Monday, January 18, 2016

Vietnam, Looking to the Future

Greetings All,
A new year brings a new adventure.  We left home on the morning of December 30 and landed in Ho Chi Minh City (also still called Saigon) just in time to ring in the New Year.   We had a great view from the 11th floor of our hotel of a spectacular fireworks display over the Saigon River.  

Fireworks Over the Saigon River

The next day we set out on foot to explore the city.  We were surprised to find a vibrant city where Cartier and Communism coexist.

Cartier and Communism

This was not always the case.  From 1955 to 1975 Vietnam was embroiled in a bitter civil war between the communists in the north and the anti-communists in the south.  The US entered the conflict in 1963 supporting the South to fight the global spread of communism.  Curious to learn more about this war that took place when I was a child we went in search of the War Remnants Museum.  Outside the museum were US Army tanks, a helicopter and an Air Force jet.  Inside were many graphic photos that I will spare you the details.  It was quite disturbing and I had to fight back the tears.  On a brighter note as we walked back to our hotel we found a city fully-healed with upscale shops, gourmet restaurants and boutique hotels.  We walked through the beautiful gardens in the square of Ho Chi Minh City Hall where tourists and locals alike strolled in the warm sunshine.

Ho Chi Minh City Hall

The following day we drove for about 45 minutes to the outskirts of Saigon where we stopped to set up our bikes.  We set off on quieter roads toward the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels, now a popular tourist destination.  There were still plenty of motor bikes, mini vans, trucks and a few buses to contend with.  It will take me a few days to get used to riding in Vietnamese traffic. We continued to the Cu Chi Tunnels, about a 10-mile ride.  When we arrived the parking lot was jam-packed with tour buses.  You had to admire the ingenuity and tenaciousness of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Vietnam Cong who dug by hand a 120-km maize of tunnels in which they hid during combat. The tunnels also served as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for North Vietnamese fighters.  They beat the South despite all of the American B-52's, tanks, Agent Orange, and well-trained troops who had never seen anything like "tunnel warfare".  We continued our tour where we saw tiny trap doors used to enter and exit the tunnels, booby traps with bamboo spears and finally some of the tunnels themselves.  They were narrow but were actually made larger for Western tourists.  We foolishly brought our packs down which scraped on the roof of the tunnel.  Marc stopped for me to take a photo and dropped his cell phone (behind his right foot on the left).  

Marc in a Cu Chi Tunnel
He didn't notice until we had exited the tunnel and in a panic had to return to find it.  A big group had just arrived and he needed to get back into the tunnel before they did.  Fortunately, he found it, whew!

The next day we took a 30-minute flight to the city of Dalat.   We biked through the city having to negotiate a few roundabouts.  It was more traffic than I was expecting but as we rode out of town the traffic thinned out and I started to relax.  We climbed a small hill next to a cemetery for a view of the city.  We continued around the city passing greenhouses growing flowers and vegetables.  Agriculture is the big business here.

View of Dalat

We had a big day of cycling today.  We had to cross the Hon Giao Pass at 2062 meters or 6765 feet.  Fortunately, the grade was not too steep and we were able to cycle to the top.  The summit was shrouded in mist so there were no views.  We donned our windbreakers for the long descent.  Traffic was still light but we had to keep an eye out for the big red buses that took up the whole road.  We passed cascading waterfalls and forest-clad hills before reaching agricultural fields below.

Peggy Next to a Waterfall

The traffic picked up again and after cycling 60 miles and climbing over 4000 feet, we piled back into the van and drove the rest of the way to the coastal resort city of Nha Trang.

View of Nha Trang from our Hotel Room

We had a layover day in Nha Trang so we explored the bay stopping at a fishing village where a woman in a round boat called a coracle came out to ferry us to shore.   It was a bit tippy but a unique design made from tightly woven bamboo.  

Local Woman in a Coracle

Later in the afternoon we visited the ancient Cham temple of Po Nagar founded sometime before 871 AD.

Dancers Preform at Po Nagar

The next day we resumed cycling along the coast.  We passed fishing villages where women squatted on the sidewalk to weigh their catch and prepare it for market.  Everything from fish to octopus to sea urchins were for sale.

The Day's Catch

In the afternoon we climbed high over the South China Sea, past a lighthouse where we stopped at a viewpoint.  

Admiring the View of the South China Sea

We covered 37 miles today before climbing back into the van for the short drive to Tuy Hoa.  Our hotel room overlooked a wetland and in the evening hundreds of egrets flew in to roost in the trees.

Roosting Egrets

We awoke to our first rain of the trip.  We opted to ride in the van about 14 miles out of town when it stopped raining so we were able to cycle.  We covered 31 miles today riding through towns and past people working in the rice paddies.  Rice is still planted by hand.  In the south seeds are scattered onto the field and once they start growing are thinned with a type of hoe.

Working in the Rice Paddies

We ended in the coastal city of Quinhon.  The rain continued over the next few days but we managed to get in some cycling between showers.  On January 9, we visited the My Lai Memorial Site.   We were the first to arrive and had the whole place to ourselves.  We were ushered into a meeting room to watch a 30-minute video about the massacre that took place here on March 16, 1968.  On that dark day in US history, US soldiers killed 504 unarmed men, women and children in this peaceful village.  The rationale remains clouded but they thought they were engaging Viet Cong that were part of the Tet Offensive.  When they met unarmed civilians who did not resist, they killed them anyway.  We went upstairs to the museum where there were lots of graphic photos, war relics and a wall containing the names and ages of all 504 victims. 

Victims of the My Lai Massacre

Afterwards we walked around the site where only the foundations of the villagers' homes remained.  

Foundation of a Home Destroyed in the My Lai Massacre

One home had been reconstructed (in back of photo above).  As we were leaving I broke into tears and apologized to the two sweet young women working in the museum.  I told them I was sorry that Americans did this.  They replied "it's in the past, we have forgiven and moved on."  "We look to the future and today the Vietnamese people are living in peace."  If only people around the world could live by these words.  If only our politicians remembered these past mistakes and vowed never to repeat them.  Yet to this day we are so eager to go to war and meddle in the affairs of other countries and to what end??

It was still raining so we rode in the van to a small town where we stopped to walk through the market.  The cheerful look on the women's faces brightened the mood.

Care for Some Eels?

We ended the day in the colorful city of Hoi An, a well preserved trading port dating from the 15th to 19th centuries.  Today it attracts tourists from all over the world with its many shops, restaurants, and historic sites.  One of the most famous sites is a covered bridge built by the Japanese in the 1590's to link them with the Chinese quarters.

Japanese Covered Bridge

At night the city comes alive with brightly colored lanterns strung overhead.  Street vendors were selling candles set in cartons for the tourists float on the Thu Bon River.

Lanterns in Hoi An Ancient City

We've seen so many interesting sites and learned much about Vietnam's culture and history during our first 10 days in the country.  We're sure to see and learn a lot more as we head north toward Hanoi.  Stay tuned.
We hope all is well back home,
Peggy and Marc

Here is a map showing our route from Saigon to Hoi An:


Pamela Hunt said...

Hi guys--Thanks for letting us travel with you, even if it's just through my monitor. We're looking forward to the next update--maybe I can get Joe to agree to this for a future non-motorcycling trip :)

Tom F said...

Looks like you covered most of the country and saw some amazing things!