May 21, 2024

Wondering where to go for your next vacation? Consider SE Asia

By Curt Swarm

Saigon, now officially known as Ho Chi Minh City, has a metropolitan population of 12 million people, with six-to-seven million motor bikes, and few-and-far-between traffic lights. You won’t see policemen on the streets, and no homeless people. It reminds you of Times Square with lights, skyscrapers, and buses. It’s a clean city, and you can walk around by yourself. You have to be a little careful of pickpockets, but that’s about it. Vietnam is such a tourist attraction that it doesn’t have enough tourist guides to handle the demand. It’s the Year of the Dragon.

Ken and Patty Madden of Crawfordsville recently returned from a two week vacation in SE Asia. Ken served as an Intelligence Officer in Thailand next door to Vietnam, collecting intelligence on the Vietnam war. He left knowing that Saigon was about to fall, and that someday he would like to visit Vietnam on his own dime.

The government has three no-no’s. (1) You cannot question the Communist Party of Vietnam or the government. (2) You cannot say anything bad about Ho Chi Minh. He is considered the father of the country or “Uncle Ho.” (3) You cannot disparage China. The control is subtle, and people pretty much “go along to get along.”

Ken and Patty were taken aback when Ken was purchasing a wallet from a street-side vendor. The lady said, “Thank you for saving our country.” Ken has grown used to being thanked back home for his service, although for years no thanks were given. But for thanks to be given by a civilian from a country the U.S. gave up on, well, he was sort of speechless. He would have to put some thought into the “why” of the statement.

But he didn’t have too much time to think. Another person in the tour, recognizing the Hawkeye cap Ken was wearing, said, “Go Caitlin.”

Ho Chi Minh’s body is in a mausoleum in the capital city. He only takes visitors three days a week, in the mornings. The timing wasn’t right for Ken and Patty’s tour group.

There’s over 105 million people in Vietnam. It’s one of the largest countries, population wise, in the world, even though it’s the size of New Mexico. Ken tried to imagine 105 million people in New Mexico.

Just north of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) are the Cu Chi Tunnels--several hundred miles of tunnels that the Vietcong dug to hide and live in. Anytime the Americans tried an offensive, the Vietcong would evaporate. They had whole divisions in those tunnels. They came out of the tunnels to attack Saigon during the Tet Offensive. The tour guide asked if anyone could spot an opening to a tunnel. No one could. The guide walked over to a bush, and there it was. One of the smaller men in the tour crawled into a tunnel. Ken was too large.

In Hanoi, the tour visited the sight where John McCain was captured. There’s a small stone carving of McCain on his knees in cuffs along the lake where he crashed. They don’t want the U.S to forget the capture of a US Senator.

In Cambodia, the tour group visited Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest religious site in the world. It was built as a Hindu temple in the 12th Century and later changed to Buddhist. The temple sits on 400 acres inside a mote.

Patty Madden’s favorite attraction was Ha Long Bay, known for thousands of towering limestone islands topped by rain forests. They rode sand pans, water buffalo carts and cruised the Mekong River Delta. A dragon that puffed smoked was a colorful sight.

With the reluctance of tourists to go to China, people are flocking to SE Asia. The food is great. Better get used to chopsticks.

Contact Curt Swarm curtswarm@yahoo.com