Saturday, February 06, 2010

Japin' round the world: One fatality en-route to Saigon? Does that constitute a good journey in Vietnam?

So I finally made it down to the Southern edge of Vietnam, to the surprisingly westernized Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City officially, although the locals don't seem to call it that). The journey to Saigon, from Hoi An, was a little marred by the fact that the bus driver managed to run someone over an hour into the journey. This was pretty unpleasant, the bus was traveling some speed when it hit the guy and, judging by the fact the bus rocked a bit after hitting him, I think he might have gone under the wheels also. I had a pretty good view of the aftermath from my window and it didn't look good. The worst thing was the way that the locals dealt with the victim, as instead of waiting for an ambulance, they picked him up themselves - without a stretcher or anything - and placed him in the back seat of a car. This was quite frustrating to see, having learned before that that the one thing you don't do to a person injured in a car accident is to move them.

After this and about 24 hours of sheer bus travel (including some truly shocking Vietnamese variety performances being obstinately played on the bus's video screen) I arrived in Saigon. Eventually I got set-up and went out to explore. There are a few things to see here, but in general the city makes me feel like being in Hong Kong again. Saigon is a world away from what it's like in Hanoi. It might have something to do with this being the economic hub of Vietnam, whilst the North is the seat of government. Still saying that Saigon is a crazy place. The roads are wider than Hanoi but that only means they cram more traffic onto it. To put it into numbers, there are 4 million bikes on the road here and that statistic is quite believable when you witness the roads here.

So what is there to see in Ho Chi Minh City? Well I took in a few interesting sights. One good thing to see is the Reunification Palace, which is where the President and Vice President of South Vietnam - prior to the reunion of South and North - lived and worked. For the most part this place looks very 60s in design. The interior gives that feel too. It's quite a lush palace all in all, and to be fair I wouldn't have minded being the South Vietnamese president if that had come as part of the package. What's a little strange are the tanks sitting outside the building, which are there to represent the fall of the Southern government.

Another sight worth seeing is the War Remnants Museum, which gives a look at some of the uglier sides of the war - and considering how ugly a war it was, (a sort of a Nick Griffin of a war if you will) it's pretty ugly. There are lots of pictures detailing the horrors of the American massacres of civilian villages, and also of the results of the napalming that went on. However, like in Hanoi, there is a definite feeling that the story is very one-sided. Obviously what the American's did was criminal and they shouldn't have even been in Vietnam, but it was akin to propaganda. The fact there was a hall named "Historical Truths," which any History student will tell you is a bullshit statement, kind of sums up this matter for me.

I also took in the Chu Chi Tunnels whilst I was in Saigon. Now these were interesting, as they were used by the Viet Cong to hide from the Americans and ARVN (The Army of the Republic of Vietnam, the name of the South Vietnamese Army). These had been widened for westerners but were still tiny to fit into, and it's obviously hard to imagine living down there. They are almost like human sized rabbit holes , but imagine a rabbit hole being inhabited by militant rabbits who build their own weapons - like some kind of evil Duracell bunny - and you kind of have it. Whilst I was here I also took the chance to fire an AK47. It may seem like an obvious thing to say but machine guns are bloody loud and this wasn't helped by the flimsy ear-protection offered by the shooting range. They were literally an old pair of Sony Headphones. Still it was a really cool experience and I had a few shots on the automatic setting also, which was awesome!

Still, I had now done Vietnam for long enough and it was time to head to pastures new. So now I have hopped across the border to Cambodia, where I shall remain for the next week or so. Still Vietnam left me with a good impression. I'd heard conflicting reviews about the place but on the whole I enjoyed my time there. It was as cheap as was promised, has some great sights to see, and is generally pretty safe for travellers, as long as you don't do anything stupid of course.

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