Thursday, 4 December 2014

Ho Chi Minh City better known as Saigon

A dress Jackie tried on but didn't buy - only $20 (£13)!

The coach journey was fine, a sleeper bus in the daytime is quite comfortable, though the tyres still left a little to be desired apparently! Arrived in an absolute downpour, so the taximan was chancing his arm with how much to charge us, I said don’t be ridiculous and knocked a third off the price which he jumped at (knew it was still too much), however in the to-ing and fro-ing of price and bags in and out, a second ‘helpful’ man brought the boot down on B’s head, so although it’s not a serious cut, it was his head and it was very wet, so blood everywhere for a short while!

Reunification Palace, formerly Independence Palace and was the home of South Vietnam's government up to 30th April 1975. It was built between 1962 and 1966 on the site of the former French Colonial Govenors Palace after it was destroyed by South Vietnams Air Force who tried to kill the corrupt Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem. He survived, but was assasinated before it was finished
The famous photo from 30th April 1975 as North Vietnamese smash through the gates of the palace to topple the government of the south and reunify the country
Jackie looks at the gates from the roof of the palace. Imagine the scene in 1975
Anyway arrived at our very posh hotel, it’s a proper one this, not quite as good a bargain as we first thought, as the original booking turned out to be for just one person! It is our most expensive to date, and it is a small room, though it does have a window, but it’s lovely, and the breakfast makes up for anything – eggs to order anyway you want them, but we haven’t done as the buffet is 4 dishes – 
A US helicopter on the roof of the palace. The red circle is the spot where a North Vietnamese air force pilot dropped a bomb on 8th April 1975
Eerily the palace is just as it was in April 1975
rice or noodles, a little Asian dumpling or sticky rice concoction, boeuf bourguignon the first day and sweet and sour fish and today garlic vegetable and chicken stew! All slightly surreal, but filling, then there is the salad bar, the toast, the cereal, the fruit and the most beautiful little cakes which I think are meant to entice you to go to afternoon tea at the bakery. I wish I was better at eating first thing in the morning, but haven’t done too badly as no lunch required!

This was the conference room of the spacious and grand palace
The impressive Bitexo building. CD rack with a CD sticking out?
Having dripped all over our room we decided we may as well go out as it had eased off slightly and the easiest way to dry our clothes was to keep wearing them. So off we went to the Reunification Palace, not a palace as we know it but an art deco building lived in by the President until it was stormed in 1975 at the end of the war. It was interesting enough, seeing the helicopter on the landing pad and the bunker with all the radio equipment.

Apparently the most photographed building in Ho Chi Minh City with the unimpressive name of the Peoples Committee Building. It was built by the French and used to be the Hotel de Ville
Another impressive but of French architecture. This is the Opera House
The second day we had to sort out onward travel and a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels, we’ve ended up with two trips the second of which we are going to bail out of half way through, after a bus ride, a boat trip to a floating market, and lunch with music when it gets to the town where we have booked a homestay, we are going from our poshest hotel, to our most basic accommodation, not even any A/C which could be horrendous, we shall see!

This little plan of the centre shows wide boulevards and beautiful French colonial buildings of the old city, they did a great job. The red section is the first phase of an underground rail system under construction
The Continental Hotel that featured in the film 'The Quiet American'
Homework done we went to the War Remnants Museum to find it still closed for lunch, so we wandered around a bit being tempted by ‘happy hour’ at a climbing wall, and talking to some students collecting for charity in the park. We gave them 30p and were rewarded by a quick burst of What’s up by 4 non blonds which was amazing, this huge powerful voice coming from a tiny little Vietnamese girl. 

the Vietnamese girl sings for her 10,000vnd
The Notre Dame Church with bride and groom being photographed in front
Here's the back of the church and right next to us were several artists painting this image
Here's one effort that looks pretty good
And here's the artist
From the roof of this building US helicopters evacuated the last Americans out of Vietnam on 30th April 1975, captured in another historic photograph (and depicted in a final scene in Miss Saigon)
More French architecture, this one is the Post Office building
When we finally got in to the museum it was very good and just as harrowing as we’d expected, there was lots of information on how the Americans with S Vietnamese, Filipinos, Australian, New Zealanders and S Koreans tortured captives – lots of whipping and beating, knocking teeth out, nails hammered into various parts, water torture, pulling out finger and toe nails, all very barbaric. 
US aircraft at the War Remnants Museum
Two displays on the effects, still ongoing, of the blanket spraying of Agent Orange, containing large amounts of dioxin (and agents purple, red and green) Horrendous disfigurements and mental problems, all in a country that has no way to help these people. The US soldiers who were exposed have managed to sue the chemical companies for millions, but none of that money has made its way over here! 
US plane spraying Agent Orange in 1972
This, along with, some US war crimes information was all fairly one sided, as was to be expected, but there was also an interesting display that has travelled the world on the work of many war correspondents (most of whom seemed to die during the course of the war) which was a little more ‘level’. 

Outside the museum
I spent some time trying to find out what it was that seemed to cause the US GI’s to lose their grip on reality and commit the massacres and destruction of entire villages, but to no avail. It’s all very hard to get the head around! Lots of sombre looking people about the museum though. The American who was on our tour of the DMZ, who's father served in the Vietnam war indicated that they were never safe during all the time of their service there, day and night, any moment could be their last. The human mind can only take so much of that before it cracks.

There were many quotes like this one around the museum that you can't argue with. There were many statistics quoted such as: "After the War Vietnam has: 600,000 tons of bombs left behind, 6.6 million ha of land area contaminated with bombs and explosives, 9,284 communes polluted by bombs and explosives. People killed and wounded by bombs and explosives (1975-2002): 42,135 people killed, 62,143 people wounded". The photographs on display were 'no holds barred' and showed the full horrors of war. The rooms devoted to Agent Orange contamination were filled with horribly deformed people and hideously deformed babies from mutated DNA that could last 3 or 4 generations or maybe forever, no-one knows. It is a very powerful exhibition, everyone was silent and you could see shock on peoples faces
The fish was fabulous!
Today was a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels, a huge network, on three levels, of tunnels started in the late 40’s when the French were in power. The entrances to the tunnels are tiny holes virtually impossible to see, and the air vents are all dug into anthills, it’s all very clever. They were inhabited by the Viet Cong (Vietnamese Communists), the ‘Northerners’ despite being very close to Saigon in the middle of the South. The tunnels have been enlarged to allow Westerners to fit though, and although I managed to get through without knees touching the ground it was very hard work on the thighs and I’m only 5’4”. 
Plan of the Cu Chi tunnels with access direct to the Saigon River
There were only five of us (and three young lads) who actually went through all the available tunnels, 100m or so, and it was hot, dark and hard on the legs. They also now have electric light which they didn’t have then, just lanterns. Imagining living in the tunnels is impossible, but also imagining being a US soldier or ‘tunnel rat’ sent in to clear them is also impossible, there were an awful lot of defence mechanisms involving spikes, not to mention dropping into the dark unknown just waiting to be ambushed would be horrendous. The tour was a little like a sausage factory, but they have worked very hard to get a lot of people through with the least waiting.

our guide squeezing into a real tunnel entrance
And replacing the cover after him
Almost invisible
One of many booby traps. Real Indiana Jones stuff!
Crawling through the tunnels
We quite like Saigon, though the traffic is mental, we are on the 7th floor, looking out the back and I can hear the rush hour hooting from here. Out on the street it is just as mad – if the lights have changed to red so the traffic has stopped expect the motorbikes to come up onto the pavement so they can keep going! We went out for a walk after dinner last night (food here has been good, but expensive, and beer has been very expensive) through a park and came upon a big bandstand sort of area with a little speaker and people dancing, not quite ballroom as we know it, but partner dancing, wearing ‘proper’ shoes. 
One of the dance venues in the park
What they thought of our jive and waltz we’ll never know. Then realised there were another two ‘bandstands’ doing the same thing, the second one was very busy, so we gave that one a miss, but the third was quieter so we did a cha-cha and a rumba and were definitely the centre of attention and given a small round of applause (I’m sure they will never have seen at St Bernards Waltz that we did to one quick waltz rhythm)! Absolutely dripping by this point we retreated home to bed and the A/C via the ice-cream shop!
Me 'n 'er in the park

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