After breakfast we got back on the boat to sail back to the mainland then hoped on the bus to Hanoi. After a few hours there we took a taxi to the airport and flew to Ho Chi Minh City. Then we took another taxi into the Pham Ngu Lao area of the city to find a hotel. After trying a few we found a decent one and slumped exhausted.
The next morning we were up early to go to the War Remnants Museum. Previously known as the American War Crimes Museum, it is an impressive but disappointingly one-sided display of the horrors of the North Vietnam/American war. Especially harrowing are the extensive photos of napalm and agent orange victims. After this we went to visit the project sites in the Go Vap area of town. (see separate post http://www.antipodeanadventure.org/blog/?p=179).
After visiting the project on Wednesday morning I booked a flight to Hue for that evening. Standing by the roadside waiting for the airport bus in the sweaty heat wasn’t much fun especially when the fecker ignored my waving arms and sped right past me. There was only one option - the ubiquitous moto. Having been assailed by the constant chant of “Hello, moto” every 3 - 4 seconds in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, I wasn’t particularly keen to have to haggle with these guys but luckily one of them had seen the bus incident and offered to take me to the airport for 2 dollars which was a fine price considering it was a half hour away. My good luck continued when I got to the airport and they put me on an earlier flight.
Hue is a pretty town with obvious French influence but was fairly quiet. After booking into a hostel I went for a wander before hitting the sack early. I had booked myself onto a tour of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) for the next morning starting at 6am. The DMZ is the area around the former border between North and South Vietnam. Historically it was a narrow band of terrain extending from the Laos border to the coast, five km on either side of the Ben Hai River, roughly on the 17th parallel north latitude.
The DMZ tour was interesting historically but the sights themselves weren’t terribly exciting with the exception of the underground village at Vinh Moc. Due to the massive bombing campaign in the DMZ, no villages were left standing. Villagers instead began digging extensive networks of tunnels where they could hide from the bombs. The network of tunnels at Vinh Moc is one of the biggest constructed in the area with a total length of nearly 2 km, structured into three floors with the first 13 m beneath the ground, the second 15 m, and the third, 23 m. The village was built over two years and during the war, 17 children were born in the tunnels. The last time I’d seen underground living quarters like these was in Turkey at the underground city of Kaymakli which was constructed by Hittite tribes 4000 years ago as a refuge and defense against invaders. Thousands of years later, the practice was occurring again for much the same reasons. Other sites included the remains of former American bases complete with left over equipment such as tanks and choppers.
On Friday morning I went to explore the old Imperial Citadel complex which was the home of the ruling Nguyen dynasty from 1802 until 1945. It must have been an impressive set of structures once but decades of war had left much of it in ruins. Several of the more impressive buildings had been completely restored though and work was underway at some of the others. At 2pm I got on a bus to the picturesque town of Hoi An. This small town is the clothing mecca of Vietnam with over 200 different tailor shops crammed into its streets. I had to get fitted out and ended up getting 2 silk shirts, 2 cotton shirts and 2 pairs of trousers hand made for 25 quid. Quality.
Saturday I pootered around town in the pouring rain while waiting for my clothes to be finished and had the best meal I had in Vietnam - pork stuffed squid. Heavenly. On Sunday I got on the bus to Danang where I visited the museum of Cham sculpture. The ancient kingdom of Champa was situated in South and Central Vietnam from the 7th century until the early 19th century and was constantly at war with North Vietnamese, Chinese and Kymers. Heavily influenced by Indian Hinduism, the Chams were devotees of Shiva and constructed many temples and sculptures. The remains of the temples can still be seen near Hoi An today though war have had its toll on them. Luckily, many of the sculptures were removed for their preservation and the biggest collection is at the museum in Danang. After a while here I got on the train for Hanoi. The overnight train wasn’t bad despite being 18 hours and would get me into Hanoi for 12 noon on Monday.