The first thing on the agenda when we got to Saigon, was to go to the War Remnants Museum, this is a museum aimed at educating the world about the atrocities committed during the American / Vietnam War. The first thing you notice when you start looking around this museum is that there is nothing withheld from public view here, there are graphic images and depictions of the horrifying events that occurred throughout this country with many stories and interviews alongside the images to tell of the devastation that occurred.
It’s a really difficult museum to walk around, as the images of death and destruction are on every wall, there is an entire exhibition dedicated to showing the photos that journalists managed to take during the war, unfortunately many of the journalists were killed later on during the war.
The one story that stands out to me most of all, except the use of agent orange which is highlighted here in graphic detail, is regarding the My Lai Massacre. On March 16 1986, the US troops swept through entire communities and murdered hundreds of innocent civilians, in the museum there is pictures showing the bodies of men, women, children and babies, all rounded up and executed in this area on this day. There was also reports of the women being abused by gangs of soldiers and their mutilated bodies being left behind, the Vietnamese government estimate over 500 people was killed in this one mass killing.
It is suggested that troops rounded up villagers into areas and executed everybody there, one picture shown in the museum shows the bodies of murdered children in the road. Only one soldier was ever convicted for this massacre, and only served three and a half years in prison. The injustice is something that the museum is clearly trying to convey to the rest of the world, and the statistics showing the amount of money spent and bombs dropped on Vietnam in such a short space of time is truly shocking.
Another part of the museum is dedicated to showing the Agent Orange chemical weapons used by the USA during the war, the effects of this in terms of deaths and birth defects are displayed for all to see, it is clearly something Vietnam is still suffering from decades later.
After just one day in Saigon, we headed south by bus for three hours to a town called Binh Minh, we were meeting a local called Susan to do a Mekong Delta tour with her, a tour we had been recommended by a friend we met in Dalat. When we arrived, Susan was waiting for us at the bus station and told us we were the only ones doing the tour that day so it was effectively a private tour and explained to us what we were going to do.
Over the next 24 hours, we cruised down the Mekong river on a small boat driven by Susan’s Dad, learnt how to build a traditional roof from bamboo, visited a plant nursery on the river, went to the market to buy some food supplies for dinner, visited a Khmer temple, then went back to her parents house and relaxed in the garden eating fresh fruit and drinking a fresh coconut. We watched sunset in her parents garden with a cold beer, then went inside to help prepare dinner, I cooked barbecued eggplant and Stac made coconut milk from scratch to make some coconut rice cakes, the dinner was incredible and having it in the family’s house was even better.
The next morning we woke up at 4.30 to head out to the floating market for sunrise and breakfast, after calling by the floating petrol station, we got to the big floating market, we had noodle soup from a ‘floating restaurant’ and a coffee from the ‘floating Starbucks’ as Susan liked to call them. There was also a ‘floating Subway’, but we were too full for that.
We headed off to the rice paper factory to learn how it is made before heading back to the market and boarding a huge boat to get fresh pineapple. A final stop was made at a riverside fruit garden, to see it growing and taste it all fresh from the trees before heading back for the bus back to Saigon.
It was an absolutely incredible 24 hours on the Mekong, completely made by Susan and her family being so friendly and kind and showing us the best of the area, definitely another of the best days. Also, look out in the pictures below for the family ‘moving house’, they are literally just towing their floating house to a new place to live, hilarious to see.
After the Mekong Delta, we did two more days in Saigon, eating at the local food market and not much else considering the 35 degree heat all day. Everything seemed a little more expensive here than further north in Vietnam and out of the major cities here, we definitely preferred Hanoi to Saigon.
Unfortunately this was the end of our Vietnam journey, five weeks, about 2,500 km travelled overland through so many regions of this incredible country,we have loved it so much, the people, the food and the scenery were some of the best we have ever experienced, we both would love to return in future, but for now it’s on to another amazing country, Cambodia.
P.s – the next post will be about Phnom Penh (Capital of Cambodia), if you don’t know what the Khmer Rouge was, Google it before you read next one and you’ll understand what we saw in Phnom Penh, it was horrific.