Saigon (AKA Ho Chi Minh City) contains about three million motorbikes. Between the bikes, tuk tuks, cyclos and buses it?s a pretty busy place. We knew about the fall of Saigon and the airlifts off of the American Embassy in the 1970?s which is why it?s amazing that the locals are so welcoming to American tourists. There definitely is a different feel to Saigon. It is more Westernized than Hanoi (but still doesn?t have a McDonalds) and the people are jumping to capitalize on the tourist industry. Although this means you can get a really good hamburger with real Heinz ketchup it also means that touts are getting pushy and prices are over inflated for the region.
We were down to our last few days once we reached Saigon so we really packed in the sites. One day was spent in various boats in the Mekong Delta. It was not a very intensive survey of the Mekong but good enough to get a feel for the place. Any boat with a motor would be heard from miles away, I wonder how the war could have been fought in this area at all–Americans must have been like sitting ducks. We also spent part of one day visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels. They were over three levels of tunnels built to house over 10,000 gorillas. The people fighting here were Southerners who joined up forces with the North but were not technically part of the North Vietnamese Army. Visiting the tunnels was the first time on my trip that I felt a bit offended as an American. I like to think that I?m open minded but the illustrations of American soldiers caught in different traps with spikes sticking out of their bodies was a bit gruesome for me. Even worse was the tank left where it was attacked. Our guide explained each place an American soldier died on the tank and then smiled and told us to climb up and take our picture on the tank as a souvenir. The other tourists happily climbed up and posed with big smile right where someone?s son had died.
The War Crimes Museum was another interesting propaganda-filled site. Although the French received a small portion of the museum?s attention, the main focus was on the atrocities committed by American soldiers. I?m sure much of what I saw was true but I?m also sure that similar ?war crimes? were committed by the North Vietnamese. The worst evidence revolved around Agent Orange which is still affecting births as late as the 1990?s. All of our guides south of the DMZ were former South Vietnamese soldiers but they all had different opinions of the war. Although many had been sent to ?reeducation camps? they were still very loyal to the South and America. In response to an Australian?s question about pensions, one of our guides mentioned that America should really be paying the soldier?s healthcare to which I had to laugh. He had forgotten that he had Americans in his group and I couldn?t help myself from grumbling that if the U.S. gave the Vietnamese healthcare before it?s own people I?d be pretty upset.
After my cousin started his long series of flights back to Chicago I decided to take another boat tour of the Mekong as a way of getting across the border to Cambodia. Unfortunately I waited one day too many because a typhoon blew into town making the bus to Phnom Penh a much wiser decision.