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Published: July 11th 2012
Since last writing I have been on a whirlwind tour south down the coast of Vietnam and am now in a rainy cafe in south Cambodia. I'll try and give a brief synopsis of each stop, the travels between (my birthday!) and a finish with the city formerly known as Saigon.
After leaving Hanoi, we caught an overnight train to the "homeland" of my guide Ky, the city of Hue. Hue is the old imperial capital of the region, and boasts a massive citadel as the crown jewel of the town, which was used up into the 20th century. The stories of its eccentric kings, concubines and eunuchs had us all in awe (one of the kings was supposedly A-sexual and preferred to cuddle with the eunuchs instead of his concubines or queen). The real highlights for me in Hue though were the times spent with the people. One day was spent on the back of a moped with my own personal driver through the countryside. Along the way we had lunch at a Buddhist nunnery for orphaned children, went to watch a woman masterfully construct conical hats with just one arm (result of a leftover land mine from the
Po Nagar Cham Towers (Nha Trang)
Built from the 7th-12th centuries, evidence of how far the Angkor influence reached.
war) and finished with an unforgettable evening with Ky's family as they graciously opened their home to us for a family style meal. My favorite part was chewing betel nuts with Granny.
After wrapping up in Hue we descended upon the UNESCO recognized town of Hoi An. This is the
place for shopping in Vietnam (I now have my own tailor), watching the sunrise at the beach and getting some phenomenally fun and tasty cooking classes. For anyone visiting this amazing country, the ancient town of Hoi An is a must visit. Anthony Bourdain agrees.
After a day on the train playing cards and enjoying the local brew, the last of our coastal travels took us to the "Cannes" of Vietnam, Nha Trang. The Russians have taken a liking to this beach hamlet and I can't blame them. It really has it all. Miles of umbrella lined beach, water sports and even water parks. The night scene isn't too shabby as well, which I found out the hard way on my birthday night 😉
Last but definitely not least of Vietnam for me was Saigon. Most famous for being the R&R destination for American GI's during the
war, Ho Chi Minh City as it is now called has a pulse all of its own. In retrospect, it makes Hanoi feel rather tame and controlled. It's hard to believe that just a generation ago it was a city in turmoil. The city has a mesmerizing blend of ancient pagodas and bustling city markets, as well as sleek skyscrapers and modern malls. The "war tourism" here is also a big draw. Once again it was sort of odd for me experiencing this part, especially being the only American in my group. The War Remnants Museum (formerly War Crimes) was particularly unsettling, as the entirety of it was graphic imagery showing the results of Agent Orange, the torture and the killing. One bright spot was to see adequate material on site about the war protests going on in America at the time.
To cap off the "war tourism", we headed about an hour outside of Saigon to the tunnels of Cu Chi. This area was stuff of legend during the war, as it housed upwards of 175 miles of underground tunnels strategically used by the Viet Cong. Much has been written about this aspect of the war, with the
Americans struggling mightily to uproot VC troops with GI's known as tunnel rats
. After it was realized that ground troops weren't able to do the job, B-52 bombers were unleashed on the area. Many of these craters can still be seen today, as well as the crude weapons and tools that the Viet Cong upcycled from the exploded metal. Adding to our tour of the area, we were able to crawl through some of the claustrophobia inducing tunnels, as well as have the hair on our necks raise each time one of the assault rifles from the accompanying firing range was shot off (I would add to this noise later in the day).
That's the overview of reporting for now, thanks for following along and please comment or question at will. Lots of photos w/ captions attached
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