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Saigon is the Bomb

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Saigon is the newest, richest, and most lively city in all of Vietnam, and has a lot of history with the US through the Vietnam War. (The government tried to change its name to Ho Chi Minh City but all the locals still call it Saigon.) From the old US Arny bases to the VietCongs Cu Chi Tunnels and the various museums concerning the war, the area sheds alot of history. The group and I visited the Cu Chi tunnels the first day in Saigon, which lie roughly 20 miles north of the city. This complex boobytrapped tunnel system spanned hundreds of kilometers and was an important base for the Viet-Cong (the bad guys).
I was amazed they had a base so close to the American HQ in Saigon, but I learned why. The tunnels were almost completely self-sufficient; the men only came up for a short time at night to empty their toilet pots. Even the smoke from their cooking was directed through a series of vents so that it would emerge far away from the tunnel, to protect from bombs. Even so, something like 25x more Viet-Cong died for every American that died there (1,000 something Americans KIA, 25,000 VC KIA). Shown to the left is an example of a tunnel system. The boobytraps were so hidden that the soldiers could only stay in their own tunnels simply because those were the only ones they knew where the traps were.

Saigon itself is a very modern city though Western food chains are just starting to come into the city (I'm DYING for a good hamburger...) There is everything a tourist would want, and loads of Viet businesses, banks, tall buildings, fast cars, and large developments. This is where all ambitious or poor Vietnamese looking for a job end up, and it shows. There are people everywhere trying to sell you things. I made a joke, you don't need to even go anywhere in Saigon, sellers walk up to you with anything and everything. Books, food, snacks, drinks, hookers, drugs, motorscooters, bracelets, clothes...and this was just after walking back from dinner!
Only one of those illegal offerings caught my eye though, and that was the $3 book catalogs they had! Vendors and bookstores would have little book catalogs with the front and back covers of popular books copied on a page, you would flip through, point to the one you wanted, and only pay $3. Its genius. And the currency they use is dollars(mostly), which makes budgeting 10x easier and gives a cool little peace of mind.

Interesting Fact #39: On almost all men aged 40 and above who have moles, they sport mole-hair a couple inches long and its quite unsettling. Asian men regard their facial moles with reverence and allow their mole hair grow to its full length. Its very weird.

After a nice stay in Saigon for two days, we were off for the Mekong Delta region to the south of Saigon. This area is incredibly populated with Vietnamese and also ethnic minorities because it contains the most productive land and consistant water supplies in the entire country. While many of the northern provinves are able to produce only one crop of rice each year, the Mekong Delta produces three. The entire area is flat, and either built or farmed out. We spent an entire day of biking through the region and the region is flat, dense, and completely built out with many houses with small farms with a large commercial boulevard here and there. Canals run along almost every single pathway. The transportation through the entire region is by small concrete and hard-dirt pathways, big enough for two motorscooters or bikes to pass each other, but not for a car.

After all the biking was through, we arrived at our beautiful homestay situated right over the river. We ate just as the sun was setting over the river and the big sky which was breathtaking, except for the insane, relentless mosquitos. Overall my experience of Vietnam was amazing, the country has much to offer tourists, at the right prices, and with a solid structure in place to serve any need, from local touring to world-class golfing. The people are very ambitious and the most forward-thinking and progressive I have come across, this is definately a country whose economy is sure to continue developing into the future. The population has put away the events of the past, mostly due to the population being born after the events, and the fact that American culture/society is the model they take after (though their progress resembles China). I would highly recommend both Hue and Hoi An as beautiful and cheap travel destinations for those looking to vacation, and a visit to Saigon for the experience of the museums and the big city.

I hope everybody is doing well, leave comments if you can, and feel free to contact me about anything! All the best.

permalink written by  JohnJack_Crestani on March 7, 2009 from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
from the travel blog: I Meet the SouthEast
tagged Vietnam, MekongDelta, Johncrestani, Saigon, Cuchitunnels, Vietcong and Americanjohn

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Sweet Saigon

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

After the relatively mountain cool weather in Da Lat and pretty laid back atmosphere, Saigon felt quite hot and bustling. They don't lie about the motorbike traffic. The trick is that no one drives terribly fast, so it's really not as dangerous as it might look. Zack would still have to hold my hand as we crossed the busy side streets in the backpacker district, full of a bunch of hotels and restaurants. When we first arrived in Saigon, we were tired from the long bus ride and just wanted to find a room to stay at. We were surprised to discover that the hotels generally had higher prices than Hanoi. We were also surprised that so many of the hotels didn't have any vacancies. We finally settled on a rather dumpy looking place for 10 dollars, telling ourselves that it was only for one night. It was a place that just felt dirty and I didn't want to take a shower there. At 9pm, we lost electricity, but luckily Zack found his flashlight and we made our way out of our room, down three flights of stairs to the street. No other building on the street had lost power. Their was a disgruntled guest, a man of about 40, grumbling "This happened last night! They said there would be power and then this again!" We agreed with the man up to the point where he said "And there's a mosquito in my room and this hotel did NOTHING!" Hmm, so the hotel was supposed to go into this guy's room and catch one mosquito?

The next morning we promptly checked out and moved into a lovely little hotel down a quiet street, strategically positioned next to several vegetarian restaurants (Zack loves fake meat) and a Mexican restaurant. We walked the street and visited the Reunification Palace, the palace that would have been the "White House" Presidential house had the south Vietnamese won the war. We got a thorough tour from an "English speaking guide" (She had a script memorized, but could not answer simple additional questions). We saw the banquet halls, bedrooms, a movie theater, the kitchen, and even the bomb shelter where the president's drab bedroom was located. A 19 year old Vietnamese girl came up to me and asked to practice her English. She looked like she was 14. Women tend to look really young here. We walked back to our hotel from the palace, and discovered that Saigon has some lovely parks with big old trees. Propaganda billboards are also abundant.

We booked a tour for 7 dollars through our hotel to see the Cu Chi tunnels, used by the Viet Cong, early the next morning. The tour was to leave at 7am and return around 2pm. After the tunnels, we were going to visit the War Museum in Saigon. Unfortunately, there was a mix up and we ended up on the WRONG tour in the morning. This tour visited not only the Cu Chi tunnels, but first a Cao Dai "church/temple/mosque," a weird fusion of religions. Somehow this strange religion has 2 million followers. The outside of their church is decorated with what looks like the pyramid eye from the back of a one dollar US bill. Victor Hugo is considered one of the three main saints of this religion. Very strange. The church service, which we observed 30 minutes of, was followed by another long bus ride, lunch, and another long bus ride. We were relieved when we finally arrived at the Cu Chi tunnels.

After buying an entrance ticket for about 5 dollars a person, we were shuffled into a covered wooden pavilion to watch a vide before seeing the tunnels. They had us watch an "educational" video. The television screen was completely too small for an audience of 50 people, so it was a bit difficult to see, but it was quite easy to hear, "The Americans, from thousands of miles away, came and stuck their foot in here....This young girl received an honor for killing 3 Americans..." I'm not a big fan of America, but this was a bit uncomfortable. After the video, we were shuffled along past down a path in the woods. We stopped an looked at life sized models of the Viet Cong, sitting in their hammocks, scarf around their neck. Our tour guide revealed a hidden door entrance to a tunnel buried beneath a pile of leaves, invisible. We saw fantastically elaborate booby traps, designed to kill the enemy, America. We passed US tank, severely damaged from having gone over a bomb. Five Americans were gunned down as they exited the flaming vehicle. Some tourists then proceeded to climb onto the tank for smiling pictures. It was all a big circus. Next, we were paraded to an area where for a little over a dollar tourists can choose from a variety of guns, machine guns and AK47s included, to go shoot. Zack and I doubted the safety of these things, so we stood a safe distance away from the booming sound of gun fire. Finally, it was time for us to crawl down into the portion of the Cu Chi tunnel that our tour guide referred to as "king sized." About 100 meters had been doubled in size to accommodate the growing throngs of tourists. We went down into the tunnel. Zack had to crawl on hands and knees, but I was able to crouch. 30 meters were enough for us. It was terribly claustrophobic!

Next day, we went to the Vietnamese History Museum which is located next to the botanical garden and zoo. As soon as we got into the museum, torrential rain began to beat down from the sky. The storm was so bad that the museum shut down the power, so there was no light to see the exhibit! The museum houses a pretty creepy looking mummy of a woman, hair still attached. Next we check out the botanical gardens and zoo, which turned out to be pretty sad.

The following morning we set out through Vietnam's famed travel bus company, the Sinh Cafe, toward the mighty Mekong river delta. Here we spent a day going around on a boat. We stayed a night close to the border and then set out on our boat ride over the Vietnamese border into Cambodia.


permalink written by  zachel on April 14, 2009 from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Zack and Rachel's Asian Chronicles
tagged Cuchitunnels

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