07.05.2008 - 08.05.2008 -17 °C
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Following our bus ride from Hades (i.e. Siem Reap to PP), we were determined to enjoy our ride from PP to HCMC. With this in mind, we booked our tickets in advance, requested the front row and hoped for the best. 7 am came and we were picked up for the bus, driven less than a block and told to wait. A major irritant I have with this area is that they pick you up and force you to sit and wait for at least an hour every time you catch any sort of public transport. Also, generally no one speaks any English so it is hard to know which bus you should actually be getting on! After waiting for 15 minutes or so with no idea of what to do (people kept looking at us and saying 'wait here'), we talked to the guy with the megaphone (megaphone = importance, he must be in charge of something right?) and he said to wait here (shocking) and that the bus would be the next one. After waiting another 20 minutes, another bus pulled out, Mr. Megaphone waved at us and we got on the bus, in hopes we would arrive in HCMC later that day. Conclusion, I've said it a thousand times, but being patient, looking confused and asking loads of questions will get you far. I for one am shocked I have not gotten on the wrong bus by mistake through my different travels. I think my only saving grace is the fact that I ask so many people questions that I eventually get turned back around into the right direction.
Finally on our bus, our ride turned out to be fabulous. There were only 6 people on our bus, which was a bit ridiculous, especially when we took a ferry across a river, parked right next to another bus going to HCMC that was also quite empty. You think they could have coordinated and put us all on one bus... It would definitely save a lot of gasoline that is for sure, but who cares about conservation. The rest of the ride however went over without much of a hitch, with good seats, good music volume, and slightly cold... but much better than any other ride we have had. Ironically, with nearly the entire bus open, Brooke and I stayed in the front seats. We could have each had 4 seats, but whatever. All the books had warned of corrupt Vietnamese officials scamming money at the border crossing, and after the fiasco in Cambodia, we were prepared for the worst. In actuality however, it turned out to be fine, easy actually, well all except the part when the bus almost left me at the border of Vietnam when the guard could not find my entry stamp. I walked out of the building just as the bus was pulling away. Flashbacks of Florence ensued; this time however, Brooke was able to convince the driver to stop. (You would think he would have noticed though; there were only 6 of us on the bus in the first place! Again, whatever.)
Safely on the bus, we arrived in HCMC around 3 pm, got a hostel (after bargaining, and climbing many sets of stairs to see different rooms), and set off to see the War Remnants museum and Reunification palace. Because we didn't have much time, we opted to just look at the Reunification palace and not go through it. Before the war, it was the seat of the South Vietnamese govt, and it was here that the North Vietnamese tank broke through the gate, taking Saigon and officially ending the war. After looking at the tank for a bit through the gate (fixed to my dismay... it would have been way cooler if it was still broken... not practical mind you, but cooler) we went to the War Remnants museum.
The War Remnants museum was very interesting as it was information on the Vietnam War from the perspective of the North Vietnamese. It was very different to how I had learned about the war, as the 'enemy' talked about in the displays, was actually America. One of the areas of the museum was completely dedicated to the atrocities of war, focusing heavily on Agent Orange and napalm. The thing that was the most horrible about these was the lasting effects they had on the people of Vietnam. Birth defects, disfiguring burns, the signs from these weapons are everywhere. I would like to hope the USA did not understand the lasting effects these weapons would have... I hope. One thing I learned from the museum was that, of the 3 mil casualties from the war, 2 mil were civilians... I don't know, devastation of war is awful to say the least.
After the museum, we walked by HCMC's version of Notre Dame Cathedral, apparently a smaller version of the original? I wouldn't know as I've never been. We also walked by the Opera House, which, just as in America, is surrounded by all of the uppity shops like LV, Burberry and other ridiculously priced labels. Dinner was a fabulous experience, as HCMC has many veg restaurants. Zen, was just that: delicious veg food with no more mystery meat.
Our posh veg place, so fancy, but still cheap.
The next morning, after booking air tickets to Laos and making our tour bus wait for us, we went to Cu Chi tunnels. As is standard with nearly all set tours, we had a stop over at a handicapped artisan factory, where again, the driver almost left some people... A simple act of counting how many passengers are in the van before you speed off would save a lot of heartaches.
The Cu Chi tunnels were an extensive system built 3 levels deep, very tiny and dirty and showed how the Vietcong got around and lived underground in Cu Chi near Saigon. The tour guide for the other group was really good and I think he may have fought in the war, as he was very knowledgeable and anti-American (not in a mean way, but you could definitely tell his side).
The tour guide explained that the Vietcong men women and children all fought against Americans, setting traps, shooting from fox holes underground etc. The most interesting thing was that they used anything we left behind to fight us: tires for shoes, old bombs to make new ones and land mines, any can (tuna, soda etc) they could find they converted into land mines etc. Children and people to old or young to fight would help by laboring in the fields to get food to feed the soldiers. There was definitely a community wide effort in this area to rid out the Americans.
Notice I am getting out of the hole by myself. The tour guide definitely doubted my strength and abilities to do so... I am so buff though and easily got out of the hole.
At the end of the tour, we were to walk/crawl through about 40 m of tunnels. The first section of the tunnels was greatly enlarged for tourists, while the latter half not as much. 2 large American men could only fit through the first section, and for some parts of the later sections I had to crawl it was so narrow. For the tourists, they had installed lights in parts of the tunnels, but in some parts there were no lights and it was SO dark. It would have been so scary during war going through these tunnels, especially since the VC planted traps within the tunnels ("welcome to Vietnam" as the tour guide laughed), and since it is pitch black (you cannot even see your hand in front of your face) it would have been near impossible to be able to miss the traps.
After the tunnels, we tasted tapioca root, a staple for VC troops during the war... It actually wasn't that bad, bland, but ok. But then again, I like some pretty weird things, I am sure it got old day after day though.
Another thing they had us try was Rice Whiskey with snakes and other vile creatures in it. I passed, but others in the group tried it... mostly I thought it just looked really disgusting.
After our tour, we returned to the city, did some shopping in the crazy busy market, picked up some snacks for the bus, ate dinner at another (more classy) veg place, got our plane tickets to Laos and got on the sleeper bus. Next up, Nha Trang...