Sunday, 3 August 2014

Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh

Having been slightly disappointed with Vietnam's offerings so far, neither if us were particularly looking forward to Ho Chi Minh, imagining it to be like PP and Can Tho.  We both wanted to see the same 2 things so decided to spend one full day there then get out to the countryside.

There is no reason for this pic to be here other than I want it as the post homepage photo

After a relatively smooth ride with a WiFi bus (woohoo, finally!) we arrived and went in search of our hotel.  Luggage dropped off and checked in, we headed to the War Remnants museum.  Our hotel is right in the middle of the city in District 1 ( I feel a bit Hunger Hames saying that) and is perfectly located for exploring the city.

Crossing the roads in HCM is like real life frogger.  It's an adrenaline rush each time we do it.  There are so many motorbikes and taxis and busses aiming straight at you and the majority of the roads don't have pelican crossings.  They have markings on the road that no one pays attention to, so you just have to wait for a lull in traffic and go for it.  The bikes somehow weave their way in and out of you and the other bikes like a dance and you make it across alive.  Hopefully!

We encountered and foolishly/knowingly fell for our first scam in four weeks, where we ended up paying well over the odds for a coconut.  The seller befriended us and walked down the road with us, even giving Amy his pole of coconuts to carry, before opening two up and handing them to us.  Naively it crossed our minds that they may be free as he had been so friendly and hadn't asked if we wanted one, but when asked how much he said 150,000 dong.  That's £4.20 a coconut!!! He was relying on us not having got our heads round the currency yet which embarrassingly we haven't (there's too many 000s and any one who knows me will know how bad my maths is!).  However we did realise that his asking price was too high so gave him 100,000 for both instead, still ridiculously overpriced for something we didn't even ask for but we have learnt from our mistakes!

The war remnants museum is cheap to get in and is fairly good.  I don't think it's curated particularly well but it is very good at showing the atrocities of the Vietnamese war.  I don't know enough about the war to have an educated opinion and obviously the war museum was just a little biased, but from the museum I deduced that America got involved in something they shouldn't have and did a lot of awful things.  There's a quote from Eisenhower that basically says if the French lost Vietnam then America would not be able to get its tin and tungsten supplies any longer which were critical to the growth of their country.  Suggests their reasons for supporting and then joining the French weren't just to stop the spread of communism.

The sections on Agent Orange and War Crimes were very upsetting. The Americans poured hundreds of thousands of dioxin onto the jungles in South Vietnam, having devastating effects on the countryside.  It poisoned the soil, the animals, the water supply and reduced millions of acres of jungle from lush green trees to bare soil and stumps.   The aim of uncovering the jungle achieved, it also had devastating side effects on anyone who ingested or came into close contact with the dioxin.  As it was in the water supply, thousands of Vietnamese had consumed it without knowing the effects it would have on them. The Agent Orange section in the museum contained lots of photos of people, both American and Vietnamese, who have suffered the effects of Agent Orange.  The effects range from acute dermatitis on the lesser scale to babies born with just torsos, limbs facing the wrong direction, faces not developing, conjoined twins etc.  Many of the photos are of the children as grown ups and its incredible to see that in a less developed country like Vietnam that they've been able to live long and fulfilling lives with most probably limited support. 

Tanks filled with dioxin

The war crimes section really affected me, maybe even more so than the killing fields and S21.  I think this is because being a Westerner and growing up with American culture (TV, food etc) where America is always portrayed as the goody, you just assume that they do no wrong.  To see the atrocities they carried out during the war was really eye opening and made me realise that no one is immune and our British soldiers have probably done similar if not worse things. According to the museum, in 1969 Bob Kerrey (went on yo be Senator) was the leader of a group of Seal Rangers who butchered a village of innocent civilians.  They cut the necks of an elderly couple, then pulled out their three grandchildren from their hiding place and killed those as well, disembowelling one of them.  They then moved onto the remaining 15 villagers including 3 pregnant women and killed them all too.  However as usual there are two sides to every story and according to him, they were fired at first so they fired back, believing it to be Viet Cong they were shooting at.  America awarded him a medal for this raid, citing that he'd killed 21 Viet Cong.  Hard to know who to believe when each has a vested interest at accusing the other.

I found the below picture particularly poignant.  In case you can't read it, it says there's a choice to be made when you fight in the army. You can put in your time and focus on making it back alive, or you can turn into a psycho like the GIs pictured in the photo, who have just beheaded a civilian and are now posing next to him.

"The army can really fuck over your mind if you let's your choice"

Onto some nicer stuff.  After the museum we headed to an ice cream bar called "Fanny".  Though the name played part of the reason for going there, the main reason is because I had read online that they do an all you can eat ice cream buffet on the first Friday of each month.  Low and behold, the day we visited was Friday 1st August, what great timing!!  But we were greeted with the sign below....

We took the long way home just to get a feel of the city.  I have decided I really like it.  It's very vibrant and is a perfect mix of Asian with western influences.  In parts you can see the French influence in the architecture and street names.  Parts feel very cosmopolitan whilst others feel a bit rough round the edges.  I really like it.

We walked through the park to get back to our hotel and it was filled with people, old and young, playing games and relaxing.  The boys were playing a game I later found out was called " shuttlecock".  They have a shuttlecock like object, it's a plastic spring attached to a large feather, that they kick about over a net.  It looks like the football version of badminton.  As we were walking through 

The next day we went on a tour of the Cu Chi tunnels.  We had an amusing guide who was constantly cracking jokes and asked us to call him John Wayne because no one would be able to pronounce his Vietnamese name.  Unfortunately the rest of the tour group weren't so amusing, there was a boy who constantly burped (yes I know what you're thinking but this was literally every 2 seconds, I am not that bad), three annoying and attention seeking northern girls and an old couple who spent the entire time holding the group up as they were photographing and filming EVERYTHING including us which was a little creepy.

The tunnels were dug by the Viet Cong and are ingenious.  The Americans had bombs, planes and money, the Viet Cong had brains.  There were three levels of tunnels interconnected with bunker rooms that they'd live in when they couldn't live underground.  They had surface holes in the top level of tunnels that snipers would pop out of and fire at the enemy.  These holes still exist and you can get in them yourself.  An Australian lady got stuck in one of these holes and had to be pulled out, much to our (cruel) amusement.  We decided not to try in case we ended up with the same fate!

The Viet Cong  would lure the Americans to an area by making it look like they were  an easy target.  The Americans would pound the area with bombs whilst the Viet Cong would hide safely underground, then as the Americans retreated, thinking they'd nuked everyone, they would pounce.  Any artillery left over would be nabbed by the Viet Cong who'd refashion them and use the gun powder to make their own bombs.  The entire area was ridden with booby traps, they had about 15 different variations of the same thing which would have ended in a pretty brutal death, all involving the big and heavy American GIs falling through camouflaged holes in the ground and being impaled on some form of spikes. 

We had the opportunity to crawl into the tunnels which we did.  Turns out I'm a bit claustrophobic and had to work really hard not to panic when I was underground.  It didn't help that the annoying couple previously mentioned were in front of us and kept stopping to take photos of each other (I may have politely asked them to move along).  The tunnels are hot, dark and stuffy.  I'm short and had to do a weird squat walk to get through them.  I do not envy anyone who had to traverse them daily!

After the tunnels we headed back to the ice cream place, deciding that the menu looked pretty amazing so we should try it out.  Though everything did look very pretty, it wasn't as amazing as I expected.  We wandered around Ben Thanh market then walked back through the park where we were mobbed by university students wanting to practice their English.  Happy to help, we had a chat with them for half an hour or so, explaining what phrases like "call the tow truck" and "chicken out" meant.  It was fun talking to them though I made a bit of a faux pas when asked what I hadn't liked about Vietnam so far.  I said that when we were in the Mekong Delta people weren't that friendly and one of the students said "I am from the Mekong Delta" totally deadpan....bit awkward and I had to back track a bit.

That evening we headed to a restaurant recommended by our hotel (who are the sweetest hotel owners ever).  The main dishes were all varieties of Banh Xeo which were tasty and very good value for money.  I had a vegetarian coconut bulb pancake which arrived on a banana leaf.  You are also given a large tray of lettuce leaves and herbs, and a bowl filled with a sauce that I think was vinegar, onion and orange and smelt foul but tasted OK.

We had to ask what to do, and you get a lettuce leaf, place some other herbs on it and use the chopsticks to put bits of the pancake onto the leaf too (no easy feat!) You then roll the lettuce leaf up like a burrito, dip it in the sauce and eat.  It was tasty, fun (who doesn't love build your own food!) and a lot of food for about £1.80. 

Whole bunch of leaves

Fill leaf with pancake and herbs

Roll, dip and eat

When you ask for lemon soda in Vietnam you have to make this yourself too.  You're given two glasses, one with ice and one empty, a can of soda water, a plate of lemon, and a bowl of sugar which you mix all together if your desired quantities.  I assume that's what you're meant to do anyway...

DiY lemonade

Anyway at the meal we were discussing crushes and Amy comes out with this absolute corker which I decided for her sake to share on the blog rather than Facebook as the blog has less readers....

Amy "my first crush was on a cartoon character who was a baby who pulled things out of his nappy.  I always wanted him to take his nappy off so I could see what was underneath".

I have since done some research and learned that she was talking about Fantastic Max, below...

And I will leave you with that!!

Places stayed: Beauty Guesthouse, $15 a night (2 nights).  Very friendly staff, helped Amy learn Vietnamese.  Huge room with AC, lovely powerful and warm shower. Breakfast included.

1 comment:

  1. Ummm....I can't believe you met someone else called Amy and didn't tell me...! I don't know where I was that evening when she was carelessly letting things slip out her mouth wrong. In her defense though, her next line was probably "But I was only three or four at the time!"


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