Trains, Tanks, Tears and Tiger Beer
Trip Start Oct 02, 2012
56Trip End Mar 31, 2014
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So twenty minutes after exiting the train we are walking through downtown Saigon a little after 4am. We are a bit nervous wandering about in the dark but the most terrifing thing we encounter is a freaky cat and a couple of scuttling cockroaches. A more pressing concern is that the hotel we are booked into has failed to send us confirmation of an early check in. They did send us a mail saying they had overbooked though, and that we would be staying at an alternate hotel for the first night. No address or hotel name was given. Worse case scenario is that we arrive at our hotel (called Hello) and there is nobody there to greet us. Which means we'll be sitting on the pavement until they open, and then they could say we can't check in until 13:00. We could be sitting outside for 8 hours or so. At least it's a warm night.
It takes us about 45 minutes to walk to the hotel. We trek along wide empty roads and see only a handful of people, some homeless, some shopkeepers, some doing their early morning exercises (usually consisting of swinging their arms aroung or doing a bit of fast walking). It feels like any other sleeping city. Using our now legendary navigational skills and razor sharp sense of direction, we make it to Hello without becoming lost(!) The front doors are locked and curtained. Oh dear. We ring the bell and wait
About 10am we are awoken by a phone call. It seems a room has become available in Hello and we can check in in 20 minutes, a man is on his way to carry our bags for us. The Vietnamese hotels we have stayed in have all proved to be super helpful and accomodating, Hello is no exception and we haven't even had to pay for the mini-stay in their alternative hotel. Vietnam is lovely.
Rested and refreshed we head outside. The wide quiet roads we walked down earlier this morning have turned into monsterous rivers of snarling traffic. Most of which are motorbikes. The drivers here are faster and less giving than that of our beloved Hanoians. Holding your breath and closing your eyes is a good way to cross the road. We are heading to the War Remnants Museum today
Although all the exhibits are unashamedly one-sided and propaganderist, they are no less true and heartbreaking. The displays show how the American use of Agent Orange (a defolient/herbiside used to eradicate jungle where they thought the VC were hiding) has had a devastating effect on both the environment and the people. The dioxcin in Agent Orange has caused serious and appaling deformaties in Vietnamese babies for 3 generations. It is chemical warfare at its most abhorent. There are also machine guns, tanks, mines, helicopters, uniforms etc. All the normal tools of war. In addition to this there is an exhibition housing the works of war photographers from 11 countries. The pictures are harrowing and emotional. Most of the photographers died in the war and their pictures give a vivid account of the horrors of war. Outside the main building there is a reconstruction of part of a POW camp. It shows the tortures endured by the prisoners and the inhumane 'tiger cages' used. The tiger cages are small cages made of barbed wire used to house up to seven prisoners. Looking at them it is hard to comprehend how so many people can fit in such a small savage cage. After three hours in the museum we are both wrecks. The lumps in our throats are the size of basketballs and tears are only a heatbeat away. A tour of the museum is a tour of horror. The kind of horror that comes from seeing the reality of human suffering and the ravages of war. We can't take any more so we escape into the madness of Saigon and the unrelenting heat. We had other things planned for the remainer of the day but we decide against them. There is no joy to be had from visiting a pretty pagoda or grand palace today. The only thing to do is to head back to the hotel for a quiet Tiger Beer, some telly, and maybe a nap before braving Saigon again later, in search of some extremely tasty vietnamese food.