Ho Chi Minh City: War Remnants Museum.

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“No event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War. It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now” – Nixon. 

 

This quote stood out to me for a number of reasons. Firstly, being European and under thirty I don’t actually know a lot about the Vietnam war. Of course I’ve seen Apocalypse Now and Platoon but that’s all the information I’ve ever really learn’t.

Another reason for the quote is that I’ve read some of the information presented at the War Remnants Museum to be sensationalist, or overindulgent; to use phrases that sound nicer than propaganda. I’m no scholar on war history so I’ve no idea what is true…

Propaganda however, is one of the reasons I wanted to take a look.

I love propaganda art, so I was really happy to find a great ‘arts’ section, which was sadly lacking at the Military museum in Hanoi. Another area of the museum I loved – which conveniently links in with the aforementioned quote – was the focus on the photographers involved in reporting the war. It was interesting to learn about characters such as Larry Burrows, Henry Huet, Sam Castan and Dickey Chappelle, who was one of the first Female war correspondents. It seems like such a dangerously captivating profession, with fantastic photography and unfortunately an extremely high mortality rate.  All of the above, and many more featured died chasing photos.

 

Other disturbingly graphic and quite upsetting exhibits included photographic tours of the results of Agent Orange and Landmines. No holding back involved.

Aside from the dubious factual content,  it’s a good museum and it was cheap, 15’000 Dong (less than $1USD)  Also, I got to sit in a helicopter and pretend I was a pilot – childhood dream? Tick!

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Nha Trang, Vietnam.

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We headed down to Nha Trang for two reasons, firstly to meet a friend who was headed back up north to Hanoi, and secondly to get in some beach time. We’ve spent almost all of our travels inland and being excellent visitors, taking in museums and culture. Now is the time to lounge around and eat toasted sandwiches, at least for a couple of days.

Nha Trang was scorching hot the entire time we visited. It’s a pretty standard beach town, great waves and sea provided you can get past the break which crashes into you as soon as you set foot into the juice.

Hội An, Vietnam.

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We took the bus down from Huế to Hội An, and arrived in this little town I had read so much about as a centre of food. The town is very small and quaint, they have somehow managed to keep the historical aspects of the ‘old town’ area, and avoided the modern multi-storey building of other Vietnamese towns. It has also been declared a world heritage site, so the colonial French areas will always be retained, which is nice in a historical sort of way.

The food aspect of the town was quite enjoyable.  Local specialties like cao lầu, mì quảng and white rose were exceptionally good and well worth tasting, The town is incredibly picturesque and on a lovely sunny day it’s an enjoyable place to be, watching the world go by, or men playing xiangqi.

For me, personally it was a bit too twee, too quaint or as we might say in England ‘chocolate box’ . I really enjoyed the pace of life here, and the ability to ride a bicycle around without the fear of being driven off the road by a thousand mopeds like other cities. Also, the beach was beautiful, and swimming in the sea was great fun, but I found the town itself to be a little on the over commercialised side. Not in the sense like having a Macdonalds next to the pyramids; but in the sense of becoming that cliche postcard scene that the locals think tourists want – and maybe some do, but I don’t.
It’s a really strange mix of backpackers and then more middle aged tourists. a juxtaposition of noisy bars and then shophouses selling local homewares, carvings and paintings.
Maybe I didn’t get the place, maybe I’m missing something; but for me I just would preferred to be more about the town and less about the tourists. Perhaps in  ten years time I could appreciate this kind of location a bit more, but currently I’m at a difficult age. I’m young at heart but have no patience for drunk eighteen year olds, but on the other hand I’m no good at talking politics or mortgages with the grown-ups.

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Vietnamese street food : banh ruoc (pork fluff rolls)

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Sometimes when you travel you find things that are just a bit unusual. I normally like to browse supermarkets to find the odd snack food. This time, a trip to the bakery introduced me to  bánh ruốc, or ‘Pig fluff rolls’ as I have now renamed them, it flows off the tongue slightly better.

 

In texture, it’s a bit like meaty candy floss and I expected it to taste like next to nothing, but it strangely has an incredibly meaty taste. I can only attribute that to additives.

I dread to think how a product like this is made, but it makes for a nice meaty bun.

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Good morning Vietnam! Hanoi, you are mental.

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We flew into Hanoi, as we had read nothing but stories of woe about the twenty-four hour bus ride from Vientiane, and we’ve done plenty of ‘slow travel’ lately that It’s been eating into our time to actually visit places. The flights were reasonably cheap, and although I would usually prefer to take a train or a bus and enjoy the views, not at the expense of our actual trip. What is one day in a destination worth to someone?

Anyway, Hanoi this time of year is cold, and quite grey. At times it makes me think of the city in Bladerunner, other times I’m just thinking it’s like Wacky Races as there are literally a gazillion scooters coming at you from every angle. Crossing the road involves luck and confidence. It’s a bit like being in India again; but with noodles, and coats.

I do love this city though. It’s got history, culture, and amazing food. It’s really easy to get around on foot and the climate makes it bearable to just wander around all day without becoming intolerably sweaty. We spent a couple of days doing touristy things. We visited Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, but turns out they closed just as we arrived. We had heard from others that ‘Uncle’ as he’s affectionately known to the Vietnamese, is viewable in a glass coffin and had just come back from his restorative holidays in Russia. Unfortunately, the site shut down as soon as we arrived. The Mausoleum is nonetheless an excellent architectural site. We also got the chance to visit Ho Chi Minh’s house in the area behind his tomb, including his car collection. It wasn’t much like MTV Cribs.

We took a walk to the temple of literature. We’ve been getting a bit temple tired lately, and skipping all these sort of sites due to overkill. However, the temple of literature has something a bit different. It’s got lovely calm open spaces and peaceful atmosphere to it. There was also some sort of graduation there too, which was quite interesting. Whilst we were in the area we also checked out the Vietnamese Military Museum. There was lots of  tanks and planes and many exhibitions detailing how they drove away the Chinese and Americans. I was quite disappointed however, as they did not exhibit any propaganda art.

There are however, plenty of strange goings on; and odd things around to bemuse and confuse the foreign folk.

The first night we arrived, we wandered around for a bit and ate some food. I walked down the street and noticed all these people burning their rubbish – again, reminiscent of India – I genuinely couldn’t believe, or convince Jess that I had seen people burning money. After asking Google ‘Why do Vietnamese people burn money?’ it turns out these are fake notes you can buy all over the place to burn to bring prosperity to dead relatives. I don’t understand why they’re American dollars but I guess that’s a different question all together.

Pyjamas are REALLY popular.

One thing I am a bit surprised about is the basket ladies with the conical hats and two big flat trays to carry their goods. Now, firstly I was a bit surprised that they are everywhere, and not just in all the cliché tourist postcard spots, but that’s not really my point.
My point is; you’re just sitting down drinking a beer, for example and they say ‘banana, banana you want bananas?’  I don’t know if just me, but beer and bananas just don’t work for me and Jess absolutely hates bananas which makes me laugh when they’re trying to sell them to her, so you say no and then wait for them to offer their modelling services for a picture. Again, a polite but firm refusal is metered out to be met with a look of utter filth, like you’ve just taken a dump on their bananas. I don’t understand, maybe it’s lost in communication between two cultures. Maybe all the tourists cave and buy the bananas?

Cross stitch seems to be the national past time, and it’s always flowers. Also they’re usually at work either in a museum, train station or similar – They are never in their pyjamas though.

Every now and then you see someone smoking a ridiculously large pipe. They are about two foot long and wooden, it’s probably only tobacco but they seem unnecessarily large. The first time we saw one we were just casually having coffee about eight in the morning, when this guy took a hit on his great big bong  and jumped on his moped to drive the wrong way up a one way street, on the pavement. Standard Hanoi driving.

People are really keen to get as much as possible onto bicycles or motorbikes. In just a few days we’ve seen people transporting pot plants, panes of glass, not one, but four coat stands, about thirty brooms and my personal favourite was the woman who had so many mugs attached to her bicycle you could barely spot the bicycle under them.

Cycle rickshaw drivers just don’t understand. They don’t understand that you might just like to walk somewhere and not go at walking speed, in something that looks like a felt lined wheelbarrow.

Small green spaces are not for recreation or leisure. They are for scooters to use as shortcuts and junction dodging. Also, and oddly some people on scooters stop at junctions and lights and others don’t. I don’t understand the rules, and I’m not sure why there are markings on the roads, when no one pays any attention to them.

TIP : Sometimes in the evenings, you have to be vigilant of projectiles. I’ve noticed that people like to throw their rubbish bags out of their windows. One day I would like to see one hit a rogue scooter rider ignoring the Highway Code.

 

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