Vietnam (officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam) is a country that has a long history of fighting for its independence. The Chinese occupied the country for a 1,000 years before a dynastic rule, then there was the French, the Japanese, the French again and finally the United States. Since 1975 it has been a unified and independent state, albeit under a communist hammer and sickle which has softened towards a capitalist economy in recent decades.
A couple of friends and I had started our intrepid travelling through Vietnam by first spending time in north Vietnam and gradually made our way south to Saigon, which was renamed Ho Chi Minh City following the fall of Saigon in at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. The name Saigon is still used by some locals and foreigners and the people of the city tend to be more business-minded, more hospitable to foreigners and less ideological than those of the northern capital Hanoi.
Saigon is a city of some 7-8 million people and it is said that every second person has a scooter. That’s about 3.5 million scooters; you can imagine the chaos at rush hour when they are all using their horns! Now try cross the road...Scooters are so popular because the Government has a 300% import tax on cars to prevent their transport infrastructure being overwhelmed as it simply couldn’t handle everyone in cars. It’s also not uncommon to see a entire family of 4 or 5 loaded up on the motorbike – it’s quite a sight!
One of the reasons the North Vietnamese won the Vietnam War with the United States, and its allies, was their extensive use of tunnels. You can visit Cu Chi tunnels which are located about 40km from Saigon where you’ll discover a network of tunnels over 200km long which lays beneath many of the B52 craters that still exist.
Another popular activity (somewhat of a Vietnamese cliché) in the Cu Chi area is visiting the Vietnam War era shooting range there where you can fire automatic weapons that were used during the war (literally probably). They didn’t have a Gatlin gun, so I had a blat with an AK47. The temporary deafness was well worth it (I think the earmuffs were just for looks because they were hopeless). James opted for the American made M60. Epic.
We would also visit the War Remnants Museum which showed the Vietnam War from the Vietnamese point of view. The Americans, also referred to as aggressors, Imperialist and invaders, were demonized for their extensive carpet bombing campaigns (more bombs dropped than during WWII), and their use of chemicals such as Napalm and Agent Orange, which left thousands of children horribly deformed. Despite all this, the Vietnamese don’t seem to hold any obvious grudges these days. Although are no McDonalds here, so one wonders why that is.