Our memories take us back to the years when our young men were fighting in Vietnam and they got as far away from there as possible for R&R. How times have changed. We just returned after four really wonderful days exploring a section of South Vietnam. It was a wonderful respite from our day to day here in Cambodia.
We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Siagon) and apart from the very surley and disinterested immigration staff a the airport everything else was positive. When comparing Vietnam with Cambodia our immediate first impressions were that 1) it's clean, 2) there is much more order to traffic flow and to things generally, 3) it is economically far better off, 4) and it certainly looks like this Communist country is trying to look as Western as it can and 5) the food is definitely better!!!
The Vietnam flag and the Communist hammer and cycle flag fly side by side everywhere. To define Communism in Vietnam isn't easy. Capitalism is obviously in play here. Pagodas, churches and mosques are everywhere and there is clearly class distinction. We asked a lot of questions about it and probably the best answer we got is "Vietnam is Communist-light." The economy there definitely improved after the US embargo was lifted in 1995.
In many ways Ho Chi Minh City could be NYC except its cleaner. The city is divided into districts and of course they want the tourists to see District 1 which is truly upscale. We had hired a driver and guide so we made maximum use of our time. Our interests are to see all of life, not just the beautiful, so we toured several sections of the city and got a reasonably good sense of the divisions and differences.
French influence was shown in District 1 with the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral and the post office. Yes, the post office! If was designed by the same architect who did the Eiffel tower and its truly awesome. The shops in this area rival 5th Avenue. There must be a lot of people there with money.
The former presidential palace is now renamed Reunification Hall. It is so named because this is the place where the agreement was signed unifying North and South Vietnam. Folks, by comparison we don't house our President very well. The place is magnificent.
There are many reminders of what the Vietnamese call America's War of Agression. The Museum of War Remnants provides a partial but riveting perspective of that war. MacNamara was so right when he said, "We were wrong, terribly wrong." We can talk more about this when we get home.
We have been to markets here in Cambodia and in other parts of Asia but the Chinese market in Ho Chi Minh City takes the cake. There were hundreds of small businesses crushed against each other and they all seem to be selling the same thing. The aisle space was no more than 3 feet-- and HOT!!!!! There is lierally no space for the shop owner to stand so it's not uncommon to see them sitting on their merchandise. Everything is within arm's reach.
After the city we went to the Mekong Delta which is an entirely differnet scene. Agriculture is the dominant source of income. Modern farming practices are employed and three crops are harvested each year (as compared tot he one crop in Cambodia.) This is the dry season but everything is beautifuly green. Terraine is flat and we're told that during the rainey season everything floods. They are very concerned about global warming and rising of the sea levels because that means their crops can't survive the salty water. At the same time their factories contribute tot he problem.
The Mekong river is one of the longest in the world so of course we had to experience it. Our small row boat took us into canals which were really communities. From the main river we visited a brick factory where they're still making bricks by hand. Folks work here for $5 a day stoking the fires and doing very hard work. Across the street from the factory was a huge market selling all kinds of meat as well as produce. There wasa huge tub of skinned RATS!!! Our guide said the meat is very soft and delicious. Dogs and cats are also a part of what's available. I'll pass.
That evening we enjoyed some local color at an open air concert along the river.
The picture on our blog was taken on top of a boat on the floating market. We pulled along side of the boat selling pineapples, climbed onto that boat and the "lady of the boat" hosted us to a real treat. There's a lot of bartering that goes on among these boat marketers. There are probably 100 boats out there, all of them trying to eak out a living.
Al will continue and tell you about the Cu Chi tunnels.
We started out at 6:45 AM for the famous Cu Chi tunnels. They are an incredible maze of underground passages, chambers, rooms, kitchens, even a hospital, and booby traps everywhere used by the Viet Cong and assisted by the villagers living in the jungle. 1,200 Viet Cong fought off over 12,000 soldiers.
There were three levels underground with ingenious eating, fighting and escape tactics. They used the tremendous number of unexploded bombs that we dropped on them to make hundreds of grenades and land mines camoflauged throughout the jungle.
There were tunnels everywhere. Joyce and I almost had to crawl through these dark tunnels on our hands and knees. These tunnels were so small, our solders with any size would not fit. In each tunnel there were various kinds of booby traps that maimed many of our soldiers.
These people were protecting their homes and way of life. They used boys and girls, women and the elderly to protect their homes. I couldn't help but think we would have done the same thing to protect our country and our homes. We should have never entered that war. This along with our Mekong Delta experience had a major impact on our understanding of this part of the world and of the war.
Never forget: War is the ultimate evil. It always starts with a lie.