0047 Thank you, Vietnam (Viet 008—new)

Ho Chi Minh City Travel Blog

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Guitar wouldn't have fit anyways

Day 034: 8 hours, 12.0—total 24.7 kms

I spend the rest of the day on a bus to Saigon a.k.a Ho Chi Minh City and arrive well after dark.  Thankfully I don’t repeat my Hanoi experience and the bus drops me off right in the middle of a very dense old neighbourhood with plenty of cheap lodging tucked back in its squeeze-through alleys…

I find a barely marked home-turned hotel and set out to explore Saigon at night.  The neighbourhood is one of the most dense that I’ve ever been in, in which people live in cubicles, rather than apartments… the narrowest alleys are one way, single lane… So if someone is walking from the other direction, only one can get through at a time…

Finally I reach a road on the other side…

I continue on towards a big boulevard, where I have the chance to practice my “running of the scooters” skills… Another tourist, probably a new arrival to Vietnam, just stands on the curb baffled… trying to figure how he’s ever going to get across… For all I know, he might still be there!

I reach a more cosmopolitan neighbourhood with upscale shopping streets and a lively nightlife… Saigon has a much more “Global City” feel than Hanoi…

Finally I head on back to my ghetto neighbourhood…

One thing that strikes me as unusual about my neighbourhood is the number of Africans I see.

  I never would have thought that Vietnam would be a popular destination for Africans.  I notice a little eatery where a lot of then are gathered, where a Vietnamese woman is serving them typical African fish stew, and I decide to go in and find out.

I strike up a conversation with a fellow, a Nigerian. Who tells me that he’s a professional football player playing for a Vietnamese city team--  he was recruited in hopes of improving Vietnamese football standards…

He gets to talking about his struggles… How he played for the Nigerian team--  only to find his salary spirited away at the end of the season… Here in Vietnam he does get paid, but he finds the racism almost unbearable… His dream is to get to Europe where people aren’t so racist against blacks…

The reason behind this racism?  I don’t know…

I head on back to my room, pondering on that little encounter.



There’s been a blackout and the alleys are pitch black… I wonder how in the world I’m going to find my hotel in the darkness… It takes me a while but I finally find it.

Next Morning…

My plan was to spend the whole day exploring the city. But next morning I have a hard time getting out of bed.  It’s been an overwhelming couple of weeks, and I need a couple of hours just to let it all stew a bit.  In fact, it’s not until 3 PM that I

finally make it out of my room.   Definitely not something I want to make a habit of… but today I really just need to think over what this whole journey means.

When I finally head out, I cross the canal to a bustling neighbourhood market on the other side… and then on up to the office/upscale hotel district along the river.

 

I decide to check out a buffet on the top floor of a hotel… but when I get there I find mostly cold leftovers--  nothing that I find particularly appetizing…

Haven’t had too much luck with the food here in Vietnam.

I continue on, through zigzagging alleys, on to another huge shopping stretch on the west side of town… no more tourists in sight anywhere…

I finish my day with a peaceful little concert in a plaza not far from my hotel…

Day 3… (Day 035, 16 hours, 8.0 kms)

 On day three, I’m finally going to do it:  go on a guided tour of the Cu Chi tunnels…  I won’t be able to forgive myself if I leave Vietnam without checking out this fascinating side of the Vietnam War… the hidden tunnel cities that stretched for hundreds of kilometres that allowed the Viet Cong to continue the fight even as the surface was being napalmed and turned into a wasteland by use of Agent Orange… This was one of the keys to the ultimate victory of the Viet Cong.

I get on the bus with a bunch of other tourists and head out of the city.

But we have to make another stop first: at the workshop where hundreds of people handicapped by Agent Orange are given jobs making handicrafts to sell to tourists…

This tour obviously has a propaganda undertone to it.  The message is quite clear:  “the American invasion was very, very bad, and the Communists takeover was very, very good.”  I know this is going to be very one-sided, but all the same, I’m sure there’s a lot for me to learn here…

After decades of hearing the American version of the Vietnam War, now I’m going to hear the Vietnamese side…

I do buy a handmade souvenir… and I do find some symbolic value in it.  And I do find comfort in the knowledge that even though these folks are really trying to make me feel guilty for my country’s past, they will do nothing to hurt or harm me.   I am now their welcomed guest.

Finally we continue on to the Cu Chi caves.  First we are sat down to watch a documentary--  which sounds a bit like a Communist propaganda film from the 1970s that could really stand some updating. 

But the guides themselves in contrast, all old guys, veterans of the war, do not show any bitterness or arrogance.  They choose their words very carefully, to not say anything offensive or resentful.  Actually, they’re actually quite good humored as they lead us along, showing the various ingenious booby traps that were used in the war… a captured American tank and helicopter... a mock up Viet Cong camp--  even letting us sample typical Viet Cong chow…

And then, of course, the hi light:  the tunnels themselves…

There’s an actual size tunnel that one by one we were allowed to crawl into… The guide isn’t to happy that I go all the way inside--  he says I’m slowing down the line… but I just have to have the experience…

Then we go on to an enlarged tunnel made big enough for the bigger built Western tourist to squeeze through.  Most of the folks can’t make it through, either turning back, or going out through an “escape hatch” along the way…

It’s a fun and definitely worthwhile experience and it really makes you respect those soldiers and what they went through.

Finally the tour is over, and we head back to the city.

I have them drop me off not far from the War Relics Museum, which includes aircraft, photo displays and a mock South Vietnamese prison where Communists were tortured during the war by the South Vietnamese. 

Obviously a very one-sided display--  the museum shows only the atrocities committed by the Americans and their allies… yet very sobering all the same.  As I slowly make my way through the painfully brutal exhibits, I can’t help but think of the current Iraq War which is occurring at this very moment… and wonder what kind of similar atrocities are being committed even now…

It’s time to continue on. 

I head on down the road, to the old Parliament building--  now it’s part government building, part museum, with proud displays of the toppling of the South Vietnamese government and the “liberating” of the south.  I have mixed feeling as I browse through… On one hand, I think it’s good that the Vietnamese have something they can feel proud about at the end of that wretched war… they took back complete control and reunited their country… But on the other hand, I can only imagine what a former South Vietnamese who saw his family killed and tortured for being on the “wrong side” of the war must feel when looking at a display like that.  There’s clearly still no room for debate as to who were the good guys and who were the bad guys in that war… I guess all the people who were unlucky enough to have been on the side of the “bad guys” just have to suck it up and pretend they’re happy things turned out like they did…

I wander on through the city, late into the night… getting myself completely lost, finding my way and then getting lost yet again… Thinking, and creating a few more memories of this land, before bidding Vietnam farewell…

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Guitar wouldnt have fit anyways
Guitar wouldn't have fit anyways