Hello, What’s Your Name?
A three week adventure around Vietnam.
“Peter….arhhhhh….it hurts…..this isn’t good…..I think….oh hang on, maybe not…actually yep….I’m going to be sick!” And with that Niki shot out of bed and made a run to the bathroom of the hotel we were staying at in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. My horrible friend Giardia, which I managed to loose in Hoi An, had made an untimely return, this time attacking Niki. Sadistically, Niki falling ill has become a bit of a tradition of ours whilst travelling. Since I first met my now wife, we haven’t had a single trip where she hasn’t got horribly ill from Giardia or some other mysterious stomach ailment. The poor thing has her heart set on visiting India one day, however I reckon her stomach might explode if we do.
Whilst noises vibrated from the bathroom similar to the sounds Chewbacca makes in the movie Star Wars, I sat on the bed reading my guidebook with a sense of accomplishment. We had made it to our final destination, Ho Chi Minh City. Given our hectic itinerary, we had only allowed ourselves one day to spend here before we flew home to Perth the next day. With Niki feeling under the weather, I reluctantly shrank our Ho Chi Minh to-do list down to the Reunification Palace, the War Remnants Museum and Ben Thanh Market.
Rule No. 15 of being married – Never under any circumstances tell your wife as she is in the bathroom being sick “May the force be with you”. You’ll regret it later as she walks out and says very sternly whilst grabbing hold of anything she can throw, “I’ll give you the bloody force”.
With a bathroom stop along the way and a few traffic moments that had Niki looking familiarly like a stunned deer in headlights, we had successfully walked to the Ben Thanh Market. As soon I walked in and got lost in the labyrinth of everything from clothing, fabrics, produce, tourist products and handicrafts, I knew it was a bad idea to bring Niki here. The market was great, but coupled with the intense Ho Chi Minh humidity and the energetic, some may even say fearless, market touts pulling us in every direction, the unwell Niki was not going to cope. Realising the danger, I turned back to see Niki engulfed by ten ladies who were keen to sell her a life time’s supply of souvenirs. Then in a fit of slow motion heroicism, only fit for the movies, Niki scrambled free of their clutches and passed me in a slow run heading for the closest exit and bathroom. As I stood there watching her run with my jaw dropped, whilst the ten ladies looked at awe at the one person who ever escaped their clutches, I simply turned to them and said “That’s my wife” and took off after her.
Leaving the market behind us, we headed for the Reunification Palace. Built in the 1960′s it was once the Presidential Palace of South Vietnam, before being infamously photographed as the communist tanks rolled through the gates to signify the end of the war. The palace had been strangely left in a sort of time warp of what it looked like on that very day, with outdated maps, stuffed colonial animals, old photography gear, military aircraft and stately furnishings found throughout the palace and the grounds. Entry is 20,000d, just be aware that the ticket counters throughout most of Ho Chi Minh city close for lunch.
After our interesting bit of time travel, we decided to grab a bite to eat and wait for the War Remnant Museum to open. After looking at a few restaurants, walking out of one due to the fact that they served snakes and something that resembled a porcupine, we found a great little cafe. It had to be good, it was full of Vietnamese locals. After 3 weeks of South East Asian travel, their western food was great and Niki loved the fact that their bathrooms were modern and clean. Feeling well fed, we psyched ourselves up for the War Remnants Museum. I say psyched because from what I had been told, this museum was going to rip our souls apart, they weren’t wrong.
The War Remnants museum is principally about the Vietnam/American war. The grounds of the museum are dotted like a used car yard with American and Vietnamese weaponry. Everything from fighter jets and helicopters to rockets and bombs. Inside however, was a trip into the dark side of humanity. With exhibitions aimed at exploring the devastating impacts of Agent Orange, Napalm and the effects of war. The exhibits range from poignant photography of dismembered people to a real fetus showing the continual effects of chemical weapons on generations to come. It didn’t stop here though, the museum had also developed a realistic representation of a concentration camp and still months on I can still see the horrific images in my head.
Niki had to walk out after the first exhibition with tears streaming down her face; she was uncomfortable with what was being shown and I could empathize with her. I on the other hand wanted to see it all, I thought it was the least I could do to remember the people who experienced the war and by the end, was emotionally drained and on the verge of tears too. Perhaps it was due to me reading about Kim Phoc (of the book: The Girl in the Picture) a week before, or just the graphical images in the museum, but it really burrowed into my heart. The museum is developed from a Vietnamese government’s perspective and due to this many write ups are favorable towards the government. However to me it wasn’t about which country was right or wrong, it was about the act of war and how brutal it really is.
The museum is well worth a visit and will take a few hours of your time. They don’t recommend children visit and it’s obvious why. Be prepared for what you’ll see and be brave, as these stories need to be told. After taking a few moments to regain ourselves and shooting a few dirty looks at tourist distastefully laughing at an exhibition, we grabbed our gear and headed back to the hotel for our final night in Vietnam.