We finally made it to HCMC and with two days to spare before Andrews flight out. Having not spent too much time in Hanoi, Vietnams second largest city, we really wanted to explore as much as possible. The first day was spent exploring the famous markets, eating more Pho than should be legal, and exploring the many many Buddhist temples in the older parts of the city.
If I were to live in Vietnam I think it would have to be in HCMC. Hanoi and HCMC are extremely different. While Hanoi hardly had a building over five stories, HCMC’s sky line looked much like many mid sized Western city. On the ground level though everything was entirely different. Again we were faced with incessant beeping, revving, and abuse from the local scooter drivers. I think eventually I could get used to it but after being spoiled for so long on the beaches of Nah Trang and Mui Ne it came as more than a bit of a shock, again.
The temples were amazing and quite a lot of exercise to get from one to another in the heat of the day. Luckily we had lots of sun block and cheap local beer to help us along. Sometimes we even found draft local brew for as little a 4,000 dong ($0.20) a glass! Most of the time it was closer to 10,000 dong.
The War Museum of American Atrocities was horrific and made me feel even less proud to be an American than at any other point in my life. The museum had some rather controversial subject matter that at times even I had a hard time swallowing. One such item I remember was a story about a young woman who was given a metal for destroying an American helicopter with a homemade bazooka. However, the hundreds of pictures of Agent Orange victims, their children, and their children’s children who are still suffering, would be quite difficult to discount. Some of the displays included deformed human fetuses, which I will spare you from seeing and I thought wholly inappropriate for photography.
Its also worth pointing out that this is essentially the second such museum that I had visited during my travels in Asia. The equivalent museum in Hiroshima had an entirely different feel. While the Japanese museum expressed regret, shame, and embarrassment for what happened to them, the Vietnamese museum gave the impression of anger, injustice, and vilification. Is it possible at all that history really is written by the victors of war?
Up next were the famous Cu Chi Tunnels. These are some of the few well preserved tunnels left from the Vietnamese war and a key factor in the Vietcong’s eventual victory against the US and its allies. Not many pictures because they were literally just tiny holes in the ground. The tunnels we went through were made slightly larger and concreted to make it easier for tourists. However, being such a claustrophobic mess I had to embarassingly back out of the tunnel after a few feet in. In my defense, the tunnels were, hot, completely without light, and I was being pushed from behind by other more eager tourists into the back of an over weight Australian woman. After the entire tour group of about thirty people finally made it through the one hundred or so yards of hands and knees crawling space a young couple, who had also wussed out, and I went through without the crowd and were much more relaxed. Other than the tunnels the place had a bunch on old military tanks, machine guns and the like. There was even a firing range where you could shoot an AK-47, sniper rifle, or any other Vietnam War era weapon of your choice. Andrew and I both opted out because each bullet went for about $1 and had a minimum purchase of 20 bullets. No thanks, I would rather buy drinks, eat good food, or upgrade my hotel for a few nights.
On our last day we visited the old presidential palace. A very interesting place but not much to see other than really expensive looking interior decorating from the 1970’s and some pictures of the former South Vietnamese President fleeing in a helicopter as the Vietcong crashed through the front gates with a battalion on tanks.
Early the next morning it was time for Andrew to finally return home to San Diego. It had been a great trip and its was amazing to see the guy again after over a year of living in Korea. While I was very sad to see him go a part of me was also quite excited to be set loose all alone in SE Asia. I have never considered myself much of a loner though I admit I do like to read and watch a lot of movies. However, when I am by myself I just seem entirely more social and outgoing. Maybe its out of necessity but I really like traveling alone for some reason. Too much time spent on the bike perhaps? In either case its going to be quite a long time before I see one of my best friends in this world again so we big fair-well in earnest with Andrew getting into a taxi bound for the airport and me hopping an autobike for the bus station to the southern delta region of Vietnam. Whatever happens from this point on will be interesting and with out my, admittedly, more leveled headed travel companion who knows what shenanigans lie ahead of me?