Another quick flight and airport pickup. We are staying at Madame Cuc 127, which is not as impressive as our other recent boutique hotels, Janet wanted to go cheaper and as always we relied on our trusty Lonely Planet for good cheap places, this time they were wrong! Janet then wanted to move. (editors note, the place was a dump see photo of tub!) No way; we can stay for 2 nights.
Some writers say Saigon is “…great”. We are not as enthralled. Saigon is massive; far bigger than Hanoi, but also grittier. We did not like the look of the street where the Hotel is located.
The next evening we found that the Restaurant Row was ½ block away at the 1st left. The city is more flashy in the evening dark.
We decided to take a full day out that was divided into separate a parts. First a half day city tour. We start at the “War Remembrance Museum” This was a three story building filled with unabashed propaganda. The Americans were described as the “Henchmen” of the puppet government in the South. The Americans had supplied the French post WW II, and then had stepped in for a more direct role as advisers and then as direct combatants. There is no discussion of the communist threat from the North, after all, here the Viet Cong are considered Freedom Fighters. This museum is filled with War Photography from some of the most renowned war photographers of the era. A special photographic exhibition assembled in the US was donated to the museum, given as an offer of “…reconciliation and understanding.”
The Photos were captivating, poignant, often brutal, but not gory, as if you are viewing the scene a moment before the anticipated act of finality. The Vietnamese and French also provided photographs. The outside court yard displays actual US planes , tanks , helicopters and other military hardware. As Americans, we are optimistic and like winners. This museum was hard to take. We wondered what the younger European visitors thought. We felt sad.
We next stopped at a Chinese Assembly Hall, much larger and more ornate than the ones we saw in Hoi An City, but the same concept with the same Patron of the Sailors. But this day was really about the way Ho Chi Minh’s government reports on the War.
The second part of the tour starts with a 3 hour bus ride to the area known as “CU CHI ”. This is a very difficult journey for us. Cu Chi is the large forested district surrounded by rice patty
where the Vietcong tremendously expanded a preexisting complex of underground caves and tunnels near the American military lines. A launching point for Vietcong sneak attacks and a sanctuary upon return, the US bombed and attacked this area many times. The results were mixed.
Strategically, the rice patty were often purposely flooded to detain the GIs. The areas around the cave openings where bobbie-trapped with snares, spike pits, and triggered devises. These devises of mayhem are displayed at this exhibit. Our guide demonstrates the trigger action.
We are invited to enter the real tunnels used by the Vietnamese (not the sanitized replicas created for Chinese tourists). One tunnel is lighted for visitors. The tunnel is 3 to 4 feet in diameter. You must bend over and crouch to get through. The walls turn sharply to block the view and compartmentalize the spaces. The exit points are small and camouflaged. The air vents are hidden, for example, in large jungle termite hills arising from the ground. The complex has 3 levels in order to resist bombing. The young Europeans took advantage of this strange opportunity, but seemed appropriately somber. There was 150 feet of tunnel open to the public, with exits every 30 feet.
Visitors can, if they wish to pay, fire live ammo from AK 47 rifles and other ordinance. Visitors can also climb into a burned and stripped tank that was disabled by a land mine and trapped in the mud. A few Europeans in the group experienced the shooting range.
Our guide entertained the group by discussing the history of the war and this area. He was matter of fact about the French and then American interventions. He prefixed his talk by asking, “…do you want the truth or the government position?” We didn't know what to expect. We are sure the speech was not comprehensive, but he did advise that after the French were expelled, South Vietnam was impatient for government reforms from Ho Chi Minh which did not come quickly and the South turned toward other leaders. This angered Ho Chi Minh, and his northern forces invaded the the south around1959 and then 1961, and were repelled. Then again in 1962, the northern forces of Ho Chi Minh attacked and continue to escalate the war contributing to the Americans deeper involvement. Where he may have got off track was stating the original Cu Chi tunnels were occupied by farmers trying to hide from the war, but American attacks caused resentment to grow and the Viet Cong to be welcomed.
In any event, we think the observations and emotions we experienced today were important and allowed us to reflect on those chilling times in America’s past.
The day finished well. We returned from the excursion and had dinner with our new friends trying different Viet dishes. They were really charming. No surprise, another nice couple from Australia; these guys where from Melbourne, where most of are other friends live more north around Sydney.
Tomorrow we bus to another unique foreign country---Cambodia.