BootsnAll Travel Network

You say liberated, we say fell. Tomato, tomahto.

Becky 020.jpg

It’s been a whirlwind ten days, everyone, and as I sit down to write this post about Vietnam – the little bit of it I saw anyway, I’m already in Cambodia. I left you in Luang Prabang, Laos, I think, after an aborted attempt to enter northern Vietnam overland from there. I was in a town called Mung Noi and I made a tactical error regarding transportation. I decided to take a bus from near there to a faraway town called Sam Neua, three hours from the Vietnam border, without realizing exactly how far. I caught a truck-thingie, called a sawngthaew (pronounced songthew, I think) which is basically two benches on the sides of the back of a pick-up, with a little roof, to a town called Vieng Khan in the middle of BFE and was stranded. No more buses. But there was a guesthouse there where you could stay and they would wake you up in time to catch the night bus, which passed through on the way from the capital, Vientiane, to Sam Neua.

The bus arrived at this guesthouse at 1:30am, and I, having not really slept, got on it, facing 12 hours (just to get to Sam Neua!), lights on, jam-packed, Lao pop blaring and no seats left, just kindergarten-sized plastic, backless stools in the middle of the aisle. Sitting on one of these stools, I thought, “Becky, you don’t have to do this.” So, I got off the bus and went back to bed. Decided to fly to Saigon from Vientiane, the Lao capital. No virtue in suffering, a wise traveler once told me!

Back to Luang Prabang on another truck-thingie in the pouring rain, me and all my stuff got soaked, plus there was a lady puking blood or something on there. Seriously, I think she had TB. Thank god I had my shot. When she got up off the soaked floor, where she was laying, there was literally a pool of blood. Spent the night and decided to take the night bus from Luang Prabang to the capital of Laos, Vientiane. Totally different situation! This night bus picked up at 6pm and arrived at 6am, so I thought it wouldn’t be so bad. And it wasn’t, except for the drunk Lao guy sitting next to me hogging the seat all night and the combination of Lionel Ritchie and Lao pop that played all night. What is it with developing countries and Lionel Ritchie? I half expected some Bryan Adams, too. The kid behind me enjoyed it though, or at least seemed to as he sang along to “Say You, Say Me.”

So, blah blah blah, a few nice days in Vientiane and then it was a flight off to Saigon! Whoa, sensory overload! The car and scooter horns, my God, the car and scooter horns. Deafening. Laos is so rural and green and quiet, except for the 5am roosters, that I was kind of gobsmacked by Saigon – Ho Chi Minh City to the commies. And the traffic, my God, the traffic. Crossing the street is an art form, as no one on the legions of scooters seems to pay attention to either “crosswalks,” or lights. You have to walk very slowly and make eye contact with the drivers to prevent being mowed down. What an adrenaline rush! We started crossing the street just for fun!

Vietnam is an interesting place. I’ve never seen a country embrace capitalism so wholeheartedly – every single building is a store. Kids patrol the streets selling photocopied versions of books, gum, candy, postcards etc. You can’t walk two steps without being assaulted by cries of “Tuk tuk? Tuk tuk?” and an offer to buy everything else. Yet a distinctly anti-American vibe persists. Saigon was liberated in 1975 from the evil Americans – it says as much in propaganda everywhere. I toured, along with hordes of other tourists, the Cu Chi tunnels outside Saigon. They’re 220 kilometers of underground tunnels which the Viet Cong used to attack Saigon. Before the tour, we watched an anti-American propaganda film, talking about the bravery of the VC, who earned special “American-killing” medals. Then we walked around the grounds, which really look like Platoon or something, stopping to see an American tank that had fallen victim to an anti-tank mine, sitting exactly where it had been blow up in 1969, I think. Four Americans died on it, he said proudly. I’m no patriot, but I have to tell you, it made me kind of sick to my stomach to see people climbing all over it and smiling for pictures. We got to go about 90 feet in the tunnels too, which they had to widen for us fatty Westerners, and at one point I had to get down on my hands and knees and crawl. Very claustrophobic but fascinating. There’s a picture of the tank on Flickr, and the opening shot on this entry is one of the cartoon illustrations showing Americans getting maimed, displayed with the traps set by the VC. Also a few pics of those on Flickr.

Next day it was off to the War Remembrance Museum for more. It was a worthwhile visit, though. Lots of photos of the war and some tiger cages that the VC got thrown into when caught. The atrocities committed by the Americans were on full display, pictures of My Lai and the effects of Agent Orange. All very sobering and thought-provoking. It would, of course, have been better if the Vietnamese government acknowledged some of the atrocities the VC committed during the war, or mentioned the “reeducation camps” it sent southern Vietnamese to after the war was over. But, I kept forgetting, this is a “communist” state. It was, to say the least, a very interesting few days.

Took a 3-day tour from Saigon to the Mekong Delta, where we floated around and endured a 3-hour boat trip in a downpour underneath a tarp. Instead of canceling the trip cause of the rain, I think the guide was like, “Well, they paid for it, so they must want to do it.” Right. Anyway, I am really, really ready to get out of the rain. Took another boat ride from Chau Doc, Vietnam to Cambodia, where I now sit, starving to death and ready for lunch. I think this entry is long enough, don’t you? Laters!


2 responses to “You say liberated, we say fell. Tomato, tomahto.”

  1. Dane says:

    I must say Becky, this sounds like a profound destination, a place where history simply reads differently. I admire your tenacity to get there and see it…not to mention the abuse to your kidneys while in transport. Please stay safe and keep that ambassadorial wit about you! Hope it stays dry too!

  2. Lorrie Oaks says:

    Becky! C’mon 12 hours on a little stool on a bus seems so easy as compared to leeches! Lorrie here from your AQUA days. Hope you are learning a lot form your trip-especially that you are really lucky to live in the US. Have a wonderful time & enjoy!nrnrBe safe!nrnrLorrie

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