29 October 2010


The word Vietnam conjures up one word in most people’s mind; War.  This is a country whose recent history is deeply entwined with it, but that is one that seems to be moving on from it.  The country was at war, one way or another, for 39 of the 49 years between 1940 and 1989 (never mind what went on beforehand in the French colonial period), and there is much that indicates their recent history, but also much that shows how resilient the place is in making a comeback from that turbulent past.

The journey into Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) seemed to take for ages, with streets packed with mopeds and motorbikes crawling along slowly, but constantly.  Fortunately for us, the bus stop happened to be about 3 minutes from our hostel.

Audrey had three days in the town, and I had five, again partially due to time lost in Thailand.  She needed to fly back to Hong Kong to pick up her new passport, and then onto Kathmandu, while I’d fly to Nepal’s capital via Bangkok and Delhi.

We took a day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels, which were about a two hour drive out of Saigon.  This tunnel system, which covered large parts of the country, and stretched to hundreds of kilometres was one of the reasons why the Vietcong could sustain such a long offensive again the Americans.   We were allowed to crawl through a small part of the tunnel system, the largest part, and it was damn difficult (the rest are too small for westerners).  It was less than 50 metres, and I was sweltered by the end of it.  Some Vietcong survived for years down there, only coming out at night to tend to their farms.

While there, the tour guide pointed out that the jungle all around the area was very young; all of it had been wiped out by the Americans use of agent orange.  Still, like the country, it was making a strong comeback.

Vietnam feels like China a number of years ago, and seems to be following the same path (including the obligatory one-party state and censorship; facebook is also blocked here).  It also feels like Cambodia, in the fact that everyone (of a certain age) has a story to tell about the country’s troublesome past.  We had two guides while at the tunnels, one had been on the side of the Vietcong, and one had been one the side of South Vietnam/America.  The later ended up in a ‘re-education’ camp for a number of years, and was told, when leaving, that his government assigned job would be a tour guide, and nothing else.

I dropped Audrey off at the airport for her flight back to HK, and returned a couple of days later to fly to Bangkok.


Unknown said...

Vietnam have got it spot on banning facebook. And we think some of these countires are backward. Cuts down on entirely unnecessary narcissism. Shame. Now, must go look at myself in the mirror brushing my teeth and do a bit of tweeting.