Ho Chi Minh City
Nov 27, 2008
|Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon to the locals was a much bigger city than Hanoi. HCMC is more spread out and has wider streets, which means more motorbikes. But we sort of got used to crossing the street by now.
We stayed in a nice little hotel in the centre of District 1, a very popular place for backpackers. Our hotel was located down a small alley and the building was very narrow but goes up quite high up to the 6th floor, like all other buildings in Vietnam. It was a basic room but had friendly staff.
We walked to some city sights amongst waves of motorbikes, we checked out Ben Thanh Market, another humongous crazy market selling absolutely everything you need. It took much longer than we expected to walk through the market to the other side, as selling ladies were so persistent, they physically grab you by arm and won’t let you go!!
Vietnam is famous for its huge numbers of tailors, and Lexi finally found a good family-run tailor near our hotel. She bought order-made top, skirt and dress, all up under $80!! We pushed them to make them in 24hrs, but they were all beautifully done. She was of course very happy.
The War Remnants Museum was more horrific than the one in Hanoi. It was just brutal and upsetting to see array of photographs of the victims of war, those who suffered torture as well as those born with birth defects caused by USA’s use of defoliants. There are so many things we did not know about Vietnam War.
Next day we visited Cu Chi tunnels and it was definitely the highlight of our HCMC visit. This underground network is more than 250 km long and three levels deep, and was important for the Viet Cong victory over the Americans as it allowed the Viet Cong to control a large rural area around Sai Gon.
We had a chance to get into the original tunnel and were really surprised how tiny it was. It was probably bit less than 1m wide and tall. I just can’t believe Viet Cong spent months and months underground during the war. Lexi wasn’t even able to be in there for 10 seconds as she took one look at the tunnel and felt claustrophobic. But I was glad that she did not go any further, because I even felt funny once I went deep inside, it was so dark, narrow, no air, and damp. The old English lady ahead of me started to panic half-way through crying “I need to get out!!” but there is no way back, it was just too narrow for two people to pass by in the tunnel. She just had to keep crawling until the next way out.
Our tour guide, Mr Binh was really excellent with extensive knowledge of war, Viet Cong and US army. His knowledge came from his own experience that he worked with USA against Viet Cong during the war, and imprisoned for a few years after the war by Communist Government. He told us so many interesting and heartbreaking stories. He also showed us traps that Viet Cong used against US soldiers, telling us how tough and strong Viet Cong was to fight against, and how scared US soldiers were of Viet Cong.
The district of Cu Chi was the most bombed shelled, gassed, defoliated, and generally devastated area in the history of warfare. It was declared a "free fire zone" which meant that artillery fire fell on it at night, and that bomber pilots were encouraged to drop unused explosives and napalm on the area before returning to base. In essence, anything that moved was considered a target and blown away.
While U.S. forces relied on artillery support from fixed "Fire Bases," the Vietnamese used their tunnel system to move their artillery around, making it difficult for the U.S. troops to locate them.
These are only a few of the stories of the tunnels of Cu Chi. Today the tunnels still stand, proof that the determination of the people - and not technology - can determine who wins a war.
Now we are heading into Cambodia, saying goodbye to Vietnam, where we learnt so much about the past mistakes of mankind behind Vietnamese bright smiling faces and busy life, and learnt to see the world from different angle. Well worth a visit.