Jungle Beach, Vietnam to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam
02.09.2010 - 04.09.2010 0 °C
The definition for a scooter is a mode of transport carrying 1 to 2 people with limited storage under the seat for purchases but we believe that the Vietnamese have confused the definition with that of a car which can hold up to 5 people and has a boot for large objects. We now know why no one else is allowed to drive in Vietnam from other countries and why Calypso wouldn’t have been allowed in – we would be in an accident. They are crazy drivers not caring which side of the road they are on, cutting across oncoming traffic, squeezing through any gap possible and simple taking up the whole road. We thought Hue had a lot of scooters but it’s nothing compared to Ho Chi Minh City.
We wanted to understand the Vietnam War a little better so we headed out to the Cu Chi Tunnels, by-passing the Cao Dai Great Temple for a day. Cao Dai is a religion established in 1926 that is based on Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism and grew rapidly in the 1930’s due to its emphasis on simplicity, appealing to disaffected peasants. The temple itself was built in 1933 and has been described as a Walt Disney fantasia of the east, dragons and snakes in technicolour which does make sense. Inside the temple are numerous pink pillars entwined by green dragons and the ceiling is covered in silver stars. We stayed to watch the noon prayer session which was very different than anything we have seen whereby they enter the temple, sit down in identical rows and pray while singing.
We made our way onto the Cu Chi Tunnels which is a winding maze of tunnels, totalling 250km’s used by the Vietnamese to hide from the American’s during the war. The tunnels at stages were 10 meters deep with 3 different levels and had rooms for storage, kitchens, weapons factories and command centres. This allowed the Vietnamese to control the area and make surprise attacks as they could disappear suddenly into hidden trapdoors. Due to the large number of American casualties, the Americans resorted to massive firepower, turning Cu Chi into the most bombed, shelled, gassed, defoliated and generally devastated area in the history of warfare.
The tunnels have been doubled in size to fit westerns climbing through, but at one point we both struggled and the only way to get through was to sit on your bum and shuffle yourself forward. The rest of the tunnel you needed to walk hunched over so we can’t imagine what it was like half the size but then the Vietnamese people are very small and skinny.
Our drive back to the city gave us plenty of time to scooter watch and it was amazing to see what people carried on their scooters or how many they tried to fit on. Plasma screen TV’s, dead chickens, pigs, pipes and a spiral staircase.
We spent the next day exploring the War Remnants Museum which details some of the devastation that was caused by the American’s during the war, the weapons used and the photograph’s taken by photographers at the time. Stories of how the Vietnamese people survived and tortured were listed all around and how towns and cities ended up after the bombing ceased. During the Vietnamese War that lasted 17 years and 2 months, 3 million Vietnamese people were killed; 2 million injured and 300,000 people went missing. 14 million tonnes of bombs and artillery shells were dropped by the Americans, costing them $676 billion.
After a depressing morning we strolled around the city exploring various other buildings, markets and back alley streets before heading back to the hotel, packing Neill’s bag’s and setting him off in a cab to the airport. His off to Australia to validate his migration visa so let’s hope there are no problems and all is good when he returns in 5 days.
Our time in Vietnam has been short and we’ll definitely come back to explore further north but tomorrow we are off to a new country, Cambodia where we are back to normal currency as they use the US$ and we can finally get rid of these 100,000 and 500,000 notes.