Thursday, December 18, 2008

Beautiful Vietnam (part 1)

You thought you would get rid of me eh? Well not quite yet. I spent the whole day at the beach and after an early dinner I am sitting here, typing away, the sounds of the keyboard competing with the sound of the sea, only 10 meters away.
This post is form my friend Christina, who sent me an email today saying: I am sad your trip is finishing, because so is mine..."

Here's a collection of pictures from my first 3 days in Vietnam: Mostly Ho Chi Minh city, aka Saigon, plus a couple of trips I did, to the famous Cu Chi Tunnels and the big Cao Dai Temple… Want more? read on!

The incredible Mr Kim

What you see here is what is called a cyclo in Vietnam. It's a bicycle with a front compartment to carry people or merchandise. Cyclos are gradually disappearing from Vietnam, all thanks to "progress" that has arrivved in the form of motorcycles/scooters from China. You can buy a brand new Hon Da (chinese copy of Honda) for 250 USD. Traffic restrictions also forbid slow moving cyclos to use all the streets - if you ever visit Vietnam, take a cyclo, these people have no other income but their pedaling feet and they will soon be a thing of the past. I did the same, and never regretted it. I didn't regret the slow movement, the dirty traffic I had to "face", it was all worth it thanks to Mr Kim, my 61-year old cyclo driver, who on that day did more than 30 km pushing my lazy ass around from a bit more than 10 Euros. And I even overpaid him...

At the end of the long day, we stopped and I asked, so now you go back home? I don't have home, cyclo is my home...

Best seat in the house to face traffic - in a city like Saigon, facing a 10-ton truck on a cyclo is a true test of courage :-)


One of the most intense and moving moments of my trip so far was the visit to the War remnants museum, where the Vietnamese showcase with as much objectivity as brutality to you people could allow, all the great things that the Americans left during the Vietnam war: Burnt villages, Agent Orange/chemicals and defective births, massacred civilians and crippled, handicapped people to mention just a few. 50 years later, it just seems that no one really got the message...

Pulitzer-winning photograph, hero mother, crosses the river with her 4 children trying to avoid the Americans' fire. There were far worse and upsetting photos for me to show you - I chose this one.

What remains of the great US fighting force, a captured M48.

Big casualties in the war, were also photographers. This was dedicated from the family of a Japanese photographer covering the war.


The Notre Dame cathedral in Ho Chi Minh, built by the French

Kostas (and his Kiwi t-shirt)

Saigon Post office

Post office - this is where you can call home...

The man himself Ho Chi Minh, or Uncle Ho for the Vietnamese (some say he looks like Colonel Sanders from KFC. No!, some answer back: HCM was a REAL General!)

Beautiful grandiose interiors in the Post Office

Nicest bananas I've ever tasted

Part of Xa Loi or Jade emperor pagoda

One of the Pagoda's corridors

Mr Kim, with his broken English tried to explain to me the concepts behind Buddhism and CaoDaism, here we went to pray together in one of the temples.

Lunch break - always eating food from stalls in hte street.

Hello, Operator, I have a problem with my line, can you fix it please? Sure, would 2012 be a good year?

Giac Lam temple

Kids, playing a game (i couldn't get it) but it's known, zoom in between them and you will see.

CU CHI Tunnels and Cao Dai Holy See

"Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to this tour of Cu CHi tunnels and the Cao Dai Holy See. My name is Mr Thong, and I am you guide for today. You can call me Mr Thong or Slim Jim, because I smoke like a chimney, eat like a bird and drink like a fish." One of the funniest guides I've had so far

I am lying under a tree, this is what I see opposite the road. The reason I am there, outside the bus is because we got a flat tire! The driver quickly changed it, and called his friend to pick it up... As with everything carried in Vietnam, it was a scooter that picked it up. If I have time I will post a section with photos of things that can be carried by scooters in Vietnam. They range from a family of 5 (!!) to a... bed frame!

Cao Dai Holy See. Caodaism is a very Vietnamese religion, a combination of Buddhism, Taoism and Christianity, an extremely interesting and colourful thing.

Cao Dai mass, each color represents a different religion...

Here I am too!

Detail from the Cao Dai main temple

Cu chi Tunnels

"How can you fight a war in this shit? It's like going hunting with Ray Charles", said Robin Williams in Goodmorning Vietnam when he was lost in the forest.

That the jungle offered amazing protection to the VC is only half of the truth - the rest is the ingenious tunnel system they had developed, already when fighting the French, before the Americans arrived, that allowed them to move underground and undetected even behind enemy lines. The Americans after bombing the whole place, still couldn't find them, so the sprayed everything with Agent Orange (a dioxin) to a kill all the plants. It's still in Vietnam's water and soil...

Getting some initial info on the tunnels

This was the most fascinating thing. Just in front of us, under our noses, a whole trapdoor, that gave access to the tunnels - you would never imagine it was there even if someone pointed it out. The VC fired from the location and as the US army aproached, they quickly made it into the tunnels. Please note the width - it is TINY. I was the only one to give it a shot and "disappear" :-)

Ho Chi Minh sandals: Made out of car/truck tire, the straps out of the inner tube rubber. Worn only by the Cu Chi Guerrillas. Different sizes exist as Slim Jim pointed out: from baby embryo Guerilla fighter to King Kong Guerrilla.

Inside the tunnels: this in enlarged tunnel, the actual tunnels had 40x60 width at maximum, people had to crawl on elbows and knees... as Slim Jim said: this is extra large, American tourist size.

Breakfast in Saigon.

Every morning, I saw this lady, she prepared omelet in a bred roll for 50 cents. Every time it was a great way to start my day...!

Note the wrapping... :-)

My next post is tomorrow when I am back in Saigon, about the Mekong Delta and the last two wonderful days I spent on Phu Quoc island.... Talk to you soon!

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