Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Part 2: A Vietnam War History Lesson

I thought it'd be helpful to start today's post with a brief note on the Vietnam War, given that was the overarching theme of the day (and something I learned tons about). 

A Quick Blurb About The Vietnam War:
To be completely honest, it's another one of those wars we've learned briefly about in schools, but I didn't really remember any of the details or have a clear idea the scope and scale and things that went on during it. Even though it was SO RECENT. Therefore I feel obligated to include my Connie Wang 5-second-Vietnam-War-rundown that I've learned about the past couple days.  (This is probably more helpful to myself than all of you knowledgeable people, but here goes). 

The Vietnam War went from 1955 to 1975 (20 years!!), after North Vietnam (Communist) had been fighting against South Vietnam (not Communist).  The U.S. intervened and joined with the anti-Communist South, thinking it needed to stop the larger spread of Communism.

The Viet Cong were a pro-Communist group in the South that was helped by the North - their focus was a reunified Vietnam under Communist rule. These are part of who America was fighting as well.

Basically, as with all wars, it was ugly. And really sad. American forces bombed a lot.  I don't mean to oversimplify, but in the quest to take down the North Vietnamese army and the Viet Cong, there were a lot of civilian casualties as well (entire villages were completely wiped out).  Besides bombs, there was also chemical warfare used (i.e. Agent Orange) and basically just tons of destruction and chaos.  The U.S. eventually pulled out (as negative public opinion in its involvement grew) and the war ended when North Vietnam took over Saigon in the South - and Vietnam in its entirety became Communist. By the time the war was over, around 1.5M-4M people had died.  Again, this is all a big oversimplification (there's a lot more to the story, especially with the French rule beforehand, other countries involved, etc.) - but a general overall gist.

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • In the morning, Ed (my hostel friend) and I went to the War Remnants Museum - basically an entire museum dedicated to the atrocities that happened to the Vietnamese (courtesy of the US) during the Vietnam War.  It was pretty graphic in some of its descriptions - but some of the photos were incredibly powerful.  It's a little strange because Vietnamese museums are pretty propaganda-filled (there were placards in the museum that literally said things like "After an intensely successful and perfectly-executed Vietnamese mission", or "the cruel Americans did blah blah" - I mean, not that I'm not sure that there's some ounce of truth to some of it, but the wording is just funny for a museum.
War Remnants Museum. Only photo I took.
  • Post lunch, I joined a tour out to the Cu Chi tunnels, about an hour and a half outside the city. The Cu Chi tunnels are where the Viet Cong hid underground in tiny intricate ridiculous tunnels for years during the Vietnam War.  These tunnels are cray - they extend for over 250km and were all dug by hand. And they are TINY.  Our guide kept joking to keep in mind that they were dug for tiny Vietnamese people; not giant Westerners who eat McDonald's (thanks).
This is a booby trap for the enemy - you step on the ground and fall into bamboo spikes

One of the tiny creepy entrances to the underground tunnels - there were apparently 3 levels of tunnels, so that if the top layer gets bombed, you can retreat down to the lower levels
An old tank
A new friend I met on my tour, James - they allow you to shoot old-school rifles (like M-16s and M-30s and whatever else old crazy loud guns they used in the war)

Another crazy thing is how young the forest is surrounding the tunnels - these trees are all less than 30-40 years old, because the entire forest was totally bombed and annihilated during the war
Here is a crater where America dropped a B-52 bomb
  • And then we were allowed to crawl through a section of the tunnels!  It was only 160 meters (compared to the 250 KILOmeter length of the tunnels) and it was. insane.  First of all, they've extended this section to be bigger to accommodate tourists, so they're already bigger than they were historically. And they are seriously the tiniest tunnels you will ever encounter. There were about 5 or 6 bailout points - if you wanted to get out, you could exit at these bailout points along the tunnel.  Most of our group did - only a handful of us (including me and James) actually made it through the entire 160 meter length (and confession, I was just following the person in front of me because it's all I could see and was assuming everyone else was following behind - I didn't realize people were bailing left and right).  Near the end, it got especially bad - not only are you sweating buckets because you're crouched down in the most uncomfy position shuffling through these things - but there was a point where I had to get on my hands and knees and crawl or else I couldn't fit. I've always thought I was fairly small, so the fact that I could barely pass through - I'm not sure how some of the bigger guys did it.
Entering the tunnels
I felt massive
James and I crawling through
Made it out alive!
  • After a ride back to the city, I met up with both James and Ed for dinner - last dinner in Vietnam!  In the morning, I had booked a bus to Cambodia.

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