|I've got just the spot for it.|
|Callum, looking like he's been thrown to the lions|
The sales girls, all glammed up in their designer outfits, are very very tenacious. They are on you the second you're off the bus. A grafting wouldn't get them any closer. They must work on the old Genghis Khan principle of divide and conquer because within minutes Christina was whisked in one direction by her 'personal shopper' and mine was wrapped around me like a Gucci python and we were heading off in the other. Seriously, she was that close I put my hand in my pocket to grab a tissue and I pulled out her hanky. We gave the four tonne Buddha and the Crouching Tigers a miss but did pick up a couple of jade marble apples, a small tiger for Callum and a pocket size dragon for Charlie.
The flight down to Saigon was short and uneventful. Here we were met by Te our new guide for the next few days. Saigon is the largest city in Vietnam, population over 9 million. First thing I notice is that the roads are wider and cleaner and there are some beautiful little parks with modern children's play grounds. The roads and boulevards are just as crammed with fearless riders and their bikes, cars and taxis, all with the same casual disregard for life and limb. But unlike Hanoi, here there are large glamorous shopping centres with billboard size ads for Zenga, Choppard, Cartier etc etc. It has a post office design by none other than Gustaf Eiffel. A magnificent feat of architecture and imagination.
No road side barber chairs here or couples sitting on crates on the road verge picking for nits. I did see an old lady in a bright purple jump suit hand feeding crumbs to pigeons from a plastic bag. Here women are wearing skirts and short shorts. There are chicks and guys with tatts. As far as a major city in a communist country goes the place is more Melbourne than Kremlin.
|Hanoi, this is what a capital city should look like|
It makes sense that Hanoi is the capital because it's the biggest city in the north and the north won the war. But if a capital city was meant to represent the country it's a poor example. It has an antiquated and dingy feel to it. The streets for the most part are narrow and in need of repair and the buildings old and unsightly. It screams third world where Saigon is exciting alive and impressive. We finally arrived at our hotel, The Family Inn. It was fine after a room change from the 11th floor directly under the restaurant kitchen down to the quieter third. We had the afternoon to our selves.
Charlie's birthday. The big 09. We blew up balloons and had some cards for him. Charlie had five different kinds of pastries for breakfast with a coco pops chaser. While I'm sure he would have preferred a day at Adventure world, we were off to the Reunification Palace, The Vietnam War Museum and the Chinese Markets with a lunch in the middle some where. Sorry Charlie not Sizzlers.
|Happy Birthday Charlie|
After the Reunification Palace, or "The White House", as they refer to it, Eiffel's Post Office and then the Vietnam War Museum.
|The Post office - exterior,|
|The Post Office - interior, this doesn't do it justice|
|The "White House"|
|The House Of Horrors|
A disturbing and provocative place. While I have no doubt that the pictures, depictions and reports were presented in as anti American fashion as possible, neither side emerges from this atrocity cleanly or covered in glory. Eiffel's Saigon post office, a magnificent example of how creative, audacious, inspiring and brilliant man can be at his best left me feeling inspired, uplifted and a little in awe . The war memorial left me feeling hopeless, disturbed, angry, and sad. As human beings we have this amazing capacity for good. To lift the spirit of man to dizzy heights with our generosity, creativity and tolerance. But it seems we are as easily swayed to plumb the lowest depths of depravity and sheer bloody evilness. I could go into explicit detail about the methods of "persuasion" used to control and extract information that one side would use against the other. But I won't. You could not imagine more diabolical methods or contraptions. Try if you like. And there are no innocents here. Regardless of propaganda and convenient omissions from both sides. There is no generalising when I say mankind can be the most evil, callous, depraved creatures walking, crawling or swimming this planet. It would seem that as far as our species is concerned, when push comes to shove, no one is safe, no one is spared and there is no where to hide. Enough of that. We're off to lunch for a lovely bowl of Pho and a tasty pork stir fry.
We cut the afternoon short after lunch and a quick trip to the markets to buy a new back pack for Callum and a couple of t-shirts for the boys. Just what we need, more clothes. Back at the hotel for a rest and I dropped next door for the best massage of my life. $12 got me 90 minutes of reflex, shoulder arms and back with a hot stone massage and a cucumber poultice on my face to finish. The small slip of a girl could crack walnuts with those hands. I asked for her name so I could ask for her again and I got "number 15". Yeh I know, their idea not mine. We took a cab to Vincom, a large very modern shopping centre with a couple of floors of restaurants. It was Charlie's pick. We ended up at a US burger place, Carls Junior. Not bad as far as burgers go. Not my choice but hey I wasn't the one celebrating my last single digit birthday.
Today a 7.30 am start and a 2 hour ride to Cu Chi tunnels. Geez Govt of Vietnam, spend a coupla Dong on your roads. 10kms out of the city and the roads turn to poo. All the good work number 15 did on me yesterday is shot. The tunnels were originally started in the late 40s to help fight the French. Later in 1960 when the Americans came they started to expand them and by the time they had finished there were over 250 kms of these ingenious rabbit holes stretching into Cambodia and to Saigon. They were built on 3 levels with a kitchen, sleeping quarters, weapons hold and a bomb shelter that was up to 10 metres deep, enough to withstand the impact from a B52 bomb.
|These holes are swimming pool size|
They built ventilation holes cleverly concealed in fake ant hill mounds, The Americans would drop grenades down them when they could find them so they build false ones and booby trapped them. There were clever little trap doors to pop out of or disappear into. They were tiny, I couldn't get past my shoulders and Callum managed to just squeeze in.
|If I got in, fair chance I wouldn't be coming out|
|Callum only just squeezed in|
|How freakin nasty would this be.|
In the distance we heard the loud crack of gunfire. First single shots then occasionally the staccato of a fully automatic. They had a firing range. Oohh yehh. There was a range of weapons to choose from. All used in the war. Both the boys were keen to try but alas the minimum age was 18. And fair enough. These were not Tonka handguns or pop pop 22's. I was deciding between an M14 or an M16. I chose the M16. These are big boys toys. I paid my $20 for 10 rounds and we all headed down to the range. Ive been shooting for about 7 years and been in a booth next to a 44 Magnum going off but the noise these bad boys were making, on an open firing range, was deafening. The targets were about 100 metres away. The trigger was tight but very sensitive. Not much room for a soft squeeze as you site your target. First thing that gets you is the recoil. Its a real punch in the shoulder. You've got to hold it snug. Second is the noise. They fired these in battle without ear muffs and hundreds of rounds at a time, next to several guys doing the same thing. My ears were ringing for 15 minutes afterwards. Those poor bastards must have been stone motherless deaf.
|Big boys and their toys. M16 in action|
Its back on the road for another couple of hours to Cao Dai temple. A clever fella back in 1925 got a bit fed up with the three major religions in the area, Buddisim, Taoism and Christianity all claiming to be the one true religion so thought bugger you all, I'll make my own. So he combined the best elements of the three and created Cao Dai. It is really only known and celebrated in it's region but it has over 2 million followers. On our trek back we had lunch in a tree house.