I cannot be in Vietnam without thinking of the Vietnam War, which was such a big part of my teen and college years. It is called the American War here. The people here are very friendly and you would think we had not been at war with them for 25 years, pretty much destroyed their country and left a whole lot of orphans, as well as unintended offspring of American soldiers.
I visited the War museum, which is slanted to their take on it, of course. There are pictures of people protesting the war all over the world. I knew we were protesting in the US, but it did not really sink in at the time how unpopular the war was in other countries. The exhibit on war photography featured pictures by western news media and I had seen many of them before, but it doesn't lessen their impact. It also noted that 73 Western photographers died in the war. There was writing on the wall with quotes from various people, such as General Curtis LeMay's "Bomb 'em back to the Stone Age" and President Eisenhower's statement that the tin and tungsten in Vietnam was needed for security reasons (like oil in Iraq?). They also had the part of the Geneva Accords (1954) up that stated that no foreign powers would intervene or establish a base in Vietnam.
On another floor was an exhibit about Agent Orange with pictures of the damage it caused, as well as of many children born subsequently, in Vietnam and the US, with horrible birth defects. This actually made me feel worse than the museum in Hiroshima, because I felt some personal guilt that I didn't feel about the bombing in WWII, probably because I wasn't alive then. Did the Germans feel this way when they learned the full extent of the Holocaust? Why do things like this keep happening?
At the end I saw a video made during the war of villagers trying to cope. It was definitely propaganda, but broke my heart seeing the children going to school in trenches. They had to carry a homemade first aid kit and made straw hats to protect themselves from bomb blasts. No wonder those kids became soldiers and sympathizers when they got older. Their country was under siege, whether they lived in the North or the South.
The next day I visited the Cu Chi tunnels, about an hour and a half out of town in a rural area. The tunnels are famous for hiding thousands of Viet Cong during the wars against both the French and the Americans. They extend 200 kms and go between the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the Saigon River. There are three floors, a cooking room, areas for munitions storage and manufacturing, a school, a hospital, and a deep well (the above ground water was contaminated with Agent Orange). We saw examples of the hidden entrances, the pit traps for the enemy, and leafy trenches for above ground protection. The people were farmers by day and soldiers by night. They could launch attacks then seemingly disappear. They were tenacious and clever. A video showed teenage girls getting medals for killing multiple Americans.
|Model of tunnels|
|Hole too small for most Americans|
The tunnels are very small but some have been enlarged ("Burger King sized", according to our guide) for tourists. They also had an area where visitors could pay extra to shoot an AK47, and M16, or an M60. I have experience with the last two from my time in the Army, but some of the guys took advantage of the opportunity. Only one girl, though. Guns have always been a fascination for guys and I don't know why.
At the end of the tour we sat at outside tables and had a "soldier meal" of cooked cassava and a sugar/salt dipping mixture. After that we went back to Ho Chi Minh City and had lunch in a Vietnamese restaurant including tempura spinach, boiled spinach, rice paper wrapped vegetable rolls, chicken and onion, sticky rice with mung beans, and custard pudding. Not as good as the cooking school food, but still delicious.
|Rice at lunch came in a nice package|
|Finally, a pic with Desmond Tutu|
Vietnam SAS stats: Zero people drugged, 35 robbed, 18 credit cards stolen or lost, one passport lost (later found), 5 people hit by motorbikes (no serious injuries), two leg burns, many cases of traveler's diarrhea. Twenty nine cell phones were lost or stolen phones, 100% of which were I phones. These seem to be an incredible target. A lot of people get them whisked out of their hands by people on passing motorcycles while standing on a curb looking at their phones instead of their surroundings. Hopefully this statistic will decrease, especially as the passengers are running out of phones.