February 16, 2017


Vietnam was on both of our travel bucket lists.  And after this visit, it's on the list of places we'd like to return.

We arrived the day after Tet (had to pay extra for visa madness due to the gov't being shut down...)

Typically, we had to remove some of our planned travel due to delays and unexpected longer stays along the way, so we were unable to go to the north of Vietnam (Hanoi, Halong Bay, Danang, Hoi An -- all supposedly wonderful and definitely still on the list).

Instead we flew from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon/HCMC) and spent several days enjoying the sights of HCMC.

We made the obligatory visit to the War Remnants Museum and it was very depressing, but educational. 

War Remnants Museum.

The pictures were so horrific on their own, it just seemed to me that there was absolutely no need to try to say anything with words.  Every single one of the images taken from the battlefields just screamed about the wrongness of war.  And I can't find words to describe the images of Agent Orange victims and phosphorous bomb victims.  It is so sad to see what people can do to one another.

However, the curators of this museum have gone out of their way to present a very one-sided account of the war (its original name was the "Museum of U.S. and Puppet War Crimes"). No doubt some of the issues were due to translation errors, but a few of the text explanations were almost funny with how hard they were twisting language to try to portray the ugly issue of how humans behave in war as having only been perpetrated by the US, French, their international supporting forces (Australia, Thailand, Chinese) and their "puppet" army.

One of the largest exhibits (and the most even-handed in its language) was gifted to the museum from the State of Kentucky and it contains photos taken by 60 photo-journalists from several countries, all of whom died in the war -- it was a silent day of walking through exhibits and facing ugly truths.

Saigon River banks close to HCMC.

One day we took a speedboat up the Saigon river to visit the Cu Chi tunnels.  Our guide was fiercely proud of how strong the Vietnamese were in their resistance to foreign powers, all the while admitting that he had an uncle who fought for the south and moved to California after the war to escape the persecution he was facing. 

Planes coming in to SGN over the Saigon River.

This Vietnamese pride in their strength was most on display when we visited friends in Long Hai.  The father and son of the Vietnamese side of the family went out of their way to educate us on the history of Vietnam's impressive historical military performance (their version: after millennia of occupation and invasion by the Chinese, they are one of the only regions who has successfully exited the middle kingdom, plus they are the only country to have caused the US to declare defeat in war, *and* they are one of the only places to defeat both the French and the Japanese, etc. etc.)  Their obvious national pride (even though the majority reside in France) vs. our indifference to their negative statements about the US involvement in Vietnam seemed to confuse them.  The idea that we could be American, but not support or feel vested in something that our government had done (before we could vote) was definitely a cultural difference that they seemed amazed by.

The Cuchi Tourist Tunnel (extra-big to fit the tourists)

In other news, we just loved Vietnam.  The seafood was amazing, and the value was unparalleled.  We had several of the best meals we'd enjoyed in Asia thus far, including some of the best if not the best soft shell crabs we've ever had, on the seafront in a gorgeous restaurant in Vung Tau.  One day, we went to a locals restaurant in Long Hai (recommended by one of the workers at our hotel) and treated our friends and their daughter to the most amazing multi-course meal (easily 5+ family style dishes including an eel hotpot) plus drinks for $40 US.  All of the food that meal was amazing, but the baby squid fried in fish sauce was so delicious that E insisted that we bike back the next day in the heat to get it again before getting on our bus to the airport.

View of the sea off Vung Tau at the amazing seafood restaurant.

And then, we did one last night in HCMC at an airport hotel (again enjoying delicious Vietnamese style seafood for dinner), and the next day, we headed back to the airport in the early AM to go to Hong Kong for a very tight layover, and then finally Japan.


Cat said...

I never fail to marvel at man's inhumanity to man. Museums like that - and the Holocaust Museum and concentration camps - need to be seen, need to be visited and talked about but they make for grim days.

Biting Tongue said...

@Cat -- wholeheartedly agree. Hiroshima Peace Memorial & Khmer Rouge Security Prison S-21 are both on the list as well.