Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon): Part II

After Sunny's departure and back by myself once again, I was looking forward to getting the day started.

First things first, I walked directly to the U.S. Consulate to get extra pages inserted into my passport. I was running out of blank pages for visas and, if I wanted to continue traveling after Vietnam, it was vital to get that taken care of first. The process took about an hour and was easy as 1, 2, 3.

Next I stopped for some brunch where I had some delicious and cheap street food. The lady who cooked my food was sweet enough to give me extra spring rolls without me even asking! So nice.

Later, I walked to the Reunification Palace which served as South Vietnam's Presidential Palace from 1966 to 1975. In fact, the city was preparing for the 35th Anniversary of the country's Liberation Day which occurred on 30 April 1975. The Reunification Palace has been left exactly how it looked on the day that the palace was overtaken by the communists from the north. All in all the palace wasn't that exciting, but I did enjoy standing on the palace's front steps overlooking its lawn imagining what it must have been like to have been there 35 years ago. As I exited the premises of the palace I was stopped by a pretty Vietnamese woman with a microphone. She said that she was a news reporter and asked if I wouldn't mind being interviewed. I was a bit hesitant which I repeatedly told the reporter, only to have it fall on deaf ears.

"Okay, roll it!" she ordered, as her cameraman lifted his obnoxiously large camera to my face.

The interview, I think, went pretty smooth. She inquired about my travels and whether or not I was going to attend any of the festivities on Liberation Day. She told me the interview would be played the following morning on the 6 o'clock news.

I walked back to the hotel and took a much needed nap for a few hours. Later, I went to the War Remnants Museum via motorbike. I thought it would be an interestingly, fun way albeit a risky one to see the city. And what can I say about the museum? I mean, man, it was harrowing walking through it. The museum contained nothing but images of one horrify atrocity after the next--photographs of children born with birth defects and deformities caused by my country's use of defoliants such as Agent Orange; photographs of Vietnamese victims with graphically written captions; as well as displays of artillery and inhumane cages that POWs were forced into. Again, it was just heart-wrenching. I only took a few pictures from the outside and quickly browsed through it. I got the point.

The next morning I took a guided tour to the nearby Cu Chi Tunnels, a tunnel system that remarkably stretched for miles throughout the district of Cu Chi. These tunnels, however, were used not only in Cu Chi but throughout the entire country by the Viet Cong. On the bus ride to Cu Chi I met a Dutch-American named Peter. Peter, whose retired, was traveling for a few weeks through Vietnam and Laos. He was an interesting, friendly guy who became my traveling buddy for the day.

It was fascinating to watch how the Vietnamese enter and exited the tunnels. When standing over the tunnels it didn't look humanly possible that anyone could fit in such a small, rectangular hole in the ground. There were other tunnels that had been widened for westerners. And even crawling through those tunnels I felt a bit claustrophobic.

On the tour you're given the option to shoot a firearm. All the guns that were available were guns used in the war. You simply choose the weapon of your choice and the amount of bullets you wish to fire. My weapon of choice? You best believe it was an AK-47. Up to that point I'd never used a firearm, and I damn sure didn't think my first time would be with an AK. Even though I wore hearing protection (ear muffs), my ears felt as if they were bleeding for the next hour. I now understand why my uncle Bob's hearing isn't so good. I can't imagine being exposed to such noise everyday.

Ironically Peter and I were both flying to Hanoi the following day. He kindly offered me a free ride to the airport; I graciously accepted. Before he exited the bus we exchanged emails and he instructed me to meet him at his hotel the following morning if I still wished to accompany him to the airport.

While walking the streets near my hotel I ran into Daan and his girlfriend, a Dutch couple who I've already ran into twice during my travels. It was nice seeing them again and we all agreed to meet later for dinner. The plan was to meet at their hotel, then walk and find a restaurant together. Unfortunately I wasn't able to find their hotel and no one else seemed to know where it was either. I sat outside on the bottom step of my hotel hoping to spot them walking by, but to no avail. I sat there for the next few hours talking to a friendly local Vietnamese woman while eating street food and drinking delicious fruit shakes. As I was about to call it a night, I noticed the woman had a large stack of books. Astonished that the woman hadn't attempted to sell me any books I inquired if I could take a look at her selection. The first book on top of the stack? The Alchemist. Weird.

I had a good day I must say, even though I had to use my AK.

The following morning I checked out of my hotel and walked under the blazing hot sun to Peter's hotel. We had one of the employees from the hotel take a picture of us, then off to the airport we went. I was happy to have met Peter. I really enjoyed his company.

Next Stop: Hanoi, Vietnam


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