Same Same but different
Vietnam is the country i like most so far. Arriving in Ho Chi Minh City reminded me of Bangkok: thousands of backpackers, amazing food and cheap beer on every corner and crazy traffic. (Nothing compared to Delhi though!)
But still, Vietnam is culturewise completely different to Thailand. The mass and package tourism is not as distinctive and you can easily find places where the locals hang out. I drank some beer with them, trying to communicate via sign language and drawings on a napkin...The language barrier didn't stop them from talking for hours! It was so much fun.
Since I'm so interested in Vietnam history I went to a lot of museums, remnants and sights.
I knew what was awaiting me and i was aware of the cruelty this country had to face in the past. But what i experienced overtopped all my expectations and shattered me for days. it's so horrible i hardly find words to describe it.
The War Remnant museum in Saigon exhibits the cruelty and inhumanity of the Vietnam War very detailed, displaying original photographs and videos. I had to skip some places, because this was just too much for me to handle on one day. An old vietnamese woman standing next to me was crying and she was not the only one.
What i found most shocking is that there are still after-effects visible in this country. The Americans used Agent Orange, a chemical weapon against the Vietcong. But also Cambodia and Laos have been affected. Their actual goal was to destroy the forests and rural land, to minimize the ability of peasants to support themselves in the countryside... But the effects are much worse. Approximately 3 million Vietnamese people have been affected by agent orange and still today many children are born heavily disabled and mutilated, as a result of their parents’ exposure to the chemical. This month, after years of repulsing Vietnamese requests for assistance in help, the United States starts its first major effort to address the consequences of the war. 40 years later!!
The worst thing is that the horrifying war indicates not much interest in the western world these days. For us, it is just another cruel war in the last century. Even in school, we managed to talk about Hitler's uprising, the Hows, the Whys, the Whens for years but had no time left to focus the Vietnam war properly. And especially in America the war passes out of mind. But in Vietnam, you can still feel and see the misery it caused. You can see the pain in older people's eyes and when talking to locals, they expose horrible stories of their childhood. I'm once again shaken by the barbarity of humans and feel so sorry for all the (present) victims this war caused (on both sides, apparently).
I visited the tunnel network of Cu Chi as well. That was really interesting and unbelievable. The tunnel system stretched from the South Vietnamese capital Saigon up to the Cambodian border! There were more than 250 km of tunnels, several storeys deep. The Vietcong used the tunnel system to hide from the US army, providing surprise attacks and to disappear suddenly into hidden trapdoors without a trace. Yes, the US base camp was directly above the tunnels! There emerged real underground cities with hospitals, schools, weapon factories and kitchens.
I had difficulties crawling through the claustrophobic tunnels, since they are only 50 cm high and there is no light and no fresh air! (of course.)
I can't believe how the Vietcong managed to live there for years.
Besides all those depressing and shocking impressions, I had loads of nice experiences as well. I did the Mekong tour, visited the floating market and did a Homestay at a local family, cooking delicious something together (forgot what it was. but delicious, i swear!) and drinking a lot of rice wine (also called Happy Water, for obvious reasons and talking about politics and history until late night.
Yes, I love Vietnam and i will definitely come back some time, two weeks are just too little time. I'll spend my last days at the south coast, hoping to catch some sun at the beach. It has been raining a lot the last days but maybe i'll be lucky!
Tạm Biệt and chúc sức khỏe!