Swinging Saigon!

Trip Start Jun 06, 2006
Trip End Dec 01, 2006

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Monday, October 2, 2006

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City after 3 days on the Mekong. The bus dropped us off on De Tham, the main backpacker street. It was packed with hotels, bars etc as you would expect. We shopped around quite a bit for a hotel, probably doing a more thorough check before making a decision than we had done anywhere on our travels. Felt good about that. Eventually settled on a really nice place, Hotel 262 right on De Tham, which had the nicest and biggest room we had seen in a while, AC and cable TV, all for just $10. Our travelling companion Kathy took a place around the corner on the next street, as our place had no single rooms. Kathy's hotel was fine until she was without electricity from midnight until morning. Apparently, there is a government controlled power cut on the entire street every day for 12 hours. Didn't happed the next night though!

Next day we went to the famous War Remnants Museum but it closed for lunch shortly after we arrived so we went for a walk around the town and decided to come back to the museum the next day. The town centre is quite nice, there is an interesting contrast between colonial French architecture such as the Notre Dame Cathedral and the modern cathedrals to western capitalism - shiny office towers, towering hotels and shopping malls. We went to the Reunification Palace in the evening. It used to be the seat of the government in South Vietnam after the country was carved up and was where the reunified country was proclaimed independent after the defeat of the Americans. It's a weird building, last rebuilt in the early sixties and portraying a cold industrial style architecture. Inside are grand palatial rooms fit for entertaining heads of state. The most interesting aspect was seeing the war rooms, which were the central command post for the south Vietnamese army during the American war and the underground bomb shelters from where war planning could continue even if the building above had been destroyed. Outside the palace some children were putting on a performance of dragon dancing and martial arts. It was the mid autumn festival and the performance was great until it started raining and everyone had to run for cover.

Back to the War Remnants museum the next day. It is quite surreal to see up close the tanks, artillery, planes, choppers, bombs and guns which you are so used to seeing only in the movies. The museum is really good, there are 7 different areas with different exhibits. One has the equipment, one has photos from journalists who died in the war, one is dedicated to the victims of the extensive bombings and chemical warfare, one had a tiger cage and depictions of prisoner treatment and one is devoted to the global anti war movement. To see photos of victims of napalm, agent orange and nail bombs is incredibly disturbing. Particularly in light of the fact that the same atrocities continue to take place today. Global anti war movements have come a long way, but imperial powers still carry out aggressive wars where there are no real winners and the local people are the losers, regardless of whose side they are on. This museum, coming just a few days after seeing the genocide museum and killing fields in Cambodia certainly made it a very sombre part of our trip. As we sat outside when we were finished I began to feel very guilty. Apart from discussions with people in my own circle of influence I have done nothing to prevent the atrocities like this that continue today. Resolved to try to make more of a difference in future. Two million people marched against the current Iraq war while I was in London and I didn't even join them. I would like to think that if more of the people who thought it was wrong spoke out against it it would make a difference. Mabye some day I will visit a war museum in Iraq and feel even worse about it.

Moral of the story:-
Thinking that your actions will not make a difference is no excuse for not doing what you believe in.
Don't leave it to others to fight the cause. Not acting and not caring are the same thing to the victims.

We were due to travel up the coast after HCMC but a typhoon hit Da Nang and Hoi An so we changed our plans. We had to meet a friend, Hynek, in Hanoi the next week so we decided to fly directly to Hanoi and then come back down the coast from there.

After the war museum we bought our flight tickets and then went for a drink with Kathy. She was feeling particulary bad. I have lived in America and seen how they portray foreign policy / war etc, so can at least guess what it is like to grow up there and then see Vietnam from the other side. It was difficult for her, but the mood improved as the night went on. We ended up staying in the cafe/bar playing scrabble through the evening, and then in the night there was a live music performance. It was one band with several different singers at different times. The lead guitarist in the band was brilliant, even doing some really great spanish guitar style stuff along the way. The singers we thought were wannabe pop stars, and we think it was some kind of showcase of local talent.

Next stop Hanoi. The only think I know about Hanoi is that I'm not going to any more war museums there...

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