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Ho Chi Minh City


Brother, you don't know what hot is.

Imagine standing in a blast furnace.

Imagine being anywhere near the equator after a few more years of this inexorable global warming.

That's Ho Chi Minh City. That's Vietnam.

Believe it or not, I had actually packed hiking boots. Even after a friend assured me they were the last thing I'd need. (We ended up shipping back several extraneous clothing items at great expense.)

If you go to Vietnam, don't bother bringing boots.

Dress as if you are headed to the Sahara Desert. Besides the occasional rain storm, there is mostly just blazing sun and a very warm breeze.

We landed late at night. This made for an absolutely surreal initial experience. Ho Chi Minh is a big city. Big and dirty. Most of the lights were out in the city. It made for a very Bladerunner type of atmosphere. The first thing that strikes you is the sheer volume of bicycles and mopeds. Cars are definitely the exception. In Vietnam, the primary modes of transport are the bicycle and the moped. Cars and buses were present, but in nowhere near the numbers of mopeds.

As our cab eased into the giant mass of swerving and speeding mopeds, I think my only comment was a flabbergasted "holy shit." It was at once awe-inspiring, pulse-quickening, and scary. I couldn't help but think just where we were. Sure, the super-long flights were an indication of how far we were off the beaten track. But being amongst the locals really drove the magnitude of it home. WOW!

As having a guide was recommended, we had made arrangements to be escorted throughout most of our journey. This mostly turned out to be a mistake. Thankfully, we scouted enough on this trip to go totally solo when we return.

During the course of our trip, two of our guides were former military officers. It was always interesting to hear them delicately speak about the country's past and present political climate. Vietnam is still very much a communist country. Thus, the people are very cautious when speaking about most topics. With our first guide, any query or comment about the war was answered with a standard, "war is very terrible." It didn't ring as insincere. We just read it as, "Hey, I'm trying to make a living here. I can't/won't comment either way."

Planning this trip, we didn't know what to expect. We had relied heavily on the recommendations of a travel agency. Mistake. For our time in Ho Chi Minh city, we were in a giant, soul-less hotel, ran by some german mega-corporation. It wasn't a bad hotel. Just....a little too pedestrian. We always felt like loser tourists coming and going. It was pretty obvious that it wasn't a place for a local. The bourgeoisie vibe isn't our thing.

The most compelling part of our stay in Ho Chi Minh city was our visit to the Vietnam War Museum. I don't care which side you were or are on here. This museum is the real deal. You would have to be dead inside to not feel punched in the gut after walking through this museum. It was all there: babies deformed by agent orange in formaldehyde jars, US Army tanks, helicopters, and munitions.... and many disturbing photos and accounts of atrocities.

Nothing is toned down for tourist consumption. It was raw and unfiltered documentation about a brutal war which took many lives.

All in all.....pretty macabre.

There was an indelible image in a photo I saw at the war museum. It will always stick in my mind. The photo was of three shirtless, shoeless, vietcong rebels wearing tattered shorts and dragging a rocket launcher through thick mud in a darkened jungle.


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