Memories of travels through Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam from September-December 2011.
Before jumping into more depressing things, here’s some humor to lighten the mood. We had to climb about 170 stairs to the 12th floor of our hotel room, but they had this high-tech lift for our backpacks. And since the humidity and sweat from the climb upstairs work up a sweat, they even have real showers here!
Now back to business. From Phenom Phen, we went to Siagon, or Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). Our arrival was stressful because it was nighttime and a metered cab tried to charge us 75 USD for a ride that lasted all of ten minutes.
In actuality, the hotel was close, a five minute walk around the corner at most, but he drove in circles until the meter read 1,500,000 dong. I was prepared and managed to pay only a fraction of the price, but it was tricky. The driver refused to open the trunk for our bags, so I flipped the seat and pulled them from the side door before he could stop me. Casey managed to provide some distraction by knocking on the car and continuing to ask him to open the trunk. He also tried to grab my arm as we walked away, but I wasn’t too concerned and we invited him to follow us in and have a talk with the hotel manager if he thought his asking price was honest. He would have better luck conning people if he asked for 30 dollars, but of you ask for more than million of anything, most people will hesitate and crunch some numbers before paying.
After that incident, being in Vietnam got easier. Siagon is a huge city and the traffic is insane.
I learned that I can handle big city life because the seven million motorbikes didn’t phase me too much. Against all intuition, you have to walk calmly and slowly while crossing streets so that the bikes can predict and dodge your movement. It’s hard to do because all you see are walls of them zooming towards you and your instinct is to run, of course. Also, during rush hour traffic on one way streets, the bikes just create an lane in the opposite direction my mowing over sidewalks, ignoring the fact that pedestrians sometimes use them. It’s not a city for the weak at heart or for people who are easily stressed.
War Remnants Memorial Museum
I really enjoyed the War Remnants Memorial Museum and the Cu Chi Tunnels, but we must have missed something when we visited the Reunification Museum because all the tour books talk it up when in reality it was painfully dull. Regarding the war museum, it was fascinating to see war recorded from the other side. It’s worth mentioning that this museum was originally called The House for Displaying War Crimes of American Imperialism and the Puppet Government (of South Vietnam). It was then changed to the Museum of American War Crimes, then War Crimes Museum, and finally War Remnants Museum. Those titles are enough to communicate the sentiments of the Vietnamese regarding Americans.
Going there, I knew what to expect and even still the hundreds of photos showing protestors around the world urging the United States to leave Vietnam provoked some weird feelings. There were preserved fetuses with deformations from Agent Orange and babies are still born damaged from chemical warfare that they had no part in. It’s upsetting that the U.S. dumped chemicals in Vietnam and while our veterans receive some benefits upon returning home (not enough, but some), Vietnamese people are left uncompensated for the suffering they continue to endure as a result of wartime activities. The top floor of the museum was dedicated to photographers and that was also interesting. Having so many friends in the photojournalism field, it was strange to imagine them in the position of the war photographers of Vietnam. Unfortunately, pictures of pictures aren’t that interesting, so I won’t post them.
Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi Tunnels were really impressive. They are a complicated and extensive network of tunnels that span long distances deep below the ground. The Viet Cong soldiers used them to maintain their position in southern Vietnam when the Americans arrived. American troops built a base right on top of the tunnels and even after discovering their existence, were unable to overcome the communist resistance. The tunnels were three levels deep and included dugout rooms that served different purposes and allowed the community to live underground for extended periods of time.
The area was also ridden with traps typically used for animals and then modified for American soldiers. Everything was well thought-out and intricate so as to cause pain and suffering. We got to crawl through a modified tunnel and hide in one of the secret traps.
I really recommend doing more reading on this site, it was fascinating. Also, it was crazy to see because tunnel networks are not only a thing of the past. They are being used today in the Gaza strip and the innovation and plans that go into a seemingly simple concept are truly remarkable.