My first day in Vietnam was surprisingly quite a shock to my coddled and relaxed state of being. I think the couple of months in Sydney definitely removed any adaptions I had gained during my time in Indonesia. The first thing that hits you when entering Vietnam is the traffic. The amount of mopeds and motorbikes is alike nothing I have seen before and the way the traffic works is also something unique. For example, crossing a road had the same feeling much alike how Moses separated the sea with pure belief but in this case the sea was hundreds of mopeds all honking and swerving a startled looking bearded man.
However after only a day here I found that I had become numb to the chaos of the city and was able to enjoy a relaxing stroll around the city (with of course the occasional moped breaking out of a side street and nearly giving me a heart attack). The same goes for solo travelling, it seems it also always takes a bit of time to get my social side of me going before I start interacting with other travelers.
Anyway, enough about me! What about the city? You’ll probably not be surprised when I say that Ho Chi Minh is kind of the star of this city and has his face everywhere on paintings, statues, mugs, hats and the money. As the communist side did win the civil war this makes sense however it seems to be done as a reminder to the south Vietnamese who had won. This becomes more apparent when a lot of the locals still call the city Saigon instead of Ho Chi Minh city as many still enjoy the heritage and meaning in it’s name (which apparently means cotton-firewood).
Even though technically the communists won, there much more a feeling of a more socialist capitalism especially when you hear that many of the farms and companies are still owned by the top 1% of Vietnamese high roller society.
The Vietnam war
On my first day I visited the war memorial which was a very interesting viewpoint of the Vietnam war as of course in our western society may have a more biased version, in this case the memorial was a patriotic version of the war according the Vietnamese. How they used a variety of tactics both diplomatic and combative to repel the American and South Vietnamese regime. A very sobering look indeed and a must-see for anyone visiting Vietnam.
To continue my education, I then visited the Ci Chi tunnel network through a guided tour organised by my hostel. We had a very lively and giddy Vietnamese tour guide who definitely love his job more than anyone I know. During the tour we were shown how the rag-tag communist north were able to resits the much more technology superior southern forces. For example, the Vietcong used captured bombs, guns, vehicles (functioning or not) and recycled them into traps, clothing and an array of guerrilla-type arsenal.
The tunnel network and it’s various compartments and length was also truly astounding! Especially as we got to traverse our way through a 100m part of it which apparently had even been widened for tourists. I could barely even make it through some parts of it and could not understand the Americans mostly never followed anyone into the maze of tunnels.
Letting loose a little
After all these cultural activities I joined some fellow backpackers on a night out at the backpacker street. If I thought I had adapted to the chaos of Ho Chi Minh then at this point I took those thoughts back. The street consists of 100 meters of bars, clubs, restaurants and Karoke singers all blaring their music out and overlapping each other. A definite sensory overload and after a good few beers I decided I needed to return to the refuge of our quiet and comfy hostel. Perhaps I’m just getting old but I like to think my tastes have simply become more refined then what they used to be.