We hadn't been in Ho Chi Minh City long before I was asking, 'Is this a communist country?' and 'Who won the Vietnam war?' (Yes, I know I am ridiculously ignorant of world matters.)
The red flags bearing the hammer and sickle that hung from lamp-posts were a bit of a give-away and a quick google revealed that Vietnam is indeed a one party communist state and the American war (as it's known in Vietnam) was won by the North Vietnamese.
But Vietnam's history is far more complicated. Under French rule until the August Revolution of 1945, on 2nd September of that year Ho Chi Minh declared independence. We arrived in the country just a little too late for the 70th anniversary celebrations.
|The Palace of Reunification built originally as the Independence Palace its name was changed after 1975|
But from there on it really got complicated.
A word of advice to American tourists thinking of visiting the War Remnants Museum (formerly known as the American War Crimes Museum): don't. While there was undoubtedly a lot of spin and propaganda the section dealing with the effects of Agent Orange is very hard to look at. And, naturally enough, rather than put any blame on the South Vietnamese who, after all were now all part of the same nation, the major responsibility is placed well and truly on the Americans.
But it wasn't all gloom and doom.
The Reunification Palace also had the biggest ice cream maker I've ever seen. I could show you photos of the war and communication rooms but I like to get my priorities right.
You're always warned to watch out for scammers and we should have seen these coming.
'Here, you carry this! Take photo. Heavy right?'
'Now you very thirsty. I give you coconut.'
At £5 for two coconuts that we didn't really want in a very cheap country we was conned! But they were refreshing and he was nice and helpful so it wasn't a serious con.And somehow, 'We take you to the pagoda cheap,' turned into a long trip around a number of pagodas, a street market and downtown Ho Chi Minh City expensive. But it was a good trip and they were nice and informative. The older man was the other's father-in-law. During the American/Vietnam war he worked for the Americans and hasn't been able to get a job since.
There are still stalls selling US army surplus. (According to my bike driver.)
But I was ready when we were approached on the street and asked if we had English money we'd like to exchange. 'No, we're from Wales; we have Welsh money.' As very few people had heard of Wales that left them a little baffled.
Incidentally, of the few who knew the name Wales most associated it with 'Gareth Bale? Ryan Giggs?'