We awoke to take another long bus ride to Ho Chi Minh City, the capital and the largest city of Vietnam. Formerly called Saigon, the city’s new name stands as a tribute to the man with the communist plan, Ho Chi Minh. He led the fight for Vietnamese independence and the country will not let you forget it. His picture is on all of the money, and in front of city hall in Ho Chi Minh City, there is a statue of him helping children. It’s horribly obvious propaganda, but it was not the end of it.
We arrived in the city after a brief ferry ride (where a Vietnamese homeless woman kissed my elbow for good luck without any warning!) and a breezy 6 hour bus ride. We spent the afternoon walking around the city, eating Pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup, and drinking coffee. It certainly is a busy city and again, the communism is palpable. There are traffic guards everywhere, everyone wears helmets (because it’s the law) and you can even spot some policemen with assault rifles.
The next morning we had a day of experiencing the Vietnam War from the Vietnamese point of view. Before things get political here, I’ll just say that I don’t claim to be an expert on the war or the reasons for it, but being here in Vietnam you can tell that you don’t get all of the information.
Our morning started with a tour of the Cuchi Tunnels. The locals dug out these tunnels when the American troops invaded. They hid here and would booby-trap the tunnels to defend themselves from the invaders. Our tour started with an informational video that looked like was made in the ‘70s. This lovely film started out by setting up a beautiful idyllic image of the Vietnamese countryside. Suddenly, “the American devils” senselessly invaded and decimated everything in sight without regard to the locals, brutalizing everyone with Agent Orange toxins. I felt uncomfortable as the American in the room, truly personally attacked.
The rest of the exploration of the tunnels was far less political. We saw how they dug the tunnels, how they ventilated the tunnels, the entries, the exits, and most cleverly, the traps. We even got to walk through the tunnels for about 40m. The tunnels have been widened for tourists, but I still had to go through in a low squat, shoulders touching the walls. To imagine living in total darkness in the muggy underground all day every day during a war is too difficult to conceive. It is certainly true that life there was not easy.
We then made our way to the War Remnants Museum. Propaganda – wash, rinse, repeat. The tiny museum is mostly pictures divided into poignant collections. The bottom floor is all of the actual propaganda posters and pictures of riots against America from around the world. The other floors included an Agent Orange victims room, an American War Atrocities Room, and the War Aftermath room. Just pictures, all Anti-American. Very weird.
This night was the first of our three overnight trains. We had 10 hours on the train to Nha Trang and we were all dreading the experience. After hearing dozens of horror stories about cockroaches and people gassing the rooms, we boarded the train to discover that conditions were beautiful. The beds were plush, well lit, and there are even electrical outlets! Tori and I were on the top bunks and I slept the night away peacefully as we sped off to the beach town of Nha Trang.