After what felt like a two and a half month hiatus from travelling new and unknown places, we are back on the road for the last leg of our year and a bit long adventure.
The journey from Brisbane to Ho Chi Minh City was a long one and upon arrival (around noon) on Valentines Day both Bret and I were not sure we were ready for the craziness that is SE Asia. The first afternoon was completely uneventful, however after an awesome bowl of Pho and a 12 hour sleep we were more than ready to get amongst it. Knowing this is our second to last stop before we return to the States, we felt completely re-energised to be travelling again.
Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as it is still widely known as, is a bustling and vibrant city, perched on the banks of the Saigon River. With its fine dining restaurants, big name hotels, and many bars, it has a distinct western feel to it.
On our first day in HCMC we decided to visit the War Remnants Museum. Only knowing a little about the Vietnam War, I had high expectations to learn more about the history of the war. How it transpired and transformed the country over the ten-year period, the local perspective, and the resolution between north and south to give us the Vietnam we know today.The museum is three stories high and mostly photography with small captions describing the image. A series of halls house the various photography exhibits, showing the atrocities of the war with graphic images of torture, Agent Orange victims, and a collection of war photographs taken by photojournalists who lost their lives during the war. It also showed the various weapons used throughout the ten-year ordeal. The museum did a good job invoking sympathetic emotions for the atrocities that were a result of this conflict but really missed a great opportunity to educate visitors. It didn’t seem to have any direction behind the layout. What seemed to us the obvious chronological ordering of events was ignored, as the curator choose to organize the museum based on American wrong doings instead. There is little to no mention of the Viet Cong or the NVA, their role in the conflict, political ideology, or reason for fighting. It simply highlighted the number of deaths committed by the US, the number of bombs dropped by the US, and showed a onslought of mostly civilian casualty images. Even in the small section that highlighted the period during French rule (prior to the war) was focused on the amount of money and bullets the Americans gave the French, rather than the reason the French invaded or negative acts committed by the French. I understand the country was torn apart by this invasion and it is their story of the war (which they are more than entitled to). But I was hoping to understand more about the Vietnam perspective during the war rather than just being shown the American wrong doings.
We also visited the Reunification Palace. A colonial mansion built in 1871 as the home of the governor-general of Indochina. It was pulled down in 1962, then reconstructed in 1966 as the home and office of the president. On April 30 1975, the palace was stormed by North Vietnamese tanks in what was the defining moment of the fall of Saigon. (Sound like I got this information from the back of a brochure? Because I did!) We found ourselves wandering the halls aimlessly trying to care but not really sure what the attraction was.
The majority of our time in HCMC was spent wandering the relatively wide, clean streets of the city, visiting the river banks, the financial district, the up market area near the Rex Hotel, which was used as a base for the US media during the war and the “backpacker” area where we stayed. All the while trying our best to get sick of the national soup, having multiple bowls of pho – some days eating it for breakfast, lunch and dinner!
Making our way North, up the coast of Vietnam, we stopped over in the beach town of Mui Ne. It’s basically a strip of hotels, resorts, restaurants and bars, specifically catering to Russian Tourists. We were surprised to see almost every sign and restaurant menu was in Vietnamese and Russian. If you were white and sat down at a restaurant, you were given a Russian menu. We had to repeatedly go back up to the waiter and ask for an English menu, which was often covered in dust due to its lack of use. We also found it amusing that there wasn’t a chopstick in sight. Apparently the Russians don’t like to eat with chopsticks?
The area also supposedly is home to some pretty awesome sand dunes, but Bret and I chose to do nothing but laze on the beach and by the pool for the two days we spent there. As we sat on the beach we marveled at the countless number of kite surfing victims. The area has hundreds of them dotting the first 40 meters of the wake and it seems the ‘anybody can do it’ advertising doesn’t mean you won’t get hurt while doing it.