After spending some time in the south of Cambodia, on the deserted beaches of Sihanoukville, or Kampong Som, with seawater with a temperature approaching that of a hot bath, I returned to Phnom Penh.
From there, I took a bus that brought me to the border with Vietnam, and after the customs formalities, I was on my way to Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh, also known as Saigon.
From 1859, most of Vietnam was under French rule. During World War II, Japanese forces occupied Vietnam, frequently attacked by the largely communist Viet Minh resistance forces, led by Nguyen Tat Thanh (1890-1969), more widely known as Ho Chi Minh, or Bringer of Light. After the end of World War II, French troops tried in vain to regain control of their former colony, until their catastrophic defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
The Geneva Accords that followed allowed for a temporary division of the country along the 17th Parallel, until a possible reunification. The north of Vietnam, known as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, was led by Ho Chi Minh, and the south, or Republic of Vietnam, had Ngo Dinh Diem as head of state. Diem, who used nepotism and a near-tyrannical rule to remain in power, refused to implement the Geneva Accords to reunify Vietnam. What followed was a war between the north and south, during which American support to the south increased from a handful of “military advisers” to hundreds of thousands of troops. What is known everywhere else as the “Vietnam War", is referred to as the “American War” here, and its outcome is now famous.
When the war was over, Saigon was renamed to Ho Chi Minh City, and Vietnam was once again united, with Hanoi being its present day capital.
I have visited Vietnam twice before, and it is nice to be in a familiar country again. Also, the fact that the Vietnamese language uses the Roman script makes things a lot easier, although its pronunciation is very difficult.
After arriving in Ho Chi Minh City, I was again reminded of how bad the Vietnamese traffic is. Of all the countries I have visited in Asia, nowhere is the traffic as bad and seemingly suicidal as here. As usual, there are more motorbikes than cars on the streets, and none of the drivers wear helmets. Motorbikes coming from side streets hardly slow down and never look, putting their faith in their God and the drivers behind them. On the roads connecting the towns and cities, it seems that overtaking is a necessity when there is absolutely no way to know if there is any oncoming traffic. Therefor, it’s not a question if you see any accidents or their aftermath, but how many.
Ho Chi Minh City is huge, with wide boulevards connecting the different quarters. I visited the Reunification Palace, formerly the seat of the South Vietnamese government before tanks from the North Vietnamese army crushed the gates in front of the palace on 30 April 1975, signaling the liberation of Saigon. The elaborately decorated rooms are now occasionally used for government meetings, and the Palace took centre stage on 30 April of this year, during the celebrations to mark 30 years since the end of the American War.
Vietnam is the number two coffee producing country in the world, and I frequently enjoyed this delicious coffee (usually served with condensed milk) in some of the many coffeeshops in the city. Some are stunningly beautiful, with elaborate gardens, ponds filled with enormous fish, caged singing birds, and sitting here is a nice change from being in the busy, polluted streets.
After several days of exploring the city, with its striking mix of French and socialist architecture, I made my way further north, to the city of Nha Trang, with its beautiful beach, looking out over the South China Sea.
The URI to TrackBack this entry is: http://blog.fmkworld.org/wp-trackback.php/51
No comments yet.
Leave a comment
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.