After a slight detour off-track, we finally landed in Vietnam, with a couple weeks to explore the country. Our first stop was Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon. One of the things we did to prep for our trip was to get pre-approved visas for as many countries as possible. Vietnam was one of those countries, especially after speaking with friends who said doing the visa on arrival in Vietnam was slightly difficult. Apparently it made no difference to the Border Patrol. We were herded to an area along with all other visitors, where they barked two words at us: “papers” and “move”. The application required us to not only provide our own personal information, but information on our family members, where they all lived, and our religious affiliation. Then we were told to relinquish our passports with these forms to them and wait. And wait. And wait. After about an hour they called our names and made us pay for our visas again. So we double-paid for our visas. Welcome to communist Vietnam!
One of the great things about this trip is that for many of the cities we visited, someone knew someone who had been there and were able to provide us with lots of valuable information. This was one of those cities. We booked ourselves an incredible apartment for our stay that was nicer than our places back home! Not only that, but we had a list of restaurants and food to eat that could have kept us occupied for a couple weeks. So we had a great place to sleep and great food to eat. Our first night there we had a killer sushi dinner, and one of the other nights we had take away from an adorable little cafe. We wished we’d had more time there so we could continue working our way thru all the recommended food places.
For the first time, we felt an anti-American presence in our travels. During our stay we visited the Cu Chi tunnels and the War Remnants Museum. Both told the story of what it was like to be in Vietnam during the war and fight for your country. The tunnels are admittedly impressive: hundreds of miles of three-level deep tunnels where the North Vietnamese Army launched gorilla-warfare during the conflict. But the video at the end of the tour not only applauded the efforts of the people to be “War Hero American Killers” but also propagated the illusion that war was fun – soldiers and villagers hanging out playing cards, laughing, having fun and casually killing Americans in their spare time. We were not surprised that they spoke highly of killing the enemy (Americans) – after all, we do the same thing back in the States for our war heroes – but the accompanying propaganda we encountered was mind-blowing. One story extolling the Reunification of the Country was about authorities transferring thousands of children from small towns to go live in “communities where they are happy and play and are loved by all”. Wonder how their parents felt about that. And of course the glorification and glamorization of the war as if it was a fun thing to go do on a Saturday night.
The visit after the tunnels to the War Remnants museum was incredibly difficult. Throughout this trip we have not shied away from visits to historical sites of war and death – the Hiroshima war museum, the Killing Fields in Cambodia – but this was almost to the next level. You walk into the outer area of the museum and they have a half dozen American fighter planes on display that had been shot down or discarded. Then off to the side they have a jail cell set up that you can walk thru. There in graphic detail were descriptions of the types of torture the South Vietnamese (with the help of their American partners, of course) perpetrated on the North, as well as displays of items used to carry out the torture and photos of the people who were tortured. That was too much for us and we left without seeing the rest of the museum.
By chance, we happened to be there during their Memorial weekend and Reunification celebrations (aka: “winning the war against America”). Our first night there we walked around and watched all the celebrations, until we realized they were celebrating their version of winning the war, and that maybe being American made us a little conspicuous. Nothing happened, just a general sense of slight unease.
Of course, quietly interwoven throughout all this anti-American/Westernism were Starbucks, KFC and Adidas. Taken altogether Ho Chi Minh City appears to still be fighting the Americans (and French), albeit non-violently.
We might have stayed longer simply because we wanted to keep eating, but we had already booked our plane tickets to our next stop. So off we go to DaNang!!