Vietnam – Part 1
Things covered in this first part of our Vietnam trip:
- Ho Chi Minh city
- Da Nang
“So much of who we are is where we have been” – William Langewiesche
“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries” – Aldous Huxley
Having been born in the late sixties meant I had a skewed view of what happened in Vietnam. I mean, all those war movies were based on facts, right? The history of the second Indochina war was written from the perspective of the western allies, so I was keen to travel there for myself. It was a war that lasted from November 1955 to the fall of Saigon in 1975 (and this led to the eventual independence). I’m not going to go into more of the history lesson here but thought it pertinent to mention that we travelled to the area to form our own opinion as we have done with photography in all other countries.
Because of the extensive nature of the trip and all the photos I took I decided to split the post into two parts. Links to the second part will be at the end.
Ho Chi Minh City
“When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.” – Ho Chi Minh
After the quiet island life of Koh Rong Sanloem of our Cambodian trip, the frantic hustle of Ho Chi Minh city was an exquisite assault on the senses. And, as an urban photographer, an exciting assault indeed. Never in my extensive travels have I seen so many scooters. Just like the volumes of people in India or the sheer number of bicycles in Amsterdam, wherever you looked in Ho Chi Min City, there were scooters. Many cluttering up the sidewalks, bit most haring around the crowded streets.
The city has all the elements of other major cities in Asia – skyscrapers, packed business areas, neon-lit restaurants, mouldy and smelly markets, poverty, and the scars of war.
Places to visit
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine
Wherever you look in Vietnam, there are emblems of colonialism and twenty years of war. Old banners of independence, communist buildings, and ancient French-style architecture on every street. Check out the Central Post office, Saigon Opera house, Saigon Notre Dame cathedral and Tan Dinh church. If you want something a little quieter, there are many parks where you can rest up and have a packed lunch.
Remnants of War
“A country which prefers guns to flowers will live the beauty of the flowers only in its graveyards!” – Mehmet Murat ildan
If you’re interested in the history of the Vietnam war, the Cu Chi tunnels are worth the trek outside the city. We spent hours at the War Remnants Museum, a remarkable and profoundly moving way to showcase how the appalling war affected local citizens from their perspective. Once known as the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, the name was later changed as diplomatic ties strengthened amongst the various counties.
It’s laid out over several floors with multiple exhibits of the usual war paraphernalia. At the time, there was a large exhibition honouring the brave war photographers and correspondents who repeatedly went to the frontline to document and alert the world of the travesties that were taking place. I happily admit to having tears in my eyes all the way around reading about all the photographers who worked and died there so that we may have a visual record of what transpired.
The area dedicated to Agent Orange was especially harrowing, with so much pain and mutilation evident, affecting both Vietnamese and Americans alike. The scars of this toxin that was sprayed from American aircraft is still there for all to see as many mothers carry children of all ages deformed by the genetic effects of the poison. If you go to Ho Chi Minh city, don’t miss out on this place.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad / Roughing It
When the roadside food stalls and small family restaurants keep filling the air with tantalising aromas, it’s hard not to stop for a taste. If you aren’t brave enough, head to Benthanh Street food market, where there are hundreds of vendors under a single roof. All kinds are food and local drinks are available here, and you can sit at large sharing tables, the hum-drum of voices of locals mixed with tourists, all around you.
“A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu
After three nights in the city, we spent a short stopover in Da Nang. The weather was pretty miserable for our stay, and we spent the first night walking the wet streets on our way to the impressive Dragon Bridge, a giant metal dragon that extends the length of the river crossing. At night, it has a spectacular fire display with giant fireballs bursting from its mouth into the black sky.
The following day we went to the Marble Mountains to visit the various cave and grotto temples on the top of the mountain. It was a great experience to see all the work done inside the grottos, although it was as slippery as hell with the rain and moisture. It’s a definite must-see if you do get to Da Nang. We didn’t get to visit the iconic Golden Bridge, which was a shame, but we needed to move on.
Now for part two in our epic Vietnamese trip where we travel to Hoi An, Hanoi, Halong Bay and Nin Binh – CLICK HERE
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