It's called Saigon!

Trip Start Dec 27, 2008
Trip End Jun 27, 2009

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Back on the sleeper bus, Mui Ne ----> Saigon. We had to take the back row again but the journey was shorter and I thanked God for his wonderful geography. A little annoyingly we stopped for lunch not 2 minutes after getting on.

Saigon is like an ants nest, busy and rushed. Surprisingly though it's way more bearable than Hanoi and smells much better. The people are really friendly and the city has a great party vibe. It is a little more expensive than anywhere else though. Our Hotel, Madame Cuc's Hotel 127 is a little home away from home type place, you even take your shoes off at the door, she cooks free breakfast and evening meal! It's a pretty crazy city, I've been offered numerous sexual favours in full view of Charlotte and we definately saw two wide-eyed tourists being scammed by a group of what I think were ladyboys.

We took a tour of the Tunnels of Cu Chi, this underground network of tunnels deep below ground deviate over 200km in length and are simply fascinating, they really make you understand and respect the pride of the people who used them to escape and fight US troops. Some lived in these tunnels for 20 years and used them for everything from fighting to cooking. Deep in the winding holes not bigger than a metre high US 'Tunnel Rats' fought the VC soldiers and fell victim to their ingenuity, the tunnels were riddled with booby traps, some of which we were given demonstrations of. The tunnels have been widened to allow tourists in, but they still give a brilliant idea of how life must have been living down there for so many years. The tunnel we went in ran 100 metres and had an escape shaft every 10 metres, my knees were killing me after the first 10 so I got out.

We were also shown a hidden tunnel entrance called a spider-hole, I knew this situation would arise and had been well prepared, I ate nothing but noodle soup for three days previous and luckily escaped the embarrassment of getting stuck. It was incredibly claustrophobic down there though. The tunnel entrances escaped US attention for weeks at the beginning of the war and it's not hard to see why, the VC were incredibly clever and had to be as their fire-power was dwarfed by the strength of the US. After this we saw the examples of the booby traps and boy were they gruesome, usually involving the american being impaled on a bamboo spear. There was the chance of firing an AK47 but the bullets were about a pound each (as much as I love shooting tin cans, this isn't worth it).

On our second day we took ourselves round a few of the sights. Firstly, The Reunification Palace, where the first communist tanks crashed through the gates in 1975, the day Saigon surrendered. We saw the ex-presidents office (he apparently liked stuffed wild cats) and his underground bunker. On the roof there are two red circles marked where bombs fell during the war.

Then onto the War Remnants Museum which is quite a harrowing experience. It has depictions of the atrocities carried out by US troops and the effects they had upon the vietnamese people. I couldn't bear to look at many of the pictures showing torn corpses and severed heads, I did take a couple of photos of the less disturbing images. Perhaps even worse than these were the pictures of kids that had been born with defects as a result of the US use of chemicals and defoliants. It's not hard to see why the war was so unpopular in America, the museum almost acts as an Anti-American exhibition (although Vietnam no longer bears a grudge). The museum also has real bombs, guns and mines to look at. Outside there are helicopters, planes and tanks.
Finally, we went and had lunch at Pho 2000, and sat in a restaurant where then president Bill Clinton once stopped by in and enjoyed a bowl of Pho (how cool is that?).
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