My week in Vietnam (should have been 11 days!)
The Vietnamese use a type of money called dong. It trades at 21,000 dong to the US $.
I see 2 reasons for this horrific exchange rate:
Laos: next trip
memo to self #1
Always check WELL BEFORE APPROACHING THE AIRLINE CHECK-IN COUNTER to ascertain:
Do Canadians need a visa to visit Vietnam PRIOR to boarding airplane?
If the answer is "YES" (it is that answer, by the way) it becomes very pricey to have to:
New friends at Don Muang airport (Bangkok) made while taking sustenance during the Visa application hiatus.
Not much excitement waiting for the visa.
ho chi minh city... affectionately remembered as SAIGON
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a look at the city
Saigon is HOT.
Saigon is a zoo! Hundreds of thousands (millions, actually) of scooters and motor bikes... constant horn honking.
And OMG, crossing a street is traumatizing.
What a FRENETIC city.
Christmas shopping was a big-time advertising focus. Apparently there are about 30% christian citizens.
- Close eyes and step off curb... or just step off curb.
- Amble across street with occasional pauses for big vehicles.
- Scooters will evade you (mostly)
- It takes some guts, but Vietnamese drivers look out for each other and pedestrians.
- Trusting this national characteristic is the big issue for foreigners.
american war memorials
Cambodia pissed around at invading in the late 1970s, but they got thrashed. The Vietnamese quickly marched on Phnom Penh and threw out Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.
Beware fucking around in a war with a proud nation when your reasons are specious, self-serving, and eventually unsustainable in your own country... let alone the rest of the world.
The Vietnamese are now free of foreign occupation, excepting tourists.
However, the Vietnamese DO remember. Especially, the barbarous war methods of the US are remembered, immortalized as nauseating memories in museums where tourists are paraded through.
As usual, blue underlined text takes you to more info.
Man was made to mourn:
by Robbie Burns
Many and sharp the num'rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And man, whose heav'n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn, -
Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!
I was unable to complete my visit to this museum.
I didn't think I'd be affected by the displays, but they eventually made me physically ill. The pictures are just too much for this old man.
Present at the museum were severely disfigured adults and children, the result of the use of Agent Orange... 3 generations along. Rumour has it that the same 3d generation trauma can be found in American vets' descendents.
My pictures, obviously, are not of the more horrific displays within the museum.
The ao dai, the national costume was described to me, in 2006, as "Covers everything, hides nothing!".
two interesting books
Denise Chong is a Canadian author and she tells a sad tale about war, politics, and final peace. Chong makes no apologies about the horror of war and the horror of what happened to S. Vietnam after the Americans were driven out. Kim now lives in Toronto.
the girl in the picture
On June 8, 1972, nine-year-old Kim Phuc, severely burned by napalm, ran from her blazing village in South Vietnam and into the eye of history. Her photograph-one of the most unforgettable images of the twentieth century-was seen around the world and helped turn public opinion against the Vietnam War.
This book is the story of how that photograph came to be-and the story of what happened to that girl after the camera shutter closed. Award-winning biographer Denise Chong's portrait of Kim Phuc-who eventually defected to Canada and is now a UNESCO spokesperson-is a rare look at the Vietnam War from the Vietnamese point-of-view and one of the only books to describe everyday life in the wake of this war and to probe its lingering effects on all its participants.
a people's history of the vietnam war
The war in Indochina as seen through the eyes of those fighting on both sides.In an exciting new installment of The New Press's People's History Series, Jonathan Neale gives us an incisive account of the war America lost, from the perspective of those who opposed it on both sides of the battlefront as well as on the home front.
The protagonists in Neale's history of the "American War" (as the Vietnamese refer to it) are common people struggling to shape the outcome of events unfolding on an international stage—American foot soldiers who increasingly oppose American military policy on the ground in Vietnam, local Vietnamese activists and guerrillas fighting to build a just society, and the American civilians who mobilized to bring the war to a halt.
This is a fascinating reframe of the American War from a "class struggle" perspective, and in spite of some editorial deficiencies, well worth the read.
Neale talks about the Vietnamese peasant struggle with the South and North, plus the struggle of American GIs , and ordinary citizens with their leaders. He suggests that part of the American Government motivation to fight was to bust the American Unions, by accusing leaders of being communists.
This is absolutely the most poorly edited book I've ever read. In EACH paragraph there would be 1 (at least) word that made no sense, and I'd have to ponder what the hell was meant. I suppose I paid more attention that way.
Two other places we visited
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This was built c. 1876 with ALL the building materials shipped from Marseilles.
Kind of boring compared to a Buddhist temple.
The non-cathedral shot is the post office, constructed the same era, once again with all materials shipped from France.
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Also known as the Independence Palace.
This was the government "house" for the South Vietnamese.
"Opulent" comes to mind...
Well worth a visit if you're ever here.
I've included a link to several hundreds of tunnel pictures, plus some photos taken by a friend.
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First Class Sleeper Train from Saigon to Hanoi
The train was OK, albeit shabby, poorly cleaned, and with a disgusting toilet.
Well maybe it wasn't OK.
The sheets on the bunk were clean... I was glad of that!
Every 6 hours a porter would go through the train cars with a hot meal of rice and chicken, or rice and pork, or noodles and chicken, or noodles and pork. It was hot and tasty and cheap.
The visual highlight, outside of a myriad of rice paddies, was the trip from sea level over a mountain pass and back down to sea level. The curves were so tight on this section that I could hear the squeal of the steel wheel flanges grinding on the tracks. Any smaller radius and the train would have jumped the tracks. The speed was dead slow, the mountain scenery with the sea below was spectacular, and the trip scary. I kept wondering if the track designer had correctly calculated those radii on the curves.
We arrived at Hanoi at 0600 hours on the second day of the journey... slightly more than 30 hours on the train.
a few days in hanoi... DAMNABLY COLD DAYS!
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A look at the city
Mostly... without comment.
I spent a few days as a sicky (NOT a sicko as so many of my faithful readers have suggested). I thought it was food poisoning, but it was likely the start of a major infection.
The vietnam Highlight: 1 day trip to halong bay
WHICH IS WHICH?
How does one tell the difference betwixt a stalagmite and a stalactite? Here is an easy way to remember:
As the mites go up,
The tites come down.
Halong Bay is a World Heritage site. I was here 7 year ago, and it was pretty laid back, reasonably primitive and a lot less busy.
The islands comprising Halong Bay are well worth seeing.
Heavenly Grotto cave (discovered in the late 1990s... I think!) is quite spectacular, with a multitude of stalactites and stalagmites.
Like ALL visits I've made to "natural" wonders in SE Asia, the steps leading to it are of an uneven rise.
My knees get severely hammered by these climbs.
the major reason i shall NOT return to vietnam
The trip from Hanoi to Halong Bay and back, via a small bus, scared me terribly. The huge trucks, the multitude of buses, cars, motorbikes... all overtaking without regard to road surface, amount of traffic, or oncoming vehicles... frightened me something fierce.
The ONLY time in my life I can ever remember when I felt I'd likely die.