazy amounts of chemicals in bombs, such as Agent Orange and napalm. General war rules went
out the window and America were accused of severe war crimes and even genocide against the Vietnamese people. The affects of the chemicals used are still visible today in Vietnam. Children are been born deformed and with cancer. Cripples and war wounded are also very visible. Vietnamese were also subjected to severe torture. All of these are conclusions of tribunals in Europe and not Vietnamese propaganda. If you enlarge some pictures I have taken of signs in the museum, you can see what the charges are. Both Vietnamese and American soldiers suffered greatly after the war from the effects of the chemicals. Over 58,000 American soldiers lost their lives and between 3-4 million Vietnamese. Who can blame soldiers in a war anyway? They are only there to carry out orders. It is the governments that should be held accountable for their actions.
Some of the pictures in the museum are horrific. Pictures of badly deformed foetus and children running naked while their skin burning from the effects of the chemicals. Soldiers holding up human remains, that looked more like a Lion had ripped the body apart. Strangely after WWII the Vietnamese used parts of the American declaration of Independence
in their own. This only lasted 10 days after WWII, as the French returned to take control of the area, which it had controlled before WWII. You would think the French would have learned their lesson. The museum is good but obviously one side of the story. The damning facts against the American government is there to be seen though. Eventually North Vietnam stormed Saigon and took control in the south. A peace agreement was signed but fighting still continued for a few years after.
Modern day Vietnam now has a new hero in Bill Clinton. America put big trade embargo’s on Vietnam after the war and the country suffered from famine and isolation. Clinton stopped all that and created a new relationship with Vietnam. He gathered together 100 of the worlds top business men in Vietnam, to try and promote the country and get some much needed investment into the country. We were told that by 2020 Saigon will be just like Kuala Lumpur with the right investment. Clinton is also a hero in Ireland for his involvement in peace in Northern Ireland.
Tourists are welcomed here with open arms now, but you still cant turn up
and walk into the country. You need to buy your visa beforehand from an embassy and it is strictly controlled. You cannot change your dates once finalised, unless you get another visa. So far, so good, though. Good food, cheap beer, friendly people, long history and many, many, other things to keep us occupied.
In a bit. DH
Song of the blog: Blur - Song 2
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