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The Adventurer’s Travel Diary

Monday, 26 Mar 2007

Location: Saigon, Vietnam

MapI made it to Saigon with no hassles--a smooth trip all the way. I'm going to put all the events in this one entry. Basically, I did a lot of chilling out, eating some great meals, drinking a few beers, sharing some stories with other foreigners, and seeing some museums and of course the highlight--the Cu Chi tunnels.

Saigon definitely had a different vibe than Hanoi--much busier but also more laid back and the people are friendlier. I was getting annoyed by the constant peddling. "You want to buy book?" "Moto, Moto?" "Lighter? Sunglasses? Marijauna?" Even when you're outside sitting at a restaurant eating they hassle you. In one sitting you're approached an average of 10 times at least. By the end of it, I wouldn't even acknowledge anyone was there--seemed to do the trick. The traffic I'd say is much worse than Hanoi--motorcycles everywhere! And again, I was walking into the traffic.

I spent a day touring the War Remnants Museum and the Reunification Palace. The War Museum was pretty interesting, lots of sad stuff, but also a lot of it propaganda. Here, they really make the Americans look bad (the Viet Cong--ie. communists). They showed pictures of torture, execution, and victims of Agent Orange, the defoliant that was sprayed over Central and South Vietnam by the American army. The effects of Agent Orange are still very visible in Vietnam today, as I saw on the motorcycle tour when I saw acres of land destroyed by the toxin. You can also see victims of it out on the street. And then there were the victims of land mines. I was able to meet one who lost an arm and a leg because of a land mine, also damaged one of his eyes. Couldn't help but feel a bit somber after this visit to the museum. It's strange to think that this only happened just before I was born--this is very recent history.

The Reunification Palace is where the Southern Vietnamese government held meetings and could hide in the bunker below the palace, which we were able to see. The bunker can withstand 2 tonnes of bombs at a time. Just before the Viet Cong surrendered, they took over the palace, forcing out the Southern Vietnamese officials. The South Army drove two army tanks through the front gates on April 30th, 1975, forcing the Viet Cong to surrender, thus putting an end to all the fighting.

Another day I spent out at the Cu Chi tunnels, used by the Viet Cong to move about underground while remaining protected from the enemy. Men, women, and children of the Cu Chi town contributed to the Viet Cong effort, using the tunnels and fighting by night while still working in the fields to feed themselves by day. The tunnels were maybe 60cm X 80cm, very small and not well ventilated, and extremely hot. I saw bomb craters from the American bombs, trenches, the tunnels themselves (a network that spans 200 kms), booby traps set up for the enemy, and sniper pits linked to the tunnels. And at the end, I got to shoot an AK47, the type of gun that most terrorists prefer because of it's durability, efficiency, and capabilities and Russian manufactured. I shot 5 bullets and hit my target 3 out of 5 times (not bad!). I didn't realize how incredibly loud these things are. I'm sure that hearing must be a problem for some of these Vietnam vets who would have heard it constantly.

Before the Cu Chi tunnels, we stopped at a temple of a religion known as Caodai. This religion mixes many of the major ones: Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and Muslim. There are about 2 million followers in Vietnam. Quite an interesting scene seeing all of them mix together for mass. In the temple, they have 9 steps (each step representing the path to Nirvana for Buddhism). You may only sit on the step of the status you currently are, be it 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and so on. The Caodai pope sits on the 9th level. Currently, there is no pope. The last one fled to Cambodia during the Vietnam war and passed away there, and there is no current replacement yet.

I was feeling a bit homesick in Saigon, been out traveling for awhile now, so I decided it was time to move to the next country (also the budget plays a factor in this too). Today I left for Cambodia, to the capital city of Phnom Phen. I'd heard all kinds of things about how weirded out I would be by the city, and to watch my back here. Everything's gone pretty good so far and I'm definitey not weirded out. Yes, it's much poorer here than any other countries I've been, and there is garbage everywhere (but I saw this in China too), but it's ok. Got myself a nice little hotel room for $5 U.S.--a great deal. Things are even cheaper here than in Vietnam. They do use Cambodian riel here for currency, but it's not worth much, so they mostly deal in U.S. dollars. It's nice to use a dollar system that I'm used to again.

Some lasting thoughts on Vietnam, I thoroughly enjoyed the country, had a great time all the way and would gladly go back. I didn't get to do the Mekong Delta, which I would love to do someday, as well as Phu Quoc island, a little island oasis that is not very touristy yet. The people are so friendly, especially in the south. Saigon and Hanoi are both extremely busy cities with crazy traffic, but I enjoyed both and would gladly return. There doesn't seem to be much resentment from the people themselves toward the Americans, though I can't say for sure about the government. I did hear some negative comments from locals about the communist government for their part in the war and for how they are dealing with it today. Vietnam is a definite must see for those traveling SE Asia.