So who won the war??

Trip Start Feb 06, 2005
Trip End Jul 2005

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Wednesday, March 2, 2005

The contrast of Vietnam to Cambodia is huge: the streets are cleaner, the buildings are newer, tourism is organised to the nth degree and the traffic is even more insane than Cambodia, which I thought was impossible.
Red light? What red light? The Vietnamese seem to regard road rules as mere road suggestions. Intensified by the sheer number of people and the speed with which they race around on their 100cc bikes, traffic in Saigon is the greatest rollercoaster in the world- and it's free!! Good thing they wear helmets (construction helmets, old war helmets, but never bike helmets). Despite this nod to road safety, we saw our first fatal accident in the fist hour on the way to Saigon from the border.
Our experiments with cyclo (a three wheeled bicycle which specialises in face-to-face encounters with oncoming traffic) and moto taxis didn't increase our confidence... if the traffic stopped, they'd jump the curb and race through the pedestrians without slowing down. Only fair that the traffic uses the footpaths when pedestrians happily meander through the traffic, seemingly oblivious of their impending doom.
The profusion of coca-cola and and mobile phone stores makes the socialist experiment seem to be somewhat redundant. A Vietnam-war era American general would probably be very happy if he saw the state of Vietnam today, and quite shocked if he found out that the north Vietnamese won!
We met some alcoholic Canadians- Jen, Charlotte and Jake- en route, who were taking full decadent capitalist advantage of Vietnam's newfound bourgeousie, and spent the rest of our time in Saigon exploring the bars and noodle houses with them. The noodles are cheap but good, and the bars all have free peanuts. No matter how bad the service is, free peanuts win a lot of brownie points. Not that it matters if you're an alcoholic in Indochina... remember, it's only a problem if you can't afford it, and rice wine is cheap, cheap, cheap! It also smells like nail polish remover, but what the hey, the brain cells you lose are probably balanced by the diseases and bacteria killed in your gut.
We did the cheesy touristy thing around Saigon. Unless you've got a lot of time and patience in Vietnam, it's almost impossible to see anything without being part of a packaged tour.
Our first touristy bit was the renamed War Remnants museum, AKA The American and Chinese War Atricities Museum. Nuff said. Cool bombs and planes outside though.
Our next stop was historic Cu Chi, the delightful centrepiece of which is claustrophobic tunnels that the VietCong played hide and seek in during the war. The Americans got bored of playing seek and so bombed the crap out of it, then took their bat and ball and went home when they didn't win. The most interesting part is the video shown beforehand. It sounds as though the writers really believed the propaganda they were espousing, but the bored way in which the state-approved guide switched it off three quarters of the way through was pretty funny. There were lots of guns around, which was cool, and a shooting range (a tidy U$1 a bullet for an automatic machine gun). The way in which lots of the adult male tourists touched the guns (which were chained down, thank God) was disturbing. Yes Jake, i'm talking about you.
Our last day was our Mekong Delta experience. This felt like we were on a factory line belt- get on bus here, change to boat there, "you take photo of this now please", change to another boat. We saw and tried all sorts of quaint local crafts and were urged to spend our cash. We also discovered that the Vietnamese are alcoholics. Not only do they consume vast quantities of rice wine (shudder) but they are quite happy about doing so at 9am.
We have, unfortunately realised that we have run out of time, so we will have to catch a 30 hour train straight to Hanoi, thus missing most of Vietnam. So to any of our Vietnamese readers who were eagerly waiting to read our crackingly good review of their town, sorry, but your bribes have to be bigger next time if you want us to visit.
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