12.07.2011 34 °C
Our month long visas in Vietnam are ticking along nicely and we've spent about a week between Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City); Vietnam's largest city, and Mui Ne; a small beachside town with a lot of wind and sand dunes.
A quick word on the name for those that don't fully know Vietnam's history. Post world-war 2 the communist North Vietnamese under the direction of President Ho Chi Minh (translation: bringer of the light) attempted to reunite with the south. First the French and then the Americans butted in, supporting the South. With the result of the 'American War' still in question he died in 1969, 6 years before Saigon was captured and Vietnam reunited. The old capital of the South was officially renamed in 'Uncle Ho's' honour, but is still referred to as Saigon by the locals.
Anyway, the city is a motorbike-filled, tout-ridden mess on the whole. The North Vietnamese say the South is obsesses with money and they're right if HCMC is anything to go by. We timed ourselves walking out of our guesthouse to see how long it took for someone to try and sell us a book, a pair of sunglasses a hammock... I don't think we ever made 2 minutes. There are enough interesting things to see from the war there though which kept us interested for a couple of days, plus the backpacker area has a pretty decent bar/restaurant scene! We took a trip out to the very interesting Chu Chi Tunnels about 60km outside of the city. Despite being stuck behind a group of Malaysians that seemed to want to photograph everything possible, we really enjoyed the history lesson.
The area had a few villages in that were used to shelter Viet Cong (North Vietnamese 'freedom' fighters) during the war. To avoid airstrikes/solider attacks from the Americans, they dug out an elaborate network of tunnels in the hillside which meant they could live for days or weeks underground. Some of the original tunnels have been restored and widened for big western bottoms to crawl through. Perfect if you like crawling in the dark! We also learnt about their homemade booby-traps which caught out a good few American soldiers. Also at the tunnels there is an area you can fire all kinds of guns, with live ammunition! Too good of an opportunity for me to miss, so I picked up an AK-47 and fired my 10 bullets... very loud!
We also visited the 'War Remnants Museum' in the city which contains an impressive collection of American planes and tanks that were left over. It was formed called 'The Museum of American War Crimes'. This was obviously changed for diplomatic reasons, but some of things that the Americans got up to are beyond shocking. We also learn about the problems normal people in Vietnam have faced with deformed births because of the chemicals used during the war.
After our history lessons Mui Ne up the coast seemed to be a good place to relax for a few days. It had a nice beach but it was almost impossible to get to because of the huge line of resorts that block off the beach from the main road. The government here seem intent on selling every inch of land in a decent spot! The other problem with the beach was the wind; perfect for the groups of windsurfers that call the place home, but not so good for sunbathing! Just outside of the town there are several nice sand dunes of differing colours that made a great day-trip in an old jeep. Oh and the fresh barbequed fish was amazing too!
We've now found a non-windy beach about 5 hours further up the coast, in Nha Trang. It’s Vietnams most popular beach holiday destination and not just for foreigners either- school holidays have started here so there are plenty of families and wannabe spring breakers up from Saigon too! I'll write about here next time.
As a footnote, for those that haven't seen on Facebook I'll be flying home on August 8th from Beijing. Just 5000km of bus/train rides and I'll be there... it’s a long way north!