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Thoughts of the End of Vietnam



Absence makes the heart grow fonder, admit it.

If I am honest, it is only in the last week or so that I am able to claim a lack of internet as the main cause for not writing this blog (I am currently sat in the Cambodian coastal town of Kampot, the ex-French-colony, but have spent the last 3 days upon an almost abandoned desert island with power only from 6pm until midnight); such was the nature of our final two weeks in Vietnam, and entry into Cambodia, that finding new and creative ways of avoiding the rain became a priority over appeasing you, my dear readership.  Despite what you may have heard from those who know me best, my absence has also not been a result of Arsenal’s loss to Tottenham on the night of my last post, though I do feel obliged to point out the stunning crock-of-shite-never-ever-surprises-me refereeing decision involved in not awarding Van der Vaart’s blatent handball for his goal.

Anyway, Vietnam..

The night bus down to Nha Trang was the usual hair-raising, nose-twitching affair, some Italian Job-esque coastal roads put some chills down the spine, but thankfully passed without any major incidents.  Our 0430 arrival time in Nha Trang did not afford us the luxury of disembarking untouted, and we were eventually coaxed into a room at the Mai Huy hotel, a pleasingly clean and friendly $13 a night affair.  As a regular reader may now be expecting, the night of our arrival was marred by rain, and the streets were 2′ underwater by 9pm; fortunately the weather brightened up over the next few days.  We were committed to spending around a week in Nha Trang as a friend,who works at Saigon Saigon bar in Ho Chi Minh City, would be joining us for a small holiday of his own.  The first few days in town were spent exploring the (limited) cultural bits around, the best example of which is a 17 metre high Buddha set upon the tallest hill of the city; unfortunately, Nha Trang has fallen victim to the Costa Del Sol syndrome, and the area is so aimed at tourists that any residual charm is hugely diminished.  Upon Lawrence’s arrival, a bit of boozing, boogying, and bathing was indulged upon, and we capped off the week with a trip to Vinpearl Island, a Vietnamese version of the Disneyland-style theme parks (except in this case, 8 pounds gave full access to a theme park, water park, fantastic aquarium, Trocadero-proportion arcade, and two beaches, all included).  It is unfortunately also worth mentioning the Nha Trang National Oceanographic museum for a number of reasons; purporting to be a conservation-based museum of ocean life, we were shown one tank the size of a small domestic swimming pool, less than 2 meters deep (at it’s deepest – the tank itself sloped upwards over a 15m length, until completely shallow), with 14 sea turtles of different breeds and sizes (the largest at around 5′ in length) in.  Alongside this, there were dead fish in some tanks, fish swimming upside down, and a general lack of care for the animals present in all cases.  If, by happy chance, you are ever in Nha Trang, please don’t go!  In all honesty, Nha Trang was a somewhat underwhelming experience; a city that prides itself on it’s beaches and boozing showed itself to have little depth beyond such pleasures.  Though the beach was sandy (and kitesurfing friends or Brighton-dwellers will appreciate such a luxury), and the booze was moderately cheap, constant interaction with rude Russian, Australian, British, and American tourists has hardened the local people to a point where getting the feel of the town was nigh on impossible.

Onwards.

We skipped through Dalat on grounds of the monsoon weather it was being treated to, and moved swiftly on to Ho Chi Minh City (which I shall in future refer to by it’s older name of Saigon).

Altogether a different beast to the capital city Hanoi, the influence of American occupation is obvious throughout Saigon.  Wide roads, and a more organised structure seem to suggest that Uncle Sam had something of a say in how the city was organised.  Undoubtedly the highlight of the city was our visit to the War Remnants museum (previously called the ‘American and French War Crimes Museum’).  Within this building lies the most complete photographic display of the Vietnam war, and the effects of the infamous ‘Agent Orange’, that I have ever seen or heard of.  Set over three floors, the Vietnamese have set an eloquent and disturbing case out for the indictment of the USA in committing war crimes through their use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.  Ostensibly used as a defoliant during the war, Agent Orange had unresearched and unannounced effects upon those who ingested it (an unavoidable problem for those Vietnamese peasants who worked downstream of such missions), and the effects of the chemical ranged from extreme physical disability (there are those who are still born today lacking limbs due to parental exposure to AO), to simply denying the immune system it’s usual chances in fighting disease and infection.  It seems wholly unsurprising, yet completely appalling that the USA, (to my knowledge, and I stand to be corrected on this) and it’s leaders of the time were never made accountable for their actions.  One will also be interested to see whether any sort of Iraqi or Afghanistani equivalent pops up over the next decade or so, though one would obviously hope not.

Other attractions around the city included a zoo (complete with a limping tiger within a 12 foot long enclosure) and numerous bars, including the famous Saigon Saigon bar staffed by Lawrence. Our final tourist action in Vietnam was to visit the Cu Chi tunnels of the Vietcong, and then on further to see the primate temple of the Cao Dai religion (the Cao Dai religion holds up many great ‘prophets’ in it’s ranks, ranging from Vietnamese philosophers, to Victor Hugo, and William Shakespeare.  Naturally I questioned the legitimacy of a religion based on such an odd background, but I was assured that it was all written in a book once, and is thus completely kosher, obviously).

Cu Chi’s networks of tunnels survived until the end of the Vietnam war, despite being only 40km northwest of Saigon, and subject to frequent attacks by US and South Vietnamese troops. With the tunnels often only measuring a meter wide and tall, the North Vietnamese Army were able to move swiftly (a tiny Asian frame was demonstrated to be far superior to my bulky Western version during our visit) to and from ambush sights at night, whilst maintaining the illusion of normal farming habits during the day.

In summary, though Ho Chi Minh was undoubtedly a refreshing taste of western life, it lacked the intensity, noise, and subsequent charm of Hanoi.  Though both are worth a visit, it is the capital which takes our vote as the favourite.

Next post will be soon, and about early experiences in Cambodia, a country which both Hannah and myself are enjoying hugely.

A bientot..

Woody



The BEST holidays

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