I had heard mixed reviews about Ho Chi Minh City (previously Saigon, which is preferred by the Southern Vietnamese). I know you shouldn’t make pre-assumptions, but hearing it was busier than Ha Noi, I thought I wouldn’t like it. I was obviously wrong (maybe for the first time ever 😉).
My first impression was positive – although it was indeed very busy, it took the commotion in it’s stride better than Ha Noi. We had arrived in the late afternoon, so did a bit of exploring (and of course eating) before going to bed.
Tuesday 14th March
After travelling through Vietnam by bus, which is a life endangering adventure in itself, Vinny and I decided we’d had enough. So the evening of the 14th March, we treated ourselves to a plane ride to our next stop Phu Quoc.
Because of this, we wanted to make the most of our day in Saigon so booked a tour to the Cu Chi tunnels, just outside of the city then to the War Museum in the centre.
It was our tour guide who really made the experience that extra special. He was not only part of the Southern army (fighting for the Americas), which balanced out the bias against the US, but also spoke in cockney slang from meeting an older English couple a few years ago. Some of which, he ended up teaching me.
Not in an arrogant way, but more naive, I didn’t know the full story behind the Vietnam (or America) war. For example, I wasn’t aware that the US administered chemical weapon Agent Orange across Vietnam, eastern Laos and parts of Cambodia for eight years. I learnt more about this at our first stop, an art workshop which offered work to victims. Sadly there were people of all ages working, as fourth generations of Vietnamese and US people are still being affected by this awful substance.
An hour later we arrived at the Cu Chi tunnels. To give you some background information, this forested area was the base for political organisation Viet Cong, who were the southern army fighting against the US. They built a network of tunnels and holes underground as hiding and attacking spots during combat against the Americans.
We spent quite a bit of time exploring the forest, looking at the traps the Viet Cong used (which made me go cold) and Vinny even tried his hand at shooting an AK47. We were also given the opportunity to crawl through one of the tunnels. They were made bigger for tourists, but I still decided to pass due to my concussion and a little thing called claustrophobia. Reflecting on my time at the Cu Chi tunnels, I was actually disappointed. Not because of the place itself, but because of how touristy it was. It felt like an attraction park, which knowing about all the terrible things that happened there, seems wrong. I’m obviously very happy I saw the tunnels and learnt more about the history, but if I had my time again, I’d do it differently.
The War Remnants Museum in Saigon was the polar opposite to the tunnels. It was composed of rooms filled with photographs explaining various parts of the history, the war and the aftermath from the Northern perspective. I couldn’t believe that 3 million people died in the 19 years of war, with some still dying today because of Agent Orange.
I found the whole experience extremely hard and honestly I was on the brink of tears in every room. I can’t begin to explain how graphic and sad the photographs were. I think nowadays we have become so desensitised to war, which I believe TV and film is partly to blame for. But fully understanding the history and looking at the images alongside this left me feeling sick for hours afterwards.
It took some time for Vinny and I to get our heads straight again following the museum. But after a ride to the airport and a 40 minute flight (instead of eight hour bus ride), we arrived at Phu Quoc.
Wednesday 15th March
Phu Quoc is a Vietnamese island off the coast of Cambodia and in the Gulf of Thailand. Vinny and I decided to visit due to positive reviews, but also for a few days of much needed rest.
We achieved this after a 40 minute scooter ride to a beautiful spot called Sao Beach. Not much to report this day, other than we swam in the bath water sea and bumped into a Canadian couple we had met on a bus ride. I think the images say it all…
Thursday 16th March
Again, not too much to report on the Thursday either. Vinny and I headed to the beach near our hostel, relaxed, ate and watched the sunset. Very very sadly it was our final day together, as the following day I’d be leaving Vietnam behind and heading to Cambodia. But it was a perfect last day (and supper) with my new friend who I know I’ll be seeing again in London 👌. So that’s my Vietnam adventure. I feel like it has been an emotional rollercoaster from start to finish. Honestly, I’m unsure how to summarise it other than that. But even with the many a hiccups, I still loved exploring this vast and varied country.
Now onto Cambodia…
Jessica Storm ✌️