From all the places we have been so far this was probably the friendliest in terms of the number of people who came up to talk to us. Throughout SE Asia when people hear you talking English they will often come up to you and start chatting. At first we were a bit guarded wondering what they were after but they just want an opportunity to practice their language skills. During a period of about 30 minutes sheltering from the rain in the large post office in Saigon we must have spoken with about a dozen people, mainly schoolchildren who had been given a task to interview tourists and report back. I can only imagine their teacher the next day getting a little fed up hearing about this same couple from Edinburgh who were travelling all over the world!
Saigon is a beautiful city, manic with thousands of scooters similar to Hanoi, but larger and more assured. The most interesting place we visited was probably what is now called the War Remnants Museum. When it first opened in 1975, it was known as the “Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes” it later became the “Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression” and only took over its current title in 1995. This was a hard place to visit because of the unflinching attention to the cruelty that had been suffered by the Vietnamese people during conflicts with both the French and the Americans. As colonial rulers the French, often supported by the British, had been ruthless in their dealings with any rebels. Their was a lot of information about the treatment and torture in prison camps as well as a part reconstruction. The museum took you through the history of the country which led to the American war. Obviously it was a very one sided view but it was difficult not to have sympathy with their situation. The museum then focussed on massacres and the use of Agent Orange chemical warfare, the results of which are still around today. Many of the employees were born with deformities caused by their parents being exposed to it but they also displayed photos of the children of US soldiers who had been similarly affected. The museum is a harrowing experience but also a very valuable one.
In a lot of ways the museum typifies the Vietnamese approach to it’s past. It doesn’t want to forget it, as it thinks there are valuable lessons to be learned, but at the same time it moves on and embraces the future.
Vietnam is so varied and beautiful, the people (apart from the taxi drivers!) so welcoming and friendly. We only spent two weeks here and could easily have stayed longer if our visa had allowed.