Well, actually, the trip came to an end a couple of days ago. I planned on writing this final post while I was relaxing in the Incheon (Seoul) business class lounge with its many available computers to use. But my wildly exciting trip into Seoul proper during my 11-hour layover (the things I will do to fly int’l business class for free apparently include traveling 42 hours through 5 airports with long layovers) sapped all of my remaining strength (which was okay since my plan was to pretty much just sleep on the flight from Korea to SFO – again, the things I do for free biz class…).
The last time I was in Vietnam, I saw little evidence of the war as I was only in the north. My three most war-related memories are 1) the craters from the Tet Offensive shelling in the 11′ thick Hue city walls 2) the old pilings from destroyed bridges we invariably saw next to every bridge we drove on and 3) realizing that everyone I saw over 21 had lived through a war in their own country.
This time was different. Not only did we go to Saigon and spend a very disturbing hour or so in the War Remembrance Museum, but there is also now a museum in Hanoi in the old Hanoi Hilton. The latter was actually built by the French in the 1800’s. Not to be offensive, but the prison left me feeling like French prison-builders in the 1800’s were sadistic pigs. ‘Nuf said.
The War Remembrance museum, on the other hand, was an incredibly disturbing implication of American foreign policy and war in general. I actually had to duck into the ladies room at one point to cry. The depiction of the senseless destruction of civilian live was that awful. Our museum visit was especially poignant as we had just spent a week walking through tiny, remote villages and rice fields that looked like the ones in the photos. And we had been eating with, shopping with, walking with and driving with (not to mention trying not to be hit by the scooters of) people who looked just like those in the photographs. I wonder if the impact of the museum would be less if you had just arrived in Vietnam and itwas one of the first things you visited instead of one of the last.
To move off the maudlin, one of the reasons we spent a whole lot of time actually in rice fields was because my traveling companion, Matthew, is a passionate photographer. So we traipsed through a whole lot of them. And met a whole lot of farmers who were very excited to see us. Our visit to one in Hoi An was especially fun as we pedaled to the fields outside of town on loaner bikes from our hotel. We spent the whole day zipping about, helmet-less, with the crazy motorbike-driving Vietnamese. It was so nice to mix it up and spend an entire day getting around entirely on our own power. We even rode the ~5K or so to the beach. While the riptides and weather (warm but not that warm) made sunbathing and swimming unappealing, we did have one of many many many tasty Vietnamese meals at a little restaurant before pedaling back.
All-in-all a great trip! We finished up with a quick day in the Mekong Delta, which was super-cool. Although I couldn’t help but think about all of the crazy tropical Asian snakes I’d seen at the Bangkok snake farm with the Baskins on Day 1. Fortunately, no snake sightings in the wild :)