Monday, November 10, 2008

Saigon aka Hoi Chi Minh

We flew to Saigon from the capital. We woke up lost outside of the airport, trying to dodge cab drivers and to find the bus to the city. We did, and also a helpful young woman that shows us the way to the touristic area. That means mainly the area with hotels, the backpackers area.

Its the economical capital of Vietnam, and much bigger than Hanoi. Before reading about the city you realized that by the numbers of scooters driving like modern packs of weird animals, taking over the streets in thousands. It is quite adventures to cross the street. The strategy that Pedro developed was to walk as slowly as possible, no sudden moves, no running around, no bunny hopping, no funky chicken. Just slow. Just walk calmly so they can see u and avoid you. Makes sense.

The french influence was much stronger in Saigon. Was also the imperials stronghold much longer than Hanoi. Some beautiful french villas next to a pagoda and overlooked by a skyscraper. Its an contrast, a mush of european, confused local and modern sky scraper architecture.

The backpacker area is concentrated around a couple of streets. People are used with the tourists... and not really friendly. If you don't like it they dont care. Another tourist will come along in a short time.

We stood 2 nights. Or 3. I don't actually remember anymore and we kind of seen what everybody that goes in Saigon sees. The Cu Chi tunnels, a part of a enormous network of tight and low claustrophobic tunnels that were used by Viet Cogs against the american troops. In contrast with the American soldiers and their wide muscle back, the Viet Cogs were pretty skinny and small. Which prove to be a big plus as the americans could not really fit in the tunnels. Yes, I fitted in them quite easy (even after going to the gym for the last couple of years).

War Remnants Museum was probably the most... disturbing experience. I cried a coupe of times at the exhibition dedicated to the war photographers that lost their lives in Vietnam. Wonderful stunning pictures.
Kyoichi Sawada, Japan

Moving to the next building we were stupefied to find out about the operation "agent orange" that crippled the land and mutilated inhabitants. "Agent orange" was the code name for a powerful herbicide and defoliant that was used to spray 80.000 m3 by the americans with the sole purpose to reduce the dense jungle that offered a ideal camouflage for the vietnamese communistic resistance.

Cam Lo, Quang Tri Province. Phan Thi Hoi bathes her 14-year-old son, Bui Quang Ky. She was exposed to Agent Orange when she was in the North Vietnamese Army during the war.Detail of photo by James Nachtwey . source

The substances contained within the "agents" (were also other pretty colours like "agent pink, black, green" etc) increased risk of different cancer types and genetic mutations...


The Unification Palace was a huge disappointment. Used to be the Vietnamese White House so to say. The house of the president also used for international high level meetings and diplomatic affairs. But was kind of ran down and to 60's.

I have to say that I didn't really enquired about Saigon before getting there. I always had the impression that the city holds a certain hidden romance. Thats probably because it used to be a french colony, but after passing through such traumatic wars, and being (in a way) still surrounded by it the romance disappears and u get disgusted. By what we are able to do. What horrors we are actually able to create.


And when you realize that maybe Saigon its not the highlight of your trip you head towards the french post office and at then end the day to Le Pub for a nice chilled beer and a portion of spring rolls (there is one also in Hanoi).

asia tour . end of part 6 of 9

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