After sleeping overnight in Kuala Lumpur airport, wearing my sunglasses as eye masks, we were pretty shattered as we set foot in Vietnam, but discovering that the bus to our hostel was 31p, put a smile back on our faces. Finally, we were at one of these elusive ‘dirt cheap’ countries. With only fifteen days in Vietnam, and a game-plan of getting from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi, it was going to be an intense fortnight, but one we were certainly excited for.
Firstly, we were to dig our heels into Ho Chi Minh city. This bustling city was a breath of polluted air, though far less mental than any major city in Indonesia. We noticed that, when compared to Indonesia, the Vietnamese people bugged you to buy things 1000% less. Our initial thoughts on the city were that we were going to enjoy it. To learn more about the city’s rich history, we visited a few museums. First up was the Ho Chi Minh Museum:
• The first evidence of structured education was in 1854, which was provided by the French, who colonised them at around the same time. The lessons were in French and only taught people who were going to work for the French civil service. So to say this was ‘education for all’ was not true whatsoever. It was basically a way for the French to employ staff at cheap rates in jobs they didn’t want to do themselves.
• Through wartime Vietnam, which they experienced pretty much flat out from the 1850s to the 1970s, they built a network of Cu Chi Tunnels, in which the soldiers and civilians lived. These caves had kitchens and living spaces to dwell for long periods of time. But, in order to not give away their position, they had to vent the smoke from the kitchen stoves in a super top secret covert way. They built a collection of triangular vents which transferred the smoke to a connecting pit and then gradually released small amounts of smoke as it filtered through. The smoke never rose high enough to be noticeable. These ingenious inventions were hugely responsible for their success in combat (more on the tunnels later).
• It turned out that the museum was an old stomping ground for the king, which meant that the mansion had some secret underground passages for the big guy, should he ever have needed to escape. This tunnel system cost two billion dong in 1963 (£62,000), so was a pretty big investment. One night they had to use it. They managed to smuggle themselves out to the cathedral, but at the cathedral, were caught and murdered.
The traffic is mental in Ho Chi Minh, there are no rules.
Pho, the traditional Vietnamese dish. A soupy noodle number.
There was a wedding photoshoot at the museum.
The King’s secret tunnel.
Puds in a tunnel.
Such a card.
Next, we visited a huge building which was, and still is, the capital’s biggest post office. There was a huge painting of Ho Chi Minh, the national hero, on the wall, and gigantic maps of postal routes all through Vietnam and Cambodia. The architecture looked very colonial and it was built in 1886. This was a significant year for everyone on the planet, as it was the year the mighty Arsenal FC were formed.
Our next visit was one of the most harrowing places we have seen since the beginning of our travels. It was the War Memorial. Some of the images on display of the Vietnam War were devastating, and the Vietnamese people have not held back on revealing what happened. It was presented to us as a massacre on the scale of a holocaust. It was a fact that civilian men and women, pregnant women, and children were killed in what was a clean sweep of the country. We read that out of the 3 million Vietnamese people killed during the war, 2 million were civilians. One of the hardest things to watch was the aftermath of the 1.1 million litres of poisonous chemicals dumped on the country. The genetic repercussions seem endless. Children are still being born now with disfigurements and health problems due to their parents’ genetic reaction to the chemicals. The ghost of Vietnam still lingers…
Outside the huge post office.
The postal route through Vietnam and Cambodia.
Ho Chi Minh.
A cathedral next door to the post office.
Inside the cathedral.
Loads of military vehicles outside the war memorial.
Arty tank pic.
Some stats from the war when in comparison.
The next day we visited the Cu Chi Tunnels. As mentioned earlier, these tunnels were masterfully built by the people of the Cu Chi tribe, and there are reported to be around a 250km network of these tunnels underground. Unfortunately, there is no map for them, and so only the people who built them, now very old, or dead, know the routes. Our guide told us that a lot of the tunnels would now be too dangerous to crawl through because they would be filled with methane (fart gas). It was a great experience; we were led into some impossibly small holes, booby traps, and had to crawl past bats. I was only aware there were bats in the tunnel when a girl crawling ahead of me said, ‘Are those bats?’ who then got out her camera and with full flash, took a picture. To say they weren’t delighted was an understatement. The booby traps we were shown appeared to maim rather than kill, so we asked why, and the explanation made so much sense: ‘we preferred to injure the enemy, not kill him, because if you injure the enemy they have to come and save him, which requires more soldiers, a doctor, a helicopter, all focused on one person, so it takes them out of battle. But if you kill someone, they are dead, no one comes, so all those resources would continue fighting.’ The Vietnamese knew how to do battle.
The only thing we did find strange in what was a pretty organised city, was that if scooters were in a bit of a traffic jam, which they were all the time, then they would just drive on the pavement. Nowhere was safe. Amazingly, they’d honk at you to get out of the way, on the pavement, you know, the bit for people to walk on without fear of getting destroyed. We wondered why they had never built an underground train system here as it was so busy, and they were clearly amazing at building tunnels!
On the way to the Cu Chi Tunnels.
There was a cool temple in remembrance to the dead.
The tiny entrance to the tunnels. You had to slide in a certain way.
Puds before the point of no return.
The point of no return.
Loads of regret.
Inside the tunnels.
Yes, these are models.
Booby traps which would maim the enemy.
Heading into more tunnels, armed with a sweaty back.
Big bus depot.
Our next excursion was to Mekong Delta. The Mekong river starts in Tibet and flows through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The area has a population of 20 million people. Mekong Delta didn’t always used to be Vietnam’s, it was Cambodia’s land in the 16th century. Our guide was the excitable yet blunt Hi. Within minutes he’d confirmed that the proposal to his wife was 50% romantic, and 50% realistic. He also asked a guy whether he was forty, when he was definitely substantially younger than forty. To get to the Mekong River, we hopped on a boat along Saigon River where our guide highlighted a restaurant, a four star hotel, and a petrol station; not quite the sightseeing we had in mind. There was some cool stuff to do. I held a bee hive and then we moved on to a honey tasting experience. We learnt about Royal Jelly, a honey extract which only the Queen Bee eats, making her live forty times longer than the males. Humans can eat it too, or can put it on their skin, although, be aware, the chance of you living forty times longer is slim. We were sat down to enjoy some traditional Vietnamese music. The ladies lined up in their traditional garb and the quirky instruments began to play, and then I recognised the song; I had no idea ‘If you’re happy and you know it’ was a traditional Vietnamese number.
We were then put on these small, narrow boats with a lady at the front and an old geezer at the back to take us through the river. These narrow passageways were a vital transport system during the Vietnam War. They were well covered, narrow, and there were many avenues to take. We were back on the big boat and our tour guide got weirder – he randomly stroked a girl’s hair. Our next experience was witnessing how to make coconut candy. It went through three stages: shred, grind, and press. With no sugar or crap added to this sweet treat, it tasted great. After a bike ride around the village and a drink back in Ho Chi Minh with a few friends we had met in Malaysia, we were to get a sleeper bus to Nha Trang. Now these sleeper buses are an experience themselves. It’s basically two levels of beds which are all well and good, if you’re five foot tall. Naturally, these beds were built with only Asians in mind, not 6ft 2 inch lanky lads, so it was a bit of a crush. The ride wasn’t too bad though, and when the bus driver screamed ‘Nha Trang!’ at us as our 5am wake up call, I felt an endearing relationship to the business and its ideals.
Our boat to Mekong Delta.
I held honey with loads of honey bees on it, and I wasn’t even scared or anything.
The fruit accompanying our traditional Vietnamese music.
The ladies who performed a wonderful rendition of ‘If You’re Happy And You Know It’. A truly Vietnamese experience.
The narrow boats to take us along the river.
Ednora cruising through the narrow canals at Mekong Delta.
Mekong Delta traffic jam.
The making of coconut candy.
A kid cutting the candy into edible bits. I am very sure this wasn’t a forced child slave labour situation as it appeared to be a family business, so all good here…
Puds purchase made.
There was a spot where they kept crocs.
We went for a bike ride around the area.
The infamous sleeper bus! I may be smiling, but my legs are crushed.
Nha Trang was a funny place. It was a beachy part of Vietnam with not a huge amount to do other than sunbathe and take on the big waves. Nha Trang has a direct flight to and from Russia, so Nha Trang was pretty much just full of Russians. All tourist information boards and leaflets were in Vietnamese or Russian, which was bad for us, the ignorant English, who just expected English translated maps. We had a gander at what Nha Trang had to offer for the day we were there. There were some stony rocks which were famous and rocky, yet around £4 to enter (some rocks), so we didn’t bother. There was a temple which was pretty large and ancient. The strangest thing that happened to us, however, was while we were having a juice. There we were, minding our own business with our juice, and a couple of younglings messing about. All of a sudden, one of them told their mum they needed a wee, so she just pulled down his pants right there next to us and pissed in the gutter by the side of the road. It was actually next to us, so close that little splashes of the golden stuff were nearly hitting us. After that traumatic experience, it was back on the sleeper bus for another rollercoaster night of sleeping.
Nha Trang had a cathedral, but, alas, we could not enter.
The stony rocks which we wouldn’t pay to get into, so instead zoomed in with our camera, took a picture, and then told people we went there.
The temple. Is Puds pregnant here? (Spoiler alert)