Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon, as it is known to all but city officials is a city that is on the move. And am not just talking about the motorbikes that rule the streets; this is a metropolis, a city of commerce and culture, a city of energy, it is in effect a living organism. I loved this place, it has a vibe like no other and the people are not as hard as their northern city neighbor: Hanoi. We spent our last week here wandering through the timeless streets, visiting bustling markets, exploring amazing museums and historical sites, firing M-16 assault rifles, indulging in authentic food and drink and meeting genuine people who always have a story to tell. The ghosts of the past live on in the churches, temples, former GI hotels and government building's that one generation ago witnessed a city in turmoil, and they sit stoically next to new sky scrapers and fancy restaurants that have sprang up in futuristic defiance. However this is the beauty of Saigon; how both worlds of the past and the future blend seamlessly into one creating a unique awe inspiring atmosphere.
We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City on the 22nd October at 6:30am after a long bumpy sleeper bus ride. Here the world has been up and ready since before sun rise and we a bombarded by tuck tuck drivers (taxi rivers) as soon as we get off the bus. I looked around, the sun already shinning bright and hot making me squint my eyes and I remember just looking up and seeing so much life on the move. There was so much hustle and bustle, so many people and motorbikes, so many street stalls and hawkers, all going about there daily business as they have done for years. There was a vibe here and I don't know why but I liked it. We put our backpacks on, took a deep breath and we went off in search of accommodation (which we have now become experts at) and then settled down for more sleep, which you need if you want to survive in a city like this.
|Life in the fast lane|
The Reunification Palace once known as the Independence Palace is one of the most fascinating places in Vietnam and somewhere I wanted to go as soon as knew I was headed there. It's significance in Vietnam and world history cannot be underestimated. The building was the symbol of the south Vietnamese Government in which hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese and 58,183 Americans died trying to save. It was here back on the 30th April 1975 that the North Vietnamese tanks rolled in crashing down the wrought iron gates-(in a dramatic scene captured by journalists and shown around the world) and effectively ending the Vietnam war. The communist forces of the North had finally won the war after over fifteen years of bloodshed. The building's 1960's architecture gives it an eerie feeling of a time stood still, as though it happened only yesterday. The rooms decor, the basement with its untouched telecommunications center, fortified bunkers, strategic maps and the US helicopter that sits stranded on the helipad only adds to this feeling.
|The scene of one of the most significant events in history|
|Me outside the Reunification Palace|
|The lone US helicopter on top of the Palace|
At Cu Chi there is a firing range were you can fire almost any weapon used during the Vietnam war. It costs about 1 pound a bullet. I got 15 bullets and opted for the famous American M-16 assault rifle. As I approached the range someone was firing an M-60 machine gun, the noise of the weapon was so intense that my ear drums felt like they were going to burst. I put on my ear protectors and watched Laura fire a few rounds off at a target. She enjoyed every second of it and had one of the biggest smiles I have seen. I was next, I fixed the rifle onto the target put the butt firmly into my shoulder and gently squeezed the trigger. The power is awesome, the noise overpowering; It was a great experience but it left me thinking how frightening it must be to be in a fire fight with someone firing a weapon like this at you.
|One of the many hidden tunnel entrances used by the VC|
|Inside the cramped tunnels|
|You better run baby, faster than my bullet|
Me firing an M-16 assault rifle
The War Remnants Museum was my favorite museum and we visited this near the end of our trip in Vietnam. It has a large collection of US armored vehicles, artillery pieces, bombs and infantry weapons that are on show both inside and outside the site. It is a very impressive collection. There is also a vivid model of the prison camps and tiger cages that were used by the South Vietnamese to torturer and punish VC prisoners. However what is different about this museum is that it tells the story about the victims of US military action and the atrocities such as My Lai that were committed by US troops. This is documented through photographs, letters, diaries and personal stories that are supported by shocking pictures of the victims of napalm and agent orange attacks. Its a very moving experience that really drives home the brutality and sufferings of war. The first floor gallery shows a collection of photographs and posters showing support for the anti-war movement. The highlight for me was the Requiem Exhibition by legendary war photographer Tim Page that documents the work of photographers from both side. He is famous for is larger than life personality and for risking it all on the front line, almost dieing in 1969 after taking shrapnel in the head. He is regarded as one of the all time greats for war photography and his exhibition is simply breath taking.
|In front of the might of the US Air Force|
|An 0-1 Bird Dog -the planes used by the Ravens in Laos|
|In front of a Chinook Helicopter|
|A Tim Page Classic|
'The first casualty of war is innocence'
|Nikon Reflection old and New:|
A Camera used by a Japanese photographer in Vietnam 1968
Next chapter: Cambodia