Ho Chi Minh City, previously known as Saigon, with a population of approximately 8 million, is a city that never sleeps. The city was renamed in 1975 to honour “Uncle Ho” a name the people have fondly bestowed on Ho Chi Minh, the revered communist military leader & Prime Minister. Although many businesses were closed for Tet, the throngs of people, cars, scooters, buses, cyclos were non-stop & traffic much more aggressive than previously experienced. We have become quite good a jay-walking & the interesting thing is, despite the crazy traffic, we have yet to experience any road rage.
The primary tourist area, known as District 1 or the backpacker district, was quite walkable to the various tourist sites of interest. The War Remnants Museum was probably one of the most interesting, brutal & heartbreaking venues we visited. Several American military relics are on display, as were various displays of POW confinement, i.e. barbed wire tiger cages & Vietcong methods of torture – gruesome! One room, appropriately painted orange, showed the aftermath of Agent Orange. Not one to be easily moved to tears, I left the display sobbing after seeing the atrocities chemical warfare has had on the people & the resulting serious birth defects that continue to occur. The Reunification or Independence Palace, once residence of the President of the Republic of Vietnam, still has the tanks the liberation troops used to crash through palace main gates in April 1975 forcing the surrender of South to North Vietnam.
The Cu Chi Underground Tunnels were another must see area on our list. About 70K outside of HCMC (2-hour bus ride) these tunnels are an intricate network over 250K & were built over a period of 17 years by the Cu Chi people as part of the anti-American resistance. Bordering on the Saigon river, the Vietcong farmed by day & built the tunnels & fought at night. This was apparently very confusing to the Americans as they didn’t know who the enemy was. Quite ingenious, they repurposed material from the bombs to make booby traps that were deadly to the unsuspecting soldiers.
Used by military strategists, the tunnels also served as a place of eating & accommodation with many living underground in cramped spaces for years. Not one to pass up an opportunity, I volunteered to be first down one of the ‘rabbit’ holes. These openings are throughout the jungle & were used by the Vietcong to pop up & wage guerrilla warfare. We all had an opportunity to experience the tunnels later the day & believe me it was squatting or crawling only, in the pitch dark, to navigate through. Certainly not for the claustrophobic!
Nighttime in HCMC brings out people of all ages to stroll through the streets, stop for a cold one & meet fellow travellers. We ran into Lesley & Marlow again & had a great reunion swapping recent travel experiences. They are a day behind us in travel, so we will no doubt meet up again in Cambodia. Today we are on our way to the Mekong Delta & plan to spend 3 days & 2 nights exploring the various rivers, floating markets & way of life of the people who inhabit this region.