Thursday, 14 March 2013


Woke up at 3:30 to take the only bus that leaves that town. They first took money from us - 120. That already looked suspicious. When they collected money from local people, I saw that they all give them 80. I "talked" to the money collector, which involved some pantomime, pen and paper, he laughed at me, and then ignored me all the way. I told the guys that the trip costs only 80. The guy knew a little bit of Vietnamese, asked the locals and then started arguing with the money collector and with the driver. Again, they ignored us and at the end yelled at us to go away. That's it! I prefer to take local buses, but if they're going to lie and cheat, they won't get our business anymore! I'm getting a tourist bus ticket! And the thing is that for them it's not lying. They think because we have more money, we should pay more money, it's only fair. Damn communism!
At the bus station the taxi to center cost 150, I told them where to go, or rather went there myself :) To the outside gate, where they happily took me for 50. Arrived at hostel, no time to waste, no money to count, I took a motorcycle tour of the surrounding area. 1 month visa sucks! Saw a Japanese bridge, US bunker, king's tomb where he actually lived all his life, but after India nothing was impressive anymore. (LP) The king Tu Duc lived a life of imperial luxury and carnal excess (he had 104 wives and countless concubines), though no off springs. All members of his harem were checked for weapons before being allowed into his bedroom. The tomb, is a drab grey monument and the emperor was never interred there - the site where his remains were buried (along with great treasure) is not knows. To keep it a secret from grave robbers, all of the 200 servants who buried the king were beheaded.
Long live the king!
There was also an arena like a coliseum, but I didn't make it there. Doesn't mean I don't have any info about it :)
Ho Quyen was built in 1830 for the royal pastime of watching elephants and tigers face off in combat. The tigers were usually relieved of their claws and teeth so that the elephants - a symbol of the emperor's power - triumphed every time.
& while we're on the elephant subject: An elephant's life - Behind the apparently glorious status of the elephant in Vietnam is a tortured history spanning centuries. Praised by kings, these gentle and intelligent creatures were trapped by H'mnong hunters. The animals were then tames through savage beatings before being presented as royal gifts or put to work by the tribe. And what work it was - elephants were (and still are) used as combination bulldozers, fork-lifts and semitrailers. Now they're more often seen in the lucrative tourist industry, lugging people through the forests or as part of minority festivals. It's not necessarily a better life. Many elephants were trapped as babies so that they would be easier to train - neglecting the fact that they need their mother's milk up to the age of four in order to develop healthily. It's also easy to overestimate what adult elephants can tolerate. Elephant skin appears to be rough and impermeable, but it's as sensitive as human skin, vulnerable to sunburn, dirt and infections. Though elephant trapping was banned in 1990, it was not strictly enforced. Vietnam's native elephant species has been listed as endangered since 1976 and it's estimated that only a few hundred elephants remain in the highlands. Without elephant sanctuaries or alternative employment, their fate seems grim; a lifetime of tourist rides, illicit employment in logging and construction, or, if the money runs out, abandonment or death.
We stopped for lunch near the tomb where there were a lot of birds in cages. I was happy since my guide could speak English. I asked him to call the owner. I asked him how he would like to live all his life in a closed room with no communication, no friends, no family, no nature. He said that of course he wouldn't like to live that way. I asked him how does he think a bird feels in a cage. He laughed at me. The guide told me that Vietnamese people love the sound of bird's singing and it's a status thing. Yeah, yeah ... I know ...
After the motorcycle tour, I went to a royal palace. It hardly looks like royal cemetery. It's not their fault though, the whole palace was bombed. Not only the palace. Vietnam doesn't have any architecture left since the Vietnam war, the Americans destroyed the whole country.
Next day I took a DMZ tour. It was very interesting because of our very informative guide who couldn't stop talking, with whom we stood near a makeshift map and were amazed for half an hour. We saw a river that divided the south and north Vietnam. Listened about the Ho Chi Mihn (HCM) trail, and learnt about the Vietnam war. Vietnam war began because US was scared of the spread of communism and because South of Vietnam asked US for assistance, and how could it refuse? It wasn't a war between US and North of Vietnam, it was a war between US and Russia, something that both countries don't want to get involved in directly. Russia supplied weapons to North of Vietnam, also offered soldiers, but North Vietnam refused, as money can be repaid, but soldiers lives could not, and in that case it would somehow become a part of Russia.
HCM trail - this legendary route was not one but many paths that formed the major supply link for the North Vietnamese and vc (Viet Cong - the South Vietnamese who fought for the North) during the American war. Supplies and troops leaving from the port of vinh headed inland along mountainous jungle paths, crossing in and out of Laos, and eventually arrived near Saigon to transfer the weapons and fight. with all the secrecy, propaganda and confusion regarding the trail, it's hard to say how long it was in full: estimates range from over 5500 km to more than 13,000km. while elephants were initially used to cross the Truong Son Mountains into Laos, eventually it was sheer human power that shouldered supplied down the trail, sometimes supplemented by ponies, cycles or trucks. Travelling from the 17th Parallel to the vicinity of Saigon took about six month in the mid-1960s. Years later, with a more complex network of paths, the journey took only six weeks but it was still hard going. Each person started out with a 36kg pack of supplies, as well as a few personal items such as a tent, spare uniform and snake anti venom. 10% of the VC were killed by malaria. They ate only what they could find on the way, which mostly was tapioca. What lay ahead was a rugged and mountainous route, plagued by flooding, disease and the constant threat of American bombing. At their peak, more than 500 American air strikes hit the trail every day and more ordnance was dropped on it than was used in all the theatres of war in WWII.
On the division line, the US built a 16 km electric fence, where not even the rats could pass through. Ironically the DMZ (demilitarised zone) became the most bombed place in Vietnam. People in the villages in the DMZ didn't want to leave their land, so they moved underground into the tunnels. 3 levels of tunnels have been built, 300 people lived in there for 6 years. 17 babies have been born, all of them are deaf and with mental problems due to the shocks from bomb explosions.
Vietnamese thought of the biggest smoke screen. They attacked the US bases in the DMZ to which US responded by sending most of the soldiers to that area, meanwhile the rest took control of Saigon (in the south). The guide said "liberated". I asked him why does he think that South Vietnam wanted to be liberated? Half of the bus laughed and my very communist guide didn't really like my question. He said that Ho Chi Mihn's dream was to see Vietnam united.
During the war which US haven't even declared, 4 million Vietnamese have died.
It was the first war that US has lost
We also learnt about the My Lai massacre:
The My Lai massacre is probably one of the most infamous events of the Vietnam War. The soldiers had been advised before the attack by army command that all who were found in My Lai could be considered VC or active VC sympathisers, and told to destroy the village. Still, they acted with extraordinary brutality, raping and torturing villagers before killing them and dragging dozens of people, including young children and babies, into a ditch and executing them with automatic weapons.
Over the next three hours they killed as many as 504 Vietnamese civilians. Some were lined up in a drainage ditch before being shot. The dead civilians included fifty age 3 or younger, 69 between 4 and 7, and 27 in their 70s or 80s.
In addition, Vietnamese women were raped; other civilians were clubbed and stabbed. Some victims were mutilated with the signature "C Company" carved into the chest. One soldier would testify later, "I cut their throats, cut off their hands, cut out their tongues, scalped them. I did it. A lot of people were doing it and I just followed. I lost all sense of direction."
While 26 U.S. soldiers were initially charged with criminal offences for their actions at My Lai, only Second Lieutenant William Calley, a platoon leader in Charlie Company, was convicted. Found guilty of killing 22 villagers, he was originally given a life sentence, but only served three and a half years under house arrest.
There were many theories as to how such a catastrophic event could occur under American leadership.  Racism was a reoccurring speculation, as many of the soldiers had been trained since day one to hate the Vietnamese.  “The many hours the men spent during combat training listening to their instructors referring to the Vietnamese as ‘gooks’ and ‘slants’.


  1. Sounds like you really started to empathise with the locals. I miss your brand of 'screw what everyone else is doing' travel. Look forward to more kick arse adventures (while I save up for my next one!)

  2. Yana

    Thanks for the wonderful pictures and blog.
    I've heard that they blind the birds so they sing more.
    I see that capitalism making it's way there.