We are sitting in our room in Hoi An.. 1:30 am .. we stumbled in this place about an hour ago. It’s a large mansion transformed into a party hostel. We are in our large quarters on the fourth floor and the blaring music from the courtyard below is seeping through our French balcony doors. What a cool place .. unfortunately, we have arrived late to the party and we are still fighting off some serious jet lag. We will raid the bar fridge for this evening and try to get a leg up on our circadian rhythm.
We left Saigon in a huff ..
Our day started with a visit to the Cu Chi tunnels just outside of the city. A place where the farmers fought hard for Ho Chi Minh. Ho Chi Minh is the communist leader who liberated Vietnam from French colonization. He was based in the north of Vietnam and wanted to take control of the south as well. He obviously succeeded as the city of Saigon has been renamed after him and this country remains under quasi-communist rule.
So these farmers by day and guerrillas by night built a serious tunnel complex below the jungle floor to elude the Americans and “destroy their spirit”. These tunnels can be found under most of the country and many of them are connected to each other. We visited the ones near the village of Cu Chi. The tunnels are about 2-3 feet high and about 1 ½ feet wide. Doing the duck walk … doing squats .. we only went 40 meters but we are still feeling it in our loins. These tunnels are not for just anyone… twists and turns .. side paths .. chambers .. traps .. 3 levels deep. If the Americans dared follow the Vietnamese down these holes, they were surely done for. If you didn’t get lost, or go crazy from the heat and claustrophobic environment, then the scorpions and snakes would get you. The Viet Minh would farm by day gathering food for survival and then attack the Americans by night. These tunnels played a key role in their victories. In some parts of the country, these tunnels were home to many Vietnamese for more than 5 years .. living in the dark… avoiding the evil Americans. It blows my mind. We are simply visitors .. tourist .. and the heat, the insects and the jungle are enough to make our visit challenging. Throw in some tanks groaning around, some land mines, some deadly and brutal booby traps .. and those tunnels .. and I can’t imagine living through even an hour of this. The Viet Minh fought off the Americans this way for many years .. omfg.
The Cu Chi Tunnels were amazing .. a great day. I had the opportunity to shoot off 20 rounds from an AK-47 .. 10 rounds on semi-auto .. and then a spray of 10 on automatic. The rifle jammed 4 times during this .. which made a real impression on me. Being in a battle .. having your enemy in sight and then click .. nothing !! a quick crank to re engage the mechanism and hope you haven’t been bested .. The rifle kicks about ¾ of a 4-10 shotgun.. not too bad. I have a small bruise on my peck .. that’s old age for you..
After getting a full education on the tunnels, tactics and various booby traps, we made our way to the War Remnants Museum back in the heart of the city. This place had all sorts of American artillery, planes, tanks, uniforms, badges, equipment .. anything they collected from the battle field. In case readers aren’t aware of the Vietnam war, I should summarize it quickly: It’s basically a useless war in the 60s and 70s between the Americans, teamed up with the South Vietnamese government against the communist North Vietnamese. The Americans had no business in this war .. their official reason was to stop the domino effect of countries turning to communism. If they could stop Vietnam from becoming communist, then it would deter neighbouring countries from the same. I personally don’t believe it’s the U.S.’s job to control what types of government other countries want to adopt. The U.S. contributed over 549,000 soldiers and 14,000,00 tonnes of bombs and artillery… $676 billion into this campaign. 58,000 American soldiers died and 304,000 were injured. As Ho stated to the French during that war, “you can kill 10 of my men for every 1 kill of yours, but even at those odds , you will lose and I will win”, this also applied to the Americans. The Americans killed so many Vietnamese but still ended up giving up and completely retreating from the situation with nothing but losses to show for it. Ho Chi Minh may have won the war but damage over time is still eating away at Vietnam. Yesterday morning, I saw a man carrying a child down the street and the kid’s head was the size of my torso, a la “agent orange” .. The Vietnamese are still suffering from this war which has been over for over 40 years. It is my opinion that those responsible for this mess should be here right now cleaning up .. helping with the ever present health issues ( to put it lightly) .. disabling the tonnes of unexploded landmines that still litter the country side. Recently in 2011, a Vietnamese farmer was killed from one of these..
This museum may have been one sided .. but … good! Along with all the equipment on display, there were hundreds of award winning photographs from the war .. we were almost in tears looking at the lot of em .. gruesome, horrific scenes .. of brutality, torture, and cruelty. I always understood that the Vietnam war was bad, but I seriously had no clue … it was a complete shit show.
Here is a link to some photographs of what agent orange does .. WARNING ** these photos are not for the faint-hearted..
So this was our day .. and we had a flight that night to leave Ho Chi Minh city because the train we wanted to take was completely booked. So doing stuff during the day and leaving the same night.. what to do with your precious bags ? Well, you either trust someone to watch them for you or you pay the hotel an extra night .. so the bags could sit in the hotel all day and you would have a sanctuary to have a nap and a shower before the flight if need be … and we did. I was polite and told the hotel staff that we would be leaving around 5:00 pm… But, our flight was booked later than anticipated and we were now leaving at 9:00pm. No worries, we paid the room for the night .. full price. We were sleeping nicely by 4:30pm .. finally ! Catching up on the jet lag .. curing our ailment .. our nemesis since Tuesday .. and then a blaring RING RING at 5:00pm. I pick up the phone in a daze and I am being yelled at by some 17 year old girl to leave the room or pay extra. Extra ?? She’s threatening me and yelling at me on the phone. We paid full price for the whole night !!!! This is our room till tomorrow. Well, apparently, due to the fact I mentioned we would leave at 5:00pm I was now bound to that ..and she was pissed ! We got up, grabbed our belongings and went downstairs. I tried reasoning with her that this was a wrong call on her part .. that we had the right to the room till tomorrow .. but she wouldn’t hear of it.. she wanted us out now or wanted more money. She’s loud .. She’s rude .. She’s like 12, now that I can see her.. She must be running the hotel while her mom is out .. She is embarrassing us. We paid the extra moneys AND we left .. with our heads low exiting the building… We left in a huff .. what just happened ? You know the feeling after being woken from a deep sleep.. everything is amplified … ugh
That was our last day in Ho Chi Minh ..
The first day we arrived early in the morning and scoped out this glorious hotel. At the time we were pretty proud of ourselves, walking around with our new and improved 50 liter backpacks.. able to roam and check various options without becoming exhausted within the first 10 minutes. You see, in all my (our) past trips we traveled heavy ..my pack I bought 14 years ago to go to China is 85 liters and Sylvie’s is 75 liters … we would pack the kitchen sink along with a full wardrobe and various footwear .. with a backpack like this, in 40 Celsius weather, we were lucky to walk 20-25 minutes before “giving up” at which ever hotel we happen to end up at. This caused us to stay at many dives .. This year, we upgraded to super lightweight Deuter backpacks. We brought minimal clothing and only flip flops and sandals.. we cut out the long sleeve shirt and pants from the equation.. and any nick nak we used to bring and never used we said to ourselves “if we need it, we will buy it” .. I bought some cool nail clippers yesterday for 50 cents 🙂
So we decided, based on merit, to stay at the Thai Nhi hotel.. a deliberate play on words? .. I am not sure. We checked in and immediately set out on a walk of the city we had planned weeks before.. hitting a bunch of sights, markets, museums.. It was early in the day and we were so happy to have the entire day to knock this off our list. About an hour later and maybe 3 stops into our walk, we both felt like the walking dead. Extreme fatigue condemning our planned day .. the 40 hours in planes and airports was reminding us that we forgot to recuperate. We could no longer .. it was around 1:00 pm when we hit our bed in the hotel.. we woke up 30 seconds later at 10:30 pm .. gah !!! day 1 gone … There was only one thing left to do .. hit the streets for some food and drink. We made the best of it and had a great night among hundreds of travelers partying Saigon style.
On our second day we planned to complete our walk.. But once again our bodies resisted. We woke up at 2:30 in the afternoon. Gah !!! day 2 almost gone ! This turned out to be a blessing as our walk was much easier with less heat.. and by the end, the sun had set and we were seeing a night time version of things. We ended our walk at Shri.. an upscale lounge on the 23rd floor of the Sentex tower in downtown Ho Chi Minh. We could never have afforded such a place in Canada.
The food here is amazing .. if you pick the right place. It can be down right lousy .. and yes we picked a couple bad meals already. But the good ones have made it all worth while. A cooking course is on the horizon. Noodles, with beef or chicken tossed with fresh veg and fish sauce with chillies .. omg. Breakfast is noodle soup once again like in Thailand.. mmm.. Beer on average cost $1.00.
The traffic here wins top award so far. Cambodia was pretty crazy but this tops it. 80% of vehicles are scooters .. and they completely dominate the roads, sidewalks, alleyways, markets .. they move together with such fluidity. It’s amazing to watch.. and it doesn’t take long to learn how to join them. We are crossing the road like champs now .. you just watch carefully, move slowly and they will adjust around you. Crossing a 4 lane city street will have around 50-100 scooters and motorbikes pass around you.. We learned that the average Vietnamese citizen earns $1000 US per year .. and that you can buy a Chinese scooter for around $250 and it will last you 2-3 years. However, if you save your money and invest in a Japanese scooter at $1000, it will last you 20 years. Same vehicular brand story we hear in every country we visit.. We live in a nation that is in denial of this well known knowledge.. We love having a close relationship with our mechanic I guess. Well, some of us anyhow 😉
Police ? We are on day 6 as I type this …we have not seen a single police officer ! Not one ! I’m not worried about this .. it’s pretty cool seeing a society of adults behaving without cops on every block watching… seeing traffic happen without oversight .. Are there police here ? I don’t know ..and honestly, I don’t care .. We did see a military punk at the airport though.. some kid .. maybe 20 years old in his green army outfit. He had no luggage .. and no boarding pass. He budded in front of Sylvie and I in the line to board the plane .. I made a comment to Sylvie in French and he must have deciphered the tone in my voice .. he proceeded to bud in further up in line instead. Those people turned around and made faces and whispered among themselves. On the plane, he sat in the very first row .. the very first seat. This jet was horrible !! it was 2 hours late to allow us to board .. once on the plane, it sat and lingered for another hour .. when it finally started to taxi, it went at a snails pace .. ridiculous slow .. (not like the American Airlines pilots I have grown to love) .. slow and painful ..stopping seemingly at random spots of the airfield. My view on this was a rookie pilot was being trained.. must have been. We taxied for about 20 minutes and of course I am going crazy inside trying to maintain a neutral facial expression as we were the only non Asians on the plane. Then the plane stopped and sat .. somewhere in the airfield .. 5 minutes went by .. and the military punk jumps out of his seat and races to the back of the plane, clearly annoyed. Yay, this guy isn’t so bad after all ! Everyone in the plane turned and watched him race to the crew at the back .. he meant business. He was speaking with them for a less than a minute when all of a sudden, the pilot punched it. Floored in our seats accelerating for take off and military punk is scrambling back to his seat, pulling himself forward with the chair-backs .. clearly struggling but not wanting to lose face .. hilarious.
Ho Chi Minh was quite the experience. I will end this note to say that a quick check on TripAdvisor for the Thai Nhi Hotel reveals the satisfying truth of our hotel .. same complaints we had of rude and shouting staff .. bad review after bad review. Phew, wasn’t just Don being … Don *wink