I departed from my site for about 2 ½ weeks on the 6th of April for a trip to Vietnam while the rest of Cambodia went crazy celebrating Khmer New Year (although they technically observe the Gregorian calendar as their official system of keeping dates, they still celebrate events for the Buddhist calendar) which is 3 days but in most rural regions is celebrated for almost a month. This of course means that I get a fairly large chunk of vacation time, and a few friends and myself decided to take a trip to Vietnam for about 10 days.
Almost immediately after arriving in Ho Chi Minh City we were scammed by some cab drivers who ended up taking us to a money exchange that gave us 4/5 of what we should have received and then proceeded to charge us each $10 for a ride around the block. So Ho Chi Minh started off pretty well. After we got our heads about ourselves we figured approximately how much we had lost and for some it was worse than others. I had an idea about the exchange rate so I only changed $10 and ended up coming out okay, but a few members of my group exchanged quite a bit more. That night we met up with a few other volunteers also vacationing in Vietnam and tried to forget the whole ordeal had happened.
The next day Stewart and I set out to find the War Remnants Museum and get a feel for the city. Ho Chi Minh is much larger than Phnom Penh so our map that we thought had a reasonable scale turned out to be much larger than we calculated and things were quite a bit farther than the map indicated. However we made it to the Museum and got to go see the war from a little bit different standpoint than we were used to seeing it in our history books.
When I say it was a little bit different I mean there were 4 floors, and 3 ½ of them were dedicated to the atrocities of American soldiers and armed forces during the war. The first floor was all about propaganda against American Imperialism and even compares the war to the expansionist approach of Nazi Germany. So Stewart and I looked at each other and immediately decided we would claim to be from Canada.
Second floor was some of the major battles of the war with the French and American armies and the carpet bombing of the Air Force during the later parts of the war.
Third floor was about the massacring of entire villages and had some literature about Bob Kerry and his team. The second part of the third floor was both my favorite and probably the saddest section of the entire museum, and it dealt with Agent Orange. There were many pictures of children with deformities of both Vietnamese and American parents who had been exposed to the chemicals during the war. Many of the pictures had captions and personal stories about the victims and some were very explicit in their descriptions of the effects it had on the population.
The fourth floor had some of the weapons the infantry used and had a final section with a little bit about the policies and history of Vietnam during the period.
I tried to write this to make it as objective as possible but the museum was very anti American and it was hard to write in a favorable or objective tone toward America for the way some of the displays were presented. I am aware that the Vietnamese were not the most Geneva Convention minded during the war and many of the American soldiers were badly mistreated also.
The last night we were in Ho Chi Minh we stayed the night at a friend’s apartment and got a little more insight into the general attitude of the Vietnamese towards Americans because although the host was American also and has lived in Vietnam for about a year and a half, I had the opportunity to talk to a few of his Vietnamese friends.
I learned that at the end of April there was a big celebration and expressed my disappointment that I would already be back in Cambodia and wouldn’t get to join in the festivities. Then a little later to add to my humiliation I learned this celebration was an annual event to commemorate the day America left Siagon.
After a few hours of sleep and one too many cups of coffee we all hopped on a 7 ½ bus ride to a mountain town called Dalat where we were told the air was crisp and cool, a nice change considering I have been living on the surface of the sun for around 8 months.
Dalat was everything it was promised to be and we had a chance to break out the fleeces and sweaters that we brought, and this small town had the charm of a village in the foothills of the Alps at an altitude of around 4,800ft. We spent 3 days in Dalat enjoying the air and some of the attractions it had to offer including one ‘Crazy House’ literally something out of Alice in Wonderland. I knew that Dalat would be an easy favorite for me because I enjoy mountains a great deal and the fact that I wasn’t constantly sweating because of the heat and humidity was a definite plus. Nha Trang was our next stop, a tourist beach town about 500km northeast of Ho Chi Minh City.
Nha Trang was a very touristy town and had a lot to offer in terms of beach activities and some sightseeing, but I’ll be damned if it was 110 degrees in the heat of the day. We had a great time though, and managed to score an island hopping tour for about $6 a person so we came out alright. Overall Nha Trang was just an oasis with about 4 miles of beautiful beach.
Then it was back to reality and that’s about where we stand right now, heat, sweat, teaching, Peace Corps.