Monday, March 24, 2003

Jo's last update:

hi guys

Well its been a while since i last wrote, and i dont know where to
start. So much happens in such a short space of time. I have written
45 pages in my diary since i last wrote so i will try not to repeat
it all here!!

We are now in Cambodia, and have travelled right the way down the
coast of vietnam - for 30 pounds! After Hanoi City, we went to Hue
and took a trip up the perfume River to see the Royal tombs. Then
we moved onto gorgeous Hoi An. A really cute little chinesey town
with great food and really friendly people. Only trouble was, in this
tiny town of 65000 people, there were 200 tailors, all with a copy
of the Next Catalogue copying absolutely everything, shoes you name
it. So we went a bit mad, in fact very mad (18 kilos) and in the end
it was a case of get me out of here before i spend any more money.
Then we took a very bumpy 14hr bus ride down to the beach resort of
Nha Trang. Not my favourite place i have to say. A bit like benidorm
only dirtier, so we just spent a day at the mineral baths and got
the hell outta there. Then we went on to Dalat in the mountains
where we hired an old russian army jeep and driver for the day. That
was really cool (literally i havent been so cold since we were in
New Zealand). Dalat is really kitsch - its where all the vietnamese
go on thier honeymoons and there is a mini Eiffel Tower and swan
boats on the lake. You get the picture.

After Dalat, we got the bus down to Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh
City). After all the scare mongering in Lonely Planet, Saigon wasnt
nearly as bad as we expected. In fact it was quite nice. The city
is twice as big as Hanoi with 7 million people, although Hanoi is
the capital. We went to the 'War Remnants Museum'. (If you are
faint hearted move to the next paragraph). This has to be the most
shocking museum I have ever visited, even worse than the
concentration camp in Germany. There was the usual display of tanks
and bombs. But then there were pictures of US soldiers dragging
people along behind thier tanks til thier death; carrying out
chinese water torture; dropping people out of helicopters after
they'd refused to cooperate. Then there were pictures showing the
devastating affects of Agent Orange. (The americans sprayed 70
million tonnes on Vietnam and this defoliant contains a highly
carcenogenic and mutagenic chemical which is still found in the
food chain today). Picture after picture of mutilated children and
adults. Some just looked like aliens. Two jars containing deformed
babies, and pictures of maternity wards with shelves full of jars
of deformed babies. What wasnt bombed or poisoned was bulldozed -
cemetaries, villages, rice paddies. There were also pictures of the
My Lai Massacre. Here, the US decided to 'teach the villagers a
lesson' for cooperating with the Viet Cong (communist forces).
There were severe consequences for not doing so. In one day, 3
companies of american infantry massacred 500 fleeing and unarmed
civilians. They met no resistance at any time. The only american
injured, shot himself in the foot to get himself let off.
Villagers were herded into a ditch and mowed down by machine guns.
Women were gang raped and pregnant women, newborn babies and old
people were not spared. There were also pictures illustrating how
the war ahd sent some people over the edge: GIs smiling to have
thier photo taken while holding dead heads in thier hands; another
GI looking satisfied carrying the tattered remains of a head and
shoulders in one hand. It showed the four US students that got shot
while protesting against the war in the 1960s. And also 4 people
(3 US, 1 Japanese) who burnt themselves to death in front of the US

In Saigon, among other things, we visited the Reunification Palace,
where the communist tanks crashed through the palace gates in 1975
to show that North Vietnam had finally won control of southern
Vietnam to form a new independent and unified country. Before the
war, southern vietnam was a puppet government run by the US. The
palace is now beautifully preserved as on that day when they ousted
the US elected president and dictator. One heroic pilot who bombed
the palace prior to its invasion, is now a pilot for Vietnam
Airlines!The previous president was so hated that his own army
bombed the palace, and so he ordered that a new palace be built with
a bomb shelter underneath (which we visited). As a anti-communist
and catholic, he was repressive about religous practices and as a
result, a monk famously set off the trend of self immolations by
burning himself to death here at the end of the sixties. (We also
saw a picture of this in the Ho Chi Minh City Museum - spoilt my
tea!). We also took a day trip where we visited a Cao Dai temple
midday meditation. Caodaism is a new religion which combines
Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, native vietnamese spirtualism,
chirstianity and islam! Then we visited the Cu Chi tunnels - a
250km network of underground tunnels built under the jungle used by
the Viet Cong communist forces during the war. It was amazing, we
were walking through the forest and suddenly this guy would pull up
a tiny trap door in the floor and jump down it and expect us to
follow!! The tunnels had been made bigger for foreigners, but i was
still bent over double and then squatting down shuffeling along on
my feet in some parts. It was really hot and dark and there were
bats down there too! The tunnels were amazing, what looked like
termite mounds above the ground disguised air holes for breathing.
They were three storeys deep in some places and even had a hospital
and a weapons factory.

After the Cu Chi tunnels, we made our way to Cambodia via a three
tour of the Mekong Delta. This is the southernmost region of Vietnam
and one of the biggest rivers/deltas in the world. Most of the
live on floating villages on the river, or beside it. We spent most
of our three days hopping from one boat to another. Everyone was
really friendly and i felt like royalty because we had to wave to
kids everywhere we looked, doing backflips to impress us and having
thier evening baths in the river with thier clothes on. Then we
caught the boat as far as we could to Phnom Penh - capital of
Cambodia. We have found a really lovely guesthouse right on the
edge of a lake where we can sit in hammocks and watch the sunset.
But today we took a trip to the Killing Fields and the S21 Prison
used by the Khmer Rouge... The killing fields were just horrific. We
were walking along and there were bits of bone and clothing sticking
out of the path underneath us, where the executioners had hardly
bothered to cover over the graves. There were 126 mass graves, and
they only uncovered 86. In the middle was a big memorial stupa -
8000 skulls piled high behind a glass wall as high as a four storey
house. Then we went to the S21 Prison, which used to be a high
school but Pol Pot and his regime turned it into a prison where
victims were tortured and later taken to the Killing Fields. Just

Well on that happy note, I dont really have much other news. I will
be home a month from today and I am looking forward to coming home
but i know this time is just going to fly by.

So take care, and I'll see you soon - Jo x

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