Our last two days in Vietnam were spent in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. They started early with a 05:00 alarm on the Wednesday for a 06:00 pick up for an 07:55 flight. We were taken directly from the airport to the Cu Chi tunnels. It was here that we learnt most about the Vietnam civil war, which emphasised my ignorance on the subject. Necessity certainly was the mother of invention when you see how the Viet Cong survived with their elaborate network of tunnels, and its defensive infrastructure of weaponry and traps. They thought of everything with the use of air holes in termite mounds and the way they utilised the rubber from tyres to make shoes. We got to go down a tunnel, but only Steven crawled all the way from one to another – confirming what a wimp I am! Watch a couple of videos below
After lunch here we went to Ho Chi Minh City and were shown round the Independence Palace, the Post Office and the City. Independence Palace was where the Independent unified Vietnam was created and its bunker is modelled on Winston Churchill’s. It is the former Presidential palace of South Vietnam, with the Presidential Palace of the modern Vietnam being in Hanoi (see photographs from day 1!), I particularly liked the room with the 70’s furniture. The post office was built by the French during their colonial rule, hence the names on the outside. Whilst my photos show the beauty of the architecture, it is still a fully functioning post office – I’ve just cut out all the people!!
If you google the Fall of Saigon you will see two iconic photos – the tanks storming the South Vietnamese Presidential Palace (see above) and the tank is shown in one of the photos. The other is the last helicopter to leave Saigon and I have one photo of the building that the helicopter was on
After the usual photos of our hotel there are a couple of videos of the view from the top and us taking our lives in our hands and crossing the road at night, or anytime of day really!!
Our final day was spent on the Mekong Delta. I was so brave – two boats in one day. The bigger boat took us down the river, which is a major trading river. Each merchant advertises what they are selling by putting their wares on the top of a tall stick on their boat – I’ve got a photo of a couple of selling sweet potatoes. We explored a village on the Delta. Here it can be seen that normal life in these villages in many ways is no different to ours – they teach more advanced algebra to their school children than we teach ours, there was Lego, TV, teenagers in bed and very industrious families. They are artists, they make the most amazing sweets with popped rice and noodles, and they use every part of a coconut – separating the flesh, from the juice and using the husk for fuel. There is a rice wine distillery and some of this is flavoured buy adding snakes, eels and insects, and no we didn’t try any!
After exploring this village we used a paddle boat to go to another village where we had lunch.
This was the perfect day to end our 10 days in Vietnam. We learnt more about the culture and history today than in any other day. The Vietnamese name their children by the aspirations for them or the qualities they want them to have – no kids called Mercedes or Channel here then! Vietnam may have debt as a nation, but they don’t as individuals – there is no credit, no mortgage system. Despite being communist, there is no state health or education system. They pay for large items such as houses and cars with gold, rather than cash. You work hard to earn money, save it and then buy what you can afford. They have very strong family ties and responsibilities. Look at my photos carefully and you will see shrines to parents, grandparents and great grandparents in houses. Whilst this familial respect and duty is enshrined in their culture and ethos, its also enshrined in law and you go to prison if you don’t financially care for your parents. My photos show houses that show financial poverty – by comparison to the west, yes they are financially poor. But look again – they have electricity, TVs, slow cookers, fridges and a good education. They may be financially poor but they are rich in life. In the west pressure comes from envy for material objects that you don’t have. Our ten days in Vietnam make you understand how broken our society really is.
Finally we listened for two hours and learnt about one families persecution and struggle during the civil war, and in post war Vietnam. A story so strong that if told would be a best seller film, no exaggeration. But in communist Vietnam today this story is hidden and even the children of the survivor don’t even know it, and I can’t recount it because of ongoing family fear.
Humbled . . .