15/08/2011: Day 36
Despite the late night events of the previous night we had a boat trip booked early this morning. This was billed as one of the highlights of Nah Trang and didn’t disappoint. We were just hoping that we wouldn’t be landed with the unfortunate coincidence of having out dorm mates with us in the day.
We were lucky that no one else in our dorm showed any signs of movement as we left for our tour. As we went downstairs to grab some breakfast before our pick-up arrived we once again bumped into Catherine. she has, up until now, been a couple of days behind us in terms of our location, but thanks to James’ correspondence with her she was able to find our hostel and book into the same boat trip as us.
As it turned out our boat trip featured a fantastic group of people of various nationalities; German, Canadian, Danish, Venezeualan, Spanish, Chilien, Vietnamese, American, Dutch and of course us English. What was even better was that they were all in high spirits, except the German.
Our tour took us to several islands around Nha Trang, offering something unique in each. This, and the pristine clear water, made for a great day. The first stop of interest was an island that had a small and accessible coral reef. We were able to snorkel out to sea with all the fishes and witness some of what the sea holds. I, being a snorkeling novice made quite a fool of myself by attempting to snorkel without the essential breathing apparatus and then asking why I couldn’t breath. Idiot. We did, however, eventually have a great hour snorkeling in the sea and were able to swim quite a distance to see various features within the sea….mysterious.
When we returned to the boat we were greeted with a fantastic array of food, with the spring rolls creating the most saliva in my mouth. We were made to wait for a while before we were given permission to eat, but when we did we all stuffed our faces like we hadn’t eaten for days. Despite this there was still about half the food remaining. It was wasted.
After a short cooling off period after the food our boat stopped in the middle of nowhere and we were told by our excellent and funny guide that it was now ‘happy hour’. For happy hour we were able to swim to a floating bar in the middle of the sea to get free cocktails. The only catch was that we had to get into the sea first. Naturally all of us men headed straight for the top deck to try a variety of entry methods into the sea. The sea was a little cooler here and the current a lot stronger. In order to avoid being taken with the tide we swam to the floating bar in heavy rubber rings. We were then greeted by a Vietnamese man with a huge bucket of orange liquid. He was sitting on a circular object big enough to allow 3 or 4 people to hold onto it. He offered free drinks to everyone which turned out to be a mixture of vodka and wine. Needless to say it didn’t taste like the fruity cocktail I was expecting. But having a cheeky beverage at sea with a people from all over the world was an experience. We then had a few minutes to try more jumps into the sea. I must admit that I was a bit of chicken with the jumps and didn’t try anything that probably would have resulted in a belly flop. James was a little more confident though.
It was then time for our onboard band to perform. Little did we know that the ‘band’ consisted of our tour guides singing out of tune, one of which was now dressed in drag. They were really entertaining and got most of us quite excited. The Vietnamese, however, were not sure what was going on. Now that everyone was in high spirits the main guide tried to get one person up onto the stage from each nation to perform a song by a singer in their country. England was first. fortunately for us/ unfortunately for everyone else, we were not the only english people on the boat and a man was made to sing Wonderwall to the rest of us, including the ever more confused Vietnamese tourists. However, people really started to get involved when the American girl (of Korean parents) got involved. She had had a few beers with lunch and it showed as she danced up and down the boat shouting her song. All good fun though. Next up was a well-built Canadian man who had to sing a Celine Dion song..fittingly Titanic. Everyone was having a great time…Except the German.
unfortunately, after spending most of the day on new islands and at sea our boat trip. We then had to return to the hostel to prepare for our early departure tomorrow and enjoy our last evening in Nha Trang.
For dinner we intended to find a restaurant we had been recommended which supposedly sold cat, hedgehog and other wild animals as a dish. We walked around in the rain for a while (I was now wearing a poncho reminiscent to that of the prostitutes yesterday…partly to keep dry and partly in the hope that they will think I am ‘one of them’). As the rain was getting heavier and we weren’t appearing to have any luck we decided on a restaurant on a new road. Bearing in mind that there are hundreds of restaurants in Nha Trang it was quite spooky to discover the exact restaurant that Emily was in. I believe it may have been creepy for her as I tried to see what kind of food was being served by peering through the window (still in my luminous poncho), it was then that I made eye-contact with Emily, like a weird stalker.
We ended up having a nice meal and obtaining some free chopsticks. We said our goodbyes and headed for one final drink before heading back, as it was now getting quite late. In fact, we would have retired to bed earlier had we been able to get to bed without the prospect of being urinated on by the people we share the room with. One of the ‘normal’ people in our room had decided not to spend his night in our room. Thankfully there was noone else in our room when we returned and we were able to get to sleep relatively quickly, This was not interrupted until the lads returned around 4am to turn off their air con (also ours) which ensured everyone sweated all night. One of them came to my bed at 4.30am, woke me up and asked why I was asleep before urinating in the sink. Perhaps we have been just as bad in the past, but I hope we never made anyone think about us in the way everyone felt about them. Despite them, we had had an awesome day at sea and a great meal. Our Nha Trang adventure had finished. Next stop; Dalat.
16/08/2011: Day 37
Having packed our bags the previous night we were well prepared for our morning bus to Dalat, near the central Highlands of Vietnam. Being someone who is unable to wake up properly without having a wash I jumped in the shower whilst but ws unable to find my towel. An unsuccessful attempt o shake myself dry like a dog meant I was walking around the room looking for my towel. I eventually found it wrapped around a semi naked girl. It needs a wash.
We soon left (after the routine egg baguette) for our coach. The journey, aside from being beautiful, was slightly uneventful and we arrived at the small city in the early afternoon. We had previously been recommended a hotel by some other travellers. When we arrived it was slightly above our budget at £14 for the room. We instead decided to walk around the city in search of cheaper accommodation. We spotted a tourist information centre and asked if they knew of any cheap hotels. They then told us we could stay above them for £3 each a night. We agreed despite the room not being lived in for 54 years (or so it seemed).
That sorted we used the rest of the afternoon to familiarise ourselves with our new city. I was amazed how the party and beach location of Nha Trang had become the peaceful and scenic Dalat in just a 3 hour drive. Both myself and James immediately fell in love with this nice city (a city we could walk though in a couple of hours making it possibly even smaller than ZhangjiaJie city). We walked through the local market, once again attracting double-takes from locals. The market here is the focal point of the city and despite being relatively small we could see why. We then, for some reason unknown to us, decided to walk around a massive lake. Although tranquil and peaceful it became more of a challenge to get all the was around than a peaceful stroll. Think Tillgate park in Crawley and double it.
As we were approaching the end of our mission we walked into a children’s play area and watched some of the nutters play (if that’s not too weird). On lad in particular had us in stitches as he raced around in a fast electic car crashing into walls, stalls and other children with no sign of intention or remorse.
having built up an appetite we decided to eat in a restaurant that we knew served hedgehog. Together we shared hedgehog and deer. Naturally, deer was a far more familiar taste and I actually really enjoyed the steak, despite being surprisingly small. Hedgehog on the other hand was a lot more flavoursome but left a strange aftertaste. It was nice but I wouldn’t be too disappointed if I went the whole trip without eating another hedgehog.
We finished the night playing pool with a Frenchman, named Francois, before meeting some school teachers and sharing a beer before retiring to our ‘hotel’. Arsenal had an important European game against Udinese, so I had to disturb my own sleep to try to work the tv for that. The next day was one that I had been eagerly anticipating for a long time.
17/08/2011: Day 38
If there was a day to rival any other since we arrived in Vietnam it was this one. It seemed to have everything from culture to nature (if there is such a spectrum).
Initially, and probably an early indication that the day was going to be a great one, a man had agreed to take us around Dalat and the surrounding highlands on his and his friends motorbike. They were two local men and appeared to know they’re stuff. We met them, as arranged, at 8am and quickly finished our egg and chilli baguette before mounting our respective motorbikes. We had agreed to spend 8 hours with them, and it soon became clear that they intended to fill every minute for our pleasure.
Our first stop was a farming village. Our man, Hiep, taught us about how the Vietnamese peasants who live there make their living. We saw miles of layered fields each filled with different crops, from rice to cabbage to coffee. He then pointed out that the most successful farmers had the nicest houses. From what he was telling us it seemed as though life on the land was hard work, particularly as the have no animals or machinery to aid them. It was a good start.
Following this myself and James had to do a trek to a peak to see over the farm land, see Dalat in the background and the mountainous scenery that surrounds it. Although billed as a trek it was more like a walk up a small hill, but the view was certainly worth it. We then visited a flower farm where flowers were grown for distribution all over the country; apparently the rose business is more lucrative than the cabbage business.
Once we had walked through the vast array of flowers and seen the people at work we were taken to a coffee plantation. Hiep, who seemed to have almost too much knowledge of the landscape and everything in it, then informed us of the process for making coffee. I dont like coffee but when I drink it next (without vomiting) I will appreciate the process of getting it to my cup. In fact, we were invited to taste some of the coffee from the plantation and I could not turn down this invitation. Like true professionals they filtered the coffee into our cups and watched intensely for our reaction to the first sip. Of all the things I have eaten and drunk since my arrival in Asia I was the most apprehensive about drinking this coffee. I did anyway and was shocked at the might of the taste. Vietnamese coffee is bloody strong. James told me that they recommend drinking water after this coffee to rehydrated you. Despite experiencing it I couldn’t bring myself to finish a whole cup. James, as a coffee lover, drunk what remained of mine.
At the same venue we were taken into a hut to witness the fermentation process of Rice Wine. My experience of rice wine had only been in discovery that it can bring an abrupt end to anyones night. Hiep made sure that we all drank some (at 65% alcoholic volume) before getting back on our motorbikes.
What we saw next was totally unexpected but awesome nonetheless. We were taken to a minority village away from most other road links. Here, Hiep dropped us off and drove to the other end of the village. We walked through the village at the sight of curious children, skinny dogs and snorting pigs roaming the street. we learned from the village that in order to be married in this minority group a womans family must pay 5 buffalos to the parents of a man in order for their children to be married. The man then has to live and look after the girls family and take the womans family name. Effectively, the girls parents buy a man to replace the buffalos they have lost and help bear children to continue their family name. I liked this cultural difference. At the end of this street was Hiep who introduced us to a villager friend. The friend quickly introduced us to his own friend…a monkey.
The monkey had been rescued from hunters and befriended by Hieps friend. Although still on a chain we got the impression that it was now leading a better life than it would have been. However, it clearly craved attention as it leaped out of the tree as soon as we approached at and was keen for some playtime with us. Initially I just held its hand. In response to this it got a little too excited in a way that only males can, much to the delight of James. However, it then latched onto James’ lag and began to ‘groom’ him by plucking and eating the hairs on his leg. Great monkey. The more I looked at his face the more he looked like a human being. He then jumped on my back and tried to put his dirty monkey hands in my face. I loved the little thing, and it was such a great and unexpected addition to the day.
Our next top was the Elephant waterfall. neither of us had heard much about it but we were informed it was one of the main reasons why people come to the highlands. It made for an impressive sight when we first arrived and the power of the water was immense. The backdrop to the waterfall was the beautiful farm lands that we had visited earlier in the morning (apparently the rocks at the bottom were supposed to resemble elephants…I coulnd’t see it). To our surprise we were told to walk down and across some slippery rocks to reach the base of the waterfall. It wa quit a dangerous walk and we saw a few other people at this point, all of whom were wet. We stood for some pictures near the base of the waterfall and expected to return to the road afterwards. However, we were encouraged to go down even further until we were practically underneath the falling water. British health and safety? Despite the slipperiness of the rocks and the danger of the fast flowing water we walked as closely as we could to the waterfall. We were showered with water as we stood admiring it. It was amazing to think one or two steps more would crush us under the might of the water. I don’t think either of us thought about testing it though. We then returned to the top of the fall and walked to a pleasant temple nearby featuring a giant happy Buddha and his disciples.
After such a busy morning we had built up quite an appetite and decided to join Hiep and his friend for some local noodle soup. Despite becoming quite sick of noodle soup this was by far the best we have had yet. ot only was it abundant in beef but we also had fresh salad, chilli, soy and other herbs to add to the mix. It made for a lovely blend of flavours :p why don’t we add flavour to our foods?
Our first visit after lunch was to a silk factory (is there anything this countryside doesn’t have?). Here we could see the whole silk process in action. First from the silk worm, to the extracting of the thread, to the actual threading and making silk garments. It is not surprising that silk is expensive, although one sill worm can produce 800m of silk thread… fact of the day.
Keeping with the bug theme we then visited a cricket farm. This was basically someones house. Apparently the owner of the house had seen a programme on TV about crickets and then decided to keep his own. Wierd? apparently not. After a few generations of breeding he know had thousands of crickets which he feeds for two months until they are big enough to be boiled and sold to restaurants around the country. The man now had made a good business out of a strange hobby. Luckily for us the owner had laid out some precooked crickets for us to sit down and eat, with sweet chilli source of course. They reminded me a little of the scorpion I ate in Beijing but actually felt a little more strange. James, on the other hand, was either very hungry or a big fan of crickets. Either way the plate was empty when we eventually left.
Our final stop on this great journey (aside from a short stay at the old train station) was to the ‘Crazy House’ back in Dalat. I am still not sure what it is meant to be but it is essentially a plastic house built at random angles and containing rooms dedicated to different animals; eg. the Ant Room. It had spiral staircases and weird shapes all over the place. I had no idea what it was all about and felt it was probably better suited to the fun fair on Torquay seafront than the rural heart of Vietnam. Despite being puzzled we both managed to enjoy it. James, for example, liked sitting amongst the plastic mushrooms.
So a great day had drawn to a close and we said our goodbyes before enjoying a nice, and somewhat romantic, meal in a cheap nearby restaurant. Bliss.
18/08/2011: Day 39
Today saw another change of scenery, and although not as eventful as the previous day, still enabled us to experience something new.
Our first job was to get up early enough for our bus to Mui Ne. Thankfully we had done the majority of our backing on the previous evening and we were therefore prepared well within time.
The bus was a relatively small one and this brought about its own issues. James’ large height is normally quite cute, But when it comes to sitting next to him on a tiny mini bus it can create a very claustrophobic feeling for those with a slender frame (I believe this is my category). This meant the journey was quite uncomfortable for me, but there was nothing either of us could do about it so we had to live.
fortunately the journey was only about 3 hours and the sights as we drove down the spiral path from the highlands was spectacular. The bus even stopped a couple of times to allow us to take pictures of the sights. Joining us on the bus were 3 chinese people who made the trip go a lot quicker. I have found myself looking out for Chinese people on this trip…perhaps its a comfort thing.
Once we arrived in Mui Ne, a place as famous for its fish source as it is for its beaches we sort about checking into the cheapest hotel. We found one that offered a room with 2 beds for $6 a night. Although cheap it was somewhere mum would definitely complain about. We had no air con and we had a mosquito squatting mission on our hands, but we got what we paid for. I went to check out the beach attached to the hotel; a rubbish tip…again we got what we paid for. We both became quickly aware that a storm was coming so we took shelter in hammocks in the porchway of the hotel (at which I believe we were the only guests). As we lay dosing off in the hammocks the wind began to pick up and coconuts began to fall from their vast heights, crashing against the floor at force when they did. Soon after the storm really started and began battering down on the surrounding palm trees. As we were outside but under shelter we were able to enjoy the tropical storm without getting wet. As well as being a tremendous sight it was also quite relaxing and we were both soon asleep in our hammocks. I woke up son after and decided to use the opportunity to catch up an hour of sleep in my mosquito netted bed.
as evening approached and the rain ceased we decided to check out the Mui Ne village proper. It is about 4km from the resort with the hotels so we caught a taxi. initially we thought the village was the ‘place to be’ at night but we were surprised to see the taxi drivers surprise when we asked to take us there.
Our initial intention was to go to the village for food and if we were lucky, a beer. However it turned out to be a very local place with no other tourists whatsoever. Eager to enjoy everything I do I tried to see the best in the village (which smelt of fish). In fact I saw very little wrong with the village, especially as it was very different to everything else we had seen in Vietnam. James, was quick to quirp that he felt it was similar to Torquay. I failed to see the comparison…different people, different eyes.
We then realised that there were no taxis running through this village and we had missed to last public bus by quite a while. There was only one option…walk. This seemed quite exciting to me as it was just one solid road and therefore nothing could really go wrong except for the unnecessary consumption of time and energy. Fortunately for us a minibus containing chefs ad night attendants heading for the hotels near the resort stopped and offered us a lift. This meant we were spared of a long and dark walk home by some helpful Vietnamese people. We got lucky, again.
19/08/2011: Day 40
Since we wanted to move on from Mui Ne in order to spend a few days in Saigon before our flight we used today as a day to get what we wanted from the area.
Knowing that time was not really on our side since we only had a day we got up early and hired push bikes. Having seen the beach behind our hotel we decided to seek a nicer area to relax and swim, especially as we were told the coastline around Mui Ne is beautiful. So, we set off on a little adventure along the road, always keeping the coast to our left. After around 30 minutes of cycling we spotted a small alleyway from the pavement. With no desire to cycle much further in the heat we decided to explore it and see what it led to. We got off our bikes and walked down the alley way having noticed the sea in the distance. Eventually we arrived at a beach..and what a beach!
The beach we had found was empty but the sand was white and the water clear. We had found exactly what we had been looking for. What made the beach even more perfect was that it had a football goal neglected in the middle. Not being ones to pass up the opportunity for a kick-about we quickly acclimatised our feet to the boiling hot sand and proceeded to have a penalty shoot out. unfortunately James one this contest fair and square. Oh well. We then spent an hour or so relaxing in the sun before going for a little swim in the sea. The sea had some small jellyfish in it but even they couldn’t spoil the location. We were later told that the beach was empty as we are now in low season in south Vietnam because of the monsoon season and gap year students due to arrive in September. Once again we were quite lucky.
At around 1:30 we called an end to our beach time and got back on our bikes. Again it took half an hour to cycle back and we just had enough time to get some lunch before our next trip. During lunch, which consisted of hotdogs (naughty), Catherine passed our restaurant. Again we ran into her, it is becoming almost expected, as it also is with Emily. She had just arrived in Mui Ne and we convinced her to join us on our trip to the sand dunes.
The three of us then boarded a tour to the sand dunes. These are the natural wonder of Mui Ne and presents the diversity in landscape that the town offers; both beach and desert. However, we were initially told that the sand dunes would be inaccessible were it to rain, which it did but not for long.
Our first location was the white dunes, which had turned a golden colour in the rain. It was strange to stumble across a desert, and certainly something new for me. Whilst the other, richer, tourists hired quad bikes to move around the sand dunes the three of us borrowed polystyrene mats from a local girl. Together we walked to the top of a steep sand peak and plucked up the courage to slide down it on our fronts. For the next 15 minutes we were all children again, except it wasn’t snow we were sliding down but desert sand. The sliding wasn’t quite as dangerous as I imagined but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We spent about half an hour walking and sliding in the desert before we were told enough was enough and we had to return to the coach for a trip to the next dunes, of a slightly different colour.
Because it began to rain again the coach was moving quite slowly as to avoid the rain for when we arrived at the dunes. The tour guide, who we were all growing to love in a ‘bless her’ kind of way, seemed to think this meant she had to fill the time with her own voice. So she talked the whole way to the dunes, to our perplexment. But she did not just talk about anything, she talked about herself; initially she told us her name and age, then she told us about her life story, then she told us that she was single two months ago but is now married. As if that wasn’t enough she then told us, a coach full of strangers, about her weight issues before she got married and how she has got to a healthy weight now she is with him. We thought she had finished but she then told us that he husband wants a baby but she doesn’t feel ready and then she used her phone to show the coach pictures of her family. We didn’t know how to take all the information and part of me felt myself, James and Catherine were the only 3 listening. She then requested that people sing a song to help the journey along. I think out of sympathy more than anything else myself and James took it in turns to sing cringeworthy renditions of basic english songs. It was cringe but saved us al from hearing about the guides life.
Eventually we did arrive at the second dunes. These had a lot more people on them than the first and we decided not to slide any more, Instead we spotted a dip and rise on one of the dunes and one of us suggested a race to the bottom of ours and to the top of the next one. I have no idea where we have our energy. Anyway, we did a three second countdown and began our run down the hill. Obviously myself and James were quite competitive and wanted to beat each other. I, perhaps too competitively, set off far too quickly and didn’t adjust my body enough before we reached the bottom of the dune. This meant I went head over heels losing my shoes, glasses and dignity. Not one to be beaten I got up and carried on running barefoot. For a moment I thought I had caught James up and won the race but his celebration indicated I had not and my shoes were now in the hands of a local boy. I got them back though. That slight embarrassment over with we stood and enjoyed the sights of the dessert dunes around us before it began to rain again and we retreated to the dryness of the fly ridden coach.
When we returned to our hotel we had a short time to dry off and freshen up before we had arranged to meet Catherine and Guilia (an Italian woman from the tour) at a bar nearby. We arrived before they did and ordered food, which was well needed. We then sat for the evening enjoying a beer and teaching Catherine and Guilia about the cricket that was on in the background, they didn’t get it.
20/08/2011: Day 41
Today was the day we got our bus to our final destination in Vietnam; Saigon (also known as: Ho Chi Minh).
As planned we left our hotel half an hour before our intended departure to grab our egg baguette. We then boarded our less-than-exciting bus to Saigon which lasted four hours, of which I think I slept most of it.
When we did arrive in Saigon we were fortunate enough to be planted in an area with cheap hotels in abundance. We had set ourselves a $5 limit on a bed and it took us a while to find anywhere quite so cheap. eventually we did, a dorm room on the rooftop of a building with no lock or air con…perfect. As per her request we also secured a bed for Catherine. As it turned out we were the only people in the room, save for the man who lived on a mattress behind a curtain in the corner, but we didn’t mix with him much.
As it was already mid afternoon myself and James went for some early dinner and then looked for a place to watch the evenings football. We bumped into some English lads who indicated where we could go to watch the football…so thats where we headed. It wasnt quite in the busy area of town and took us half an hour to get to bus eventually we arrived at a bar showing live english football in English.
The 8pm kick off was the Arsenal vs Liverpool game and it was around this time that Catherine informed us of her arrival. James quite kindly volunteered to pick her up so that could stay and ‘enjoy’ the football. Instead, during the time that James was gone Arsenal had a man send off and conceded two goals (I can only hope Frimpong is remembered for more when I reread this in the future). James enjoyed the result more than I did. Not a happy bunny.
Since Catherine had not yet eaten we sort after some cheap food. We found some at Saigons late night market and I decided I was hungry enough for noodle soup. With a combination of my own stupidity and frustration at the Arsenal result I put far too much chilli in it, to the point where my face turned red and my eyes watered. Silly man.
We eventually ended the day in a cheap bar having picked up a Vietnamese girl called Tiffany who had been stood up by her friend. Being cheap skates the four of us sat and drank a beer in an empty bar because it was cheap. We were, however, approached by two young children selling flowers after midnight. Having a Vietnamese speaker with us meant we could engage with the beggars and they told us they didn’t know where their parents were and they just knew their mother would pick them up at 3am regardless of how much money they had earned. poor kids.
Tired, we were in bed by 1:30, well before the 9-year-old kids outside.
21/08/2011: Day 42
For some reason it already felt like we had been in Saigon for a while but today was actually our first full day in the city. We were already loving the vibe.
Having failed to locate Guilia the previous evening we decided to contact her to see where she was staying. We didn’t really know where so told her that we would be heading to the war museum and told her to meet us there if she wanted.
Before we made our way to the museum we needed to eat some food. We decided to head to walk around for a while looking for a cheap and cheerful restaurant. As we walked around the cheap area we were not surprised to bump into a familiar face; Emily’s. In fact, none of us changed our expression at all upon meeting her, almost as if all three of us expected to find her at some point. She told us that she was eating in a cafe near by and spotted us out of the window. This time we decided to proceed to a different location, safe in the knowledge that we will find ourselves in the same place again soon.
After a light lunch we decided to make our own way to the museum. It was now about midday and we allowed an hour to reach it since it didn’t reopen for the afternoon until after 1pm. As we are all on a tight budget we avoided and mode of transport that didn’t involve our feet. For me this is a much more fun way of getting around, particularly as I like the feeling of achievement when I manage to read a basic map correctly, little things.
Thankfully we reached the museum without a hitch and intended to spend about an hour there. However, as soon as we arrived it became clear that we needed much more time to take everything in…the museum was incredible. Basically it is an information centre about the Vietnam war from a Vietnamese perspective. All of us were somewhat familiar with American films and representations of the war but we were all ignorant to the way the Vietnamese viewed the war, this was soon to change.
Our first stop was to look at the American machinery used in the war. It was then clear that the intention of the museum was to depict the brutality of the war and the unnecessary force used by the Americans. It did a good job of shocking. This was especially true when we entered the torture chambers. The museum had not held back in posting photographs of torture techniques put in place by the french and americans against the Vietnamese communists. All of these, such as keeping grown men in barb wire chicken pens or limp amputation made for grim viewing. Every visitor seemed to read intently and walk around in both shock and interest. If the aim of the museum was to promote sympathy in the VC and a dislike for American brutality it was going a good way about it. This section reminded me a little of what I imagine a world war two concentration camp would be like.
Inside the main building we were guided through an area where Vietnam thanked ‘all the communist parties of the world for their continued support’. It then showed pictures of varies countries and their individual protests against the American was in Vietnam (including Britain’s). We then made our way around the museum reading various war stories from both sides of the war. I was particularly struck by one American soldier who had dedicated all of his medals to the museum alongside the message ‘I am sorry, I was wrong’. It was hard-hitting stuff and I was making sure that I read everything.
We then entered an area dedicated to war photography. I never thought this would interest me but I was amazed at every one. Never before had I looked at war photographs and imagined the stories behind them. Again the museum had not held the graphic ones away from public viewing. It was during this section when a Vietnamese man approached me and asked ‘how do you feel when you see this?’. The way he asked the question made it obvious that he thought I was american and I was temporarily searching my brain for an answer that would not be out-of-place. I returned with ‘its unbelievable’, which it truly way. I later told him that I am British and he responded by happily asking me to teach his little brother English. There I was performing a little English lesson in the middle of the most shocking photographs I have ever seen…perhaps a welcome break from being continuously shocked.
The last stop was the Agent Orange room. This was a collection of photographs and stories depicting how American dioxin and napalm bombs effected and continue to affect the Vietnamese even today. There were several stories about generations of disability and how people are still biologically affected by the poisons they were exposed to. Perhaps most shocking were the deformed embryos that were on display. There was also a recent letter to Obama asking for assistance to people still being born with defects as a result of agent Orange. It was in this room that we eventually met with Guilia.
So this was an amazingly eye-opening day in the museum and we were actually there about 4 hours, as were most people who entered when we did. It was amazing to see how the Vietnamese were effected by the war. However, we still wondered how the Americans would portray the aspects of the war that we had seen there, perhaps we need two sides of the argument before drawing any conclusions, but this side didn’t present the Americans (or the French) in a good light.
After an afternoon back in academia we decided to make our way back to the centre, only to be hit by the tropical rain. We stopped off in a cafe for a tea/coffee and were presented with rats running from the rain. Quite comically this caused Guilia to jump onto her chair in fear.
Eventually we got back to our hostel and didn’t get wet. From here we headed for a an indian restaurant that we saw selling £1 curries earlier in the day. Once we were inside and presented with our order we were in heaven! The curry was delicious. Catherine, however, had mistakenly ordered a spicy curry and was unable to make a good start on it. To not let a girl go hungry I offered to swap (also wanting people to believe that I can take my spice). Thankfully she was able to eat mine and I was able to eat hers (with the aid of a beer or two). In the end the four of us enjoyed a nice meal at a very cheap price.
Not wanting to end the night there we headed to a bar which labelled itself ‘sports bar’ in order to watch the sunday football. However, they didn’t have any football channels and instead had very made up Vietnamese women. One ld man entered the bar and sat at the bar. Immediately one girl preyed on him and within 3 minutes she was laying across him and playing with his face. Another bar made washed a mans face with a wet wipe…is that sexy? Thankfully we had two friends with us, both of which were female, so we weren’t eligible for the attention. This became even more thankful later when we realised the tall ‘bar maid’ was in fact a bar man.
The night ended when I got in contact with Pollyanna. She was the girl I met in Changsha on day one of this trip. Coincidently she was now in Saigon, Vietnam and I arranged to meet her. The two of us had a drink and I soon realised she was even more scatty than I originally noticed. This made her incredibly funny. I introduced her to James and Catherine and she immediately amazed them both…a very new character to us all.