Our task for the day is to find a decent hotel for the next three nights. This isn’t as easy as it sounds as the prices in HCMC are considerably higher than in the Mekong Delta. We have checked out loads of places on the internet and having discarded all the big hotels as too expensive we set off for the area of Dong Khoi. It is the best area in District 1 which is where we want to be. On the banks of the Saigon River, all the top name hotels are here and we check out The Continental first. At 300 dollars per night, its time to look elsewhere.
We head for a three star place we have checked on the internet. It is called The Kindo Hotel. We are pleased to see it looks great, lovely rooms, a pretty restaurant and even a pool although it has to be the smallest pool I have ever seen. After a prolonged bargaining session we eventually book it. Really we are just trying it on, as we know it’s a good deal at 140 dollars a night per room. Seeing it in black and white is slightly scary though. The grand total cost of this place is 18 dollars a night for 2 rooms.
We stop for lunch in a gorgeous restaurant Ali and I have lentil and bacon soup and Simon and Maisie have sandwiches. We have decided to visit The Reunification Palace this afternoon and try and learn a bit more about the conflict here in the 1960 and 70′s.
Following a thousand years of Chinese rule, the Chinese were eventually expelled in the 15th century. The mid 18th century saw the beginning of 70 years of French colonial rule and in 1941 Ho Chi Minh established the Viet Minh whose goal was independence from the French. This was finally achieved in 1954 after years of fighting.
Vietnam was by now, divided into the communist north and the anti communist south. For years, the United States had been supplying the French with military support to forward the” worldwide struggle against creeping communism.” The campaign to liberate the south and the battle against the communist National Liberation Front of the north had begun. The NLF would come to be known as the Vietcong or VC. There would be American soldiers on Vietnamese soil for the next 25 years.
The war in Vietnam escalated rapidly with the intervention of America. US President Johnson ordered 1000′s of bombing raids on the north and eventually every road and railbridge in the country had been bombed. The American soldiers usually controlled the countryside by day but by night the Vietcong got the upperhand.
By 1968 the war had been raging for years. The VC frequently led raids into the south and hundreds of villages were evacuated by the US troops so that they could use heavy weaponry such as napalm. Although the US soldiers were meant to protect the villagers many were killed and their surviving relatives soon joined the VC. The cost of the war in lives and money was absolutely massive, 60,000 Americans, 4 million Vietnamese and a cost to the US of 165 billion dollars. What a waste.
At the end of January 1968 the Vietcong launched a stunning offensive, bombing hundreds of villages. The Americans immediately counter attacked and the result was massive bombing and shelling of the cities. This would prove to be a turning point in the war, as Americans sat watching their TV’s at home grew increasingly disillusioned with the war. There were anti war demonstrations in the States as news of atrocities and massacres against unarmed Vietnamese villagers and the bombing of neutral Cambodia began to leak out.
On the 30th April 1975 the Vietcong tanks smashed into The Independence Palace in the capital of Saigon and South Vietnam surrendered. Saigon was immediately renamed Ho Chi Minh City. As the South collapsed, the last of the American soldiers left as did thousands of southern Vietnamese people. They would come to be known as the “Vietnamese boat people”
As we walk towards the gates of The Independence Palace we stare up at the flag of United Vietnam. We can both remember seeing TV footage of the tanks as they crashed through the gates and a VC soldier ran up the steps and raised the flag on the roof. The Independence Palace was renamed The Reunification Palace and remains today as it was left in 1975. We wander around for a few hours trying to explain the historical importance of this place to the kids. We all enjoy looking at the 1970′s décor which Ali thinks is cool in a retro way!
We head back to our hotel. I am having difficulty understanding the complicated history of the war here and we decide to buy some films to watch to see if this will help. We get Platoon, Apocalypse Now and The Quiet American. (2 quid for 3 films) and decide on Platoon first. It’s a gory film that I have seen before and we decide at the end of it that it has done nothing to make us understand the war history anymore. Although Simon felt it showed how war strips people of humanity and makes them do unbelievable things, we didn’t feel any connection between the film and being here in Vietnam.
It’s quite late but we turn the telly on and are delighted to find an episode of Globe Trekker on. Although Simon and I read loads and did lots of internet research for our trip watching Globe Trekker DVD’s was a huge part of our introduction to travelling for the kids. Listening to the familiar music makes us think of all the nights I used to sit watching them longing for our trip to start. This episode is about Cambodia and its interesting seeing all the places we visited. It does make us both want to go back there though and explore it more.
Off to bed now. Mum and Paul are coming tomorrow, so excited just can’t wait.