Vietnam Part 1 – Mekong Delta & Ho Chi Minh City

Day 247: November 14, 2018

We were up early to head east towards Vietnam. We left at 6:30 am and stopped for breakfast at 8:30 am. We continued driving for another 2.5 hours to the border. We went through Cambodian immigration then carried our bags across to the Vietnamese immigration. The heat was almost unbearable waiting for our passports to be stamped.

On the other side we boarded a new bus and enjoyed the A/C on a further hour drive to our lunch stop. Our drive then continued to our home stay in Can Tho along the Mekong Delta. We stayed in very basic rooms with mosquito nets over the beds.

Our room at the home stay near the Mekong Delta

We watched a demonstration on home to make Vietnamese pancakes which are similar to crepes filled with sprouts and ground meat. I found them extremely delicious. More dishes were also brought out and we had quite a feast. After dinner we cuddled under our mosquito net and went to sleep after a long day of driving.

Day 248: November 15, 2018

We woke up, had breakfast at the home stay then drove to the river where a boat took us out to Cai Rang Floating Market. It is the largest wholesale floating market on the Mekong Delta.

We saw houses on stilts and floating houses along the shore. There were lots of boats selling tropical fruits. Usually there are 100-200 boats. The market is open from 5:00 am to 4:00 pm. You can purchase a three kilogram watermelon for $1 USD. A lady selling refreshments came alongside our boat, hitched on and offered us coffee.

Lady selling coffee and other beverages from her boat

We continued floating around the market. Then we stopped and got on a young family’s boat that were selling pineapple. The woman showed how she cut them. We bought one for $1 USD and it was absolutely delicious.

Pineapple boat

A boat in Vietnam costs about $2,000-$8,000. Many people live on their boats to save money to buy land and a house on the mainland. The toilet on the boats go straight into the water. It didn’t look too clean.

Our next stop was a noddle factory. We watched them mix rice flour and tapioca starch (cassava root) to make a batter. It was then cooked for 30 seconds and transferred for drying under the sun. The rice paper produced was then cut with a machine to make noodles. The factory makes 300 kg of noodles per day and they charge $1/kg.

Noodle factory

Next we visited a local market where people shop for their daily food. Then we boarded the bus for our last bus ride into Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City. It has an unofficial population of 13 million. It was much more modern than the cities we visited in Cambodia.

We checked in to the hostel where Danny and I were in separate rooms because we were separated by gender. We walked with the group to a street food market for lunch. Some of the group went for massages, but we stayed with our guide, Happy, who took us on a walk around town.

We walked to the Reunification Palace originally built by the French in the 1860s. It was named Norodom Palace after the King of Cambodia. The French governors used it as their residence and office during their occupation. During the Vietnam War, it was home to the Prime Minister.

Reunification Palace

Next we passed the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon built by the French between 1863 and 1880. Bricks to build the church were imported from France. Approximately seven percent of the population is Catholic.

Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon

Up the street was the Post Office constructed between 1886 and 1891. Next we walked down a street full of book stores then over to “Times Square”. We eventually ended up back at our hostel. I was sweaty by the end, but it definitely wasn’t as bad as the heat in Thailand or Cambodia. I actually really enjoyed the city.

Post office

At 7:00 pm we met for our farewell dinner. We received a little gift from Happy. She was so incredibly sweet. After supper we went up Bui Vien Walking Street where our hostel was located to find a bar for some drinks.

Bui Vien Walking Street

It was so loud in the bars that Danny and I decided to just get ice cream. I’ve never experienced such a party atmosphere. The music was blaring out of all the bars. There were people everywhere. After ice cream we returned to the hostel to sleep.

Day 249: November 16, 2018

We were up pretty early for our trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels. It was about an hour and a half drive from our hostel. Even though our GAdventures tour had finished, six people in the group were continuing on tour through Vietnam with GAdventures. We decided to join them on this day trip.

France occupied Vietnam in the 19th century creating the French Indochina colony in 1887. When France fell to Germany in WWII, Vietnam was transferred to Japanese control. At this time Vietnam asked the United States for help to remove Japan from their country. Ho Chi Minh declared independence for Vietnam in 1945. The French then returned to Vietnam resulting in another Indochina War.

In 1954, the big countries sat down and China wanted to split Vietnam into two. The United States and France were happy with this as well. They agreed to hold elections in two years at which time the country would reunify. The south was backed by the United States and Ngo Dinh Diem became Prime Minister. He was anti-communist and Roman Catholic. Ho Chi Minh, in the north, was backed back China and Russia. He wanted to reunify the country under a Russian style communism.

The Cu Chi Tunnels are part of a 250 km tunnel system from Saigon to Cambodia. The tunnels started being built during the French occupation of Vietnam. The tunnels were used by the Viet Cong as hiding spots during combat, but also to transport supplies, store food and weapons and serve as sleeping quarters. In the daytime farmers helped the Americans, but at night the farmers became the Viet Cong.

The tunnels were chosen in this location as it was close to a river that could be used to hide soil that was removed from the tunnels and also to escape into. The soil was very hard making it supportive for tunnel building.

The first layer of the tunnels was 0.5 m deep and used for fighting. The second layer was 2-3 m deep and used for old and young people to hide. The third layer was 8 m deep and used to escape from chemical and rocket attacks. The bottom layer was 12 m deep. Wells inside the tunnels provided water.

Cu Chi Tunnel system

Many tunnels had traps inside. The American troops were trained to stay against the walls so traps would be placed along the edges. Most of the traps were used to catch the soldiers, but not kill them. Hooks on ends of spikes were used to make them hard to pull out. The Viet Cong wanted to demotivate the soldiers so that they would leave Vietnam.

Trap around the Cu Chi Tunnels

We saw a hiding hole and a private bunker where guns would point out. Ventilation holes were used to provide fresh air in to the tunnels. The Viet Cong learned to put hot peppers there so the American dogs couldn’t smell them. Later the dogs were trained to smell the hot peppers. Then American clothes were cut and placed in the holes to throw off the dogs.

Ventilation hole

The Viet Cong would cut open American unexploded rockets to get the explosives out to make land mines. Many land mines still remain even though the war officially ended in 1975.

Some of the group tried shooting AK47s. The noise of the guns in the area was intense. Danny and I played with an orange kitty. We were then able to crawl through the tunnels for about 200 m. The tunnels have been expanded 30% for tourists. At the end we were fed cassava with salted peanuts as a snack which soldiers would typically eat.

Danny in one of the tunnels

Nixon was responsible for putting in place “Vietnamization” which shifted responsibility of fighting to the locals so that the Americans could pull out their troops starting in 1970. The Paris Peace Accord was signed in January 1973, but American military involvement did not cease until August 1973. The North Vietnamese Army captured Saigon in April 1975 officially ending the war.

The United States placed an embargo on Vietnam from 1975-1995 which harmed Vietnam’s development. Even after the war, the Vietnamese were very poor and starving. Many countries took in refugees during this period. Canada is home to 240,000 citizens with Vietnamese ancestry.

We returned to the city which took more than one and a half hours. We went with the group back to the street food market for lunch then said our goodbyes. We headed towards the hostel, but got caught in the rain. Luckily, it didn’t last too long.

We picked up our bags from the hostel and took a Grab car up the road to our Airbnb. We relaxed in our own space and I called my parents. For supper, we walked up the street to a Korean restaurant. Then we returned to the Airbnb to sleep.

Day 250: November 17, 2018

We slept in then I FaceTimed Caitlin. While Danny FaceTimed his parents, I went to the gym to workout. After, we took a Grab car to the War Remnants Museum. Outside there were many American planes and tanks.

American plane outside the War Remnants Museum

On July 20, 1954 the Geneva Conference was signed to cease the fighting in Indochina and recognize the independence of Vietnam from France. The country was to be split into two until elections could be held in 1956. The United States gradually eliminated the French influence in southern Vietnam and sponsored Ngo Dinh Diem as Prime Minister of the “Republic of Vietnam”. Ho Chi Minh had support of the population in the north and was backed by the People’s Republic of China.

According to the museum, the United States and Diem tried to sabotage the Geneva Agreements by preventing reunification of the country. A military coup on November 1, 1963 removed Diem and killed him. On August 2, 1964, the United States Army fabricated a story, “Gulf of Tonkin Incident”, accusing the Navy of Vietnam of attacking a US destroyer. This authorized the American entry of direct fighting in Vietnam.

Agent Orange was used during the war in Vietnam to destroy the tropical rain forest and prevent the Liberation forces from hiding. It had a high dose of dioxin, a carcinogen with genotoxic effects passing to at least three generations. American veterans have been compensated for the damage, but Vietnamese victims lawsuits have so far been dismissed by the US Supreme Court. 4.8 million Vietnamese were exposed to Agent Orange. The photos showing the effects of Agent Orange were difficult to view knowing that it all could have been prevented.

Seeing the atrocities of war, the immediate impact of napalm bombs and the lasting effects of Agent Orange was very emotional. After a couple of exhibits I just had to sit down.

Statue in one of the exhibits of the War Remnants Museum

In the museum, the war is referred to as the American War in Vietnam which gives a much different perspective than I grew up learning. I remember being told it was a civil war that the Americans became involved in. The Vietnamese see it much differently. Our guide at the Cu Chi Tunnels had told us the local people wanted independence and the Communists were helping them with this. Vietnam is proud to be reunified.

Photo from an exhibit in the War Remnants Museum

We left the museum and walked back to a shop Happy had taken us to. Then we went to a sushi place for an early supper. Sushi is much cheaper in Vietnam than in Canada. We caught a Grab car back to our Airbnb. Danny went for a workout while I watched Netflix before bed.

Ho Chi Minh City has been a bit of a surprise. I was expecting not to enjoy it since I don’t typically like cities. The air was cooler there than in Cambodia which was a relief and it was a nice place to walk around. It has been a very nice start to Vietnam and I’m excited to see what our next stops in Vietnam have in store.

M

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