Getting to Saigon was an interesting adventure. I took a local mini-bus from Chau Doc, and found myself crowded with six people in a row of seats built for three. It wouldn’t have been so bad except that there was an older Vietnamese guy who kept stroking the hairs on my leg. I kept giving him dirty looks, and physically moved his hand a couple of times, but eventually gave up and tried to sleep.
When I got to the bus station, I hailed a motorcycle taxi for the ride across town to where I was staying. I’d never seen such insane traffic! The ride was a blast, with the feeling that either we’d be killed in a collision, or that I’d be pulled off the back of the bike by the weight of my pack every time he accelerated. Eventually we got to the backpacker section of town and I found a decent guest house to stay at. I wandered around for a while and found a stall selling pirated lonely planet guidebooks. I was surprised to see that they had one for Mongolia, so I picked it up and settled down at an Italian restaurant for some food and reading. The next table over had a couple of British girls, and eventually I ended up chatting with them. We ended up going out for drinks at a bar later that evening, and it turns out that Steph and I really got along well. They were leaving the following day, but we made plans to meet up in Nha Trang in a few days.
The next day I went out to see the Chu Chi tunnels nearby where the Viet-Cong would hide from American soldiers during the war. It was amazing to see how they’d built a complete city underground. Even more amazing was the small size of the access points to the tunnels. No wonder the Americans couldn’t follow them very well! They did have a special set of “enlarged” tunnels that westerners could fit into (barely!), but anyone with the slightest bit of claustrophobia would never be able to try them. After we experienced the tunnels themselves, we were able to head over to a firing range and play with some machine guns. For a dollar a bullet I got to fire an AK-47 on both regular and full auto. I’d never shot a gun with that kind of power before, and I really liked it. I bet my brother is having a blast with his M-16 in Iraq!
Later on I went to see the War Remnants museum (formerly the Museum of American war crimes). This presented the Vietnam war from the other side, and the image of the west was one of complete brutality. I’d never think that either side was innocent, but it was interesting to see how the current government presented their version.