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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Ho Chi Minh

In continuing with my desire to visit nearby countries when in Brunei I thought of Vietnam when I had a few days off ,but this time I wanted a leisurely holiday and so just opted for one city ...Ho Chi Minh formerly Saigon  .( Paris of the East )

The Royal brunei airlines took less than an hour to fly to Vietnam from Brunei but it reached late that day and by the time I could reach the hotel it was almost 9pm at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport 

I took Vientanne taxis recommended as good though a bit more expensive ,everything was in American dollars as Vietnamese money did not have much value and one needed to pay huge amounts .
My Hotel was in a popular tourist area of the city .Pham Ngu Lao Street 
I had earlier talked to a lady travel agent who had booked for me an early morning Chu Chi tunnel trip the next day and thinking I had cancelled my trip promptly cancelled the booking ,she made a couple of calls and got me back in the tour and told me to be ready by seven in the morning

Ho Chi Minh is a mobike city 

one could see thousands of mopeds crowding the roads ,both riders and pillion riders are dutifully helmeted ,there are several moped taxis which could take you to any place in city for a fraction of charges one needs to pay for a taxi but one needs to have a bit of balance to sit on it as it would zip through which one gains by experience ,i went for several short trips and for one long one where i was taken to the newly developing city on the other isde of a huge bridge .

The 1969 to 1975 Vietnam war was at height of the cold war era 

Ho chi Minh of north Vietnam or Vietcong was in a civil war with south Vietnam 
N Vietnam being in the communist bloc was helped by Russia and China hence the  USA helped south Vietnam 
USA directly entered the war in 1969 as north Vietnam seemed to be  winning the war and they wanted to contain communism from spreading .
USA had superior air power their army had good weapons enough supplies unlike the Viet kong or the north Vietnamese 
But Viet kong used guerrilla tactics
They were aware of American air superiority and land power hence in the  border near Cambodia  they built tunnels like a spider web for an area around 250 sq Km
There were three levels of tunnels
It had storehouses kitchens meeting rooms and false entrances
Some were narrow one had to crawl
Some were deep
Entrances were tiny holes as most  Vietnamese are small made and could slip into a tunnel with ease Americans were huge and had difficulty to trace them
Deeper tunnels had noxious gases and no oxygen ,one would get poisoned there 

Vietcong lived in such conditions they mostly ate tapioca or even spiders worms snake etc
They laid clever traps for Americans to fall and kept sharp spikes below tinged with chicken shit to infect American wounds .
They would allow American soldiers to advance then emerge from closed camouflaged tunnels kill Americans and slip back into earth
Like dangerous snakes one never knew from where Viet cong would spring from  .
Americans used chemicals like agent orange for defoliating forests causing harm to many over three generations .
They used sniffer dogs to smell Vietcong in tunnels
The trained dogs did find the  tunnel openings
Viet cong used American shampoo to divert the dogs
Like this they demoralized and crippled the American army
Finally America left Vietnam and the victorious Viet cong formed the country called the socialist republic of Vietnam
Ho chi minh is father of nation
Chu chi tunnels are to be seen and experienced
They allow one to get into tunnel and crawl to next
I felt claustrophobic hence didnt do it ,

there were models of different tunnel entrances where hidden spikes tipped with poison lay trap for the Yankees 
At one place we were served tapioca to show us what the Vietcong ate during the war .

Another place where one could relive the horrific war was the War Repartition museum which had neatly apportioned floors depicting the war chronologically and how it unfolded ,some the graphic pictures


The Viatnamese soup called Pho was a hallmark cuisne ,consisting of meat and or vegetables in hot water made instanteneoulsy with herbs the PHO was a ready reckoner made in five star eateries as well as by street vendors ,it was satisfyning and satiating 

I tried to snug up on this old lady by telling her that she wa slike my mother and should give me a discount for the tender coconut ,she was quite smart in telling me how can you ask for a discount from a mother in fact you should pay more !

one found young students in pioneer uniforms like in the Soviet era crowding parks during sunday 

in the evening I went to a cruise in the River Saigon ,though given a prime table in the front the food was depressing and the vodka bitter though the dancers made up for the depressions and the cruise sights of course 

Tamil temple near Ben Tham market 

pagoda in Buddhist monastery 

sweet boy 

opera house 

glimmering downtown 

Noartre dame cathedral 
ingredients of PHO

the photo that moved the world later the girl would grow up in America 

point blank shooting of traitors during war 

of Viet cong torture and the damage caused by the agent orange and the napalm Bomb was disturbing ,how man could inflict such evil on each other of power and money one failed to understand ,the museum had live tanks ,war plane mounted in its front compound .
Another place where the war is remembered is the rehabilitation center for those who are affected by agent orange ,even the later generations born have several birth defects like loss of limbs etc and have to be rehabilitated by the Government ,in this center all this was explained to us by an young man who himself had been afflicted by agent orange at birth ,even US Air force pilots who carried the agent orange to be dumped were affected by serious diseases for all their lives and many Vietnamese veterans suffered psychological and physical ailments 

Ben Thaam market was a closed market where one could shop for souvenirs ,cheap and colorful clothes electronic items etc ,around the market were smaller shops ,certain areas had Arab ,Pakistani ,Indian Tamil Chinese areas with their restaurants shops and places of worship ,the place was crowded and brimming with energy ,Vietnam is notorious for thefts and bag snatching and tourists are generally victims ,the poverty that still exists in the country makes people do that ,but during my stay I felt people were generally prosperous and good mannered and I did not encounter any such mishaps .
I took a cab driven by a Vietnamese driver who did not know a word of any other language other than his own ,somehow my miming and active expressions I managed him to take me to the Buddhist pagoda a little away ,it had a multilayered pagoda and was cool inside I was able to see the prayers of several monks the offerings included biscuit packets chocolates and even soft drinks ,when I was relaxing in the cool garden outside in a bench a cute little boy came to me trying to sell a lotus flower to be given as an offering .
The post office of Ho Chi minh is another landmark destination ,it is cavernous hall with a painting of Ho Chi Minh staring at you in benevolence ,one could exchange money there too only thing for a few US Dollars one had to fill pockets with Vietnamese money of low value

The Nortre dame cathedral was closed when I was there the reunification building too so I walked into the opera house where I had booked a ticket for  show ,before the show started we were given a guided tour of the opera hall ,an Indian couple were also there for this tour and the man was an acoustics expert who had tested many opera houses the world over and so I 
was able to get some technical facts too ,the show itself was on the village and party related activities of the country in an earlier era but was well executed by a talented bunch of actors where a lot of bamboo was used in the choreography at the end of the show the actors would pose themselves with the audienceH

Ho Chi Minh is just a small window to a big country ,there are so many other places like the Mekong Delta North Vietnamese city of Hanoi which have their own uniqueness but from what I could gather in my short stay is my respect for the resilience of the Vietnamese who had not only recovered from the ravages of an unjust cruel war they have also overcome that to achieve great strides in their progress toward a modern nation ,i was very impressed by their tourist attractions the glimmering city and the positive vibration seen in this young country ,there is lot more to come from Vietnam take my word 


Bala said...

Great travelogue Dr. I would certainly like to visit Vietnam in the near future.

Dr George said...

nice description Dr Hari

Dr Sateesh said...

A touching insight that reminds us of the folly of war and weapons, and victims agony

Deepa Menon said...

Very well written.. you are a true photo-journalist educating all of us.
The horrors of war... we were young...yet we knew it was happening. The hippie culture
began in US.. to avoid drafting into the US army fighting Vietnam.

Hindi movie... Hare Rama Hare Krishna gives a good idea about the parallel horror of hippie
culture on health and society.
Mum will reply from her mail id.,..
We are ok... guess the same with Premi and kids--- take care-- Deepa

parvathi menon said...

very colourful pictures and description hari

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