Although some of the most popular tourist spots in Vietnam are grim
reminders of war, Vietnam is not a country that refuses to put the
ghost of the Vietnam War to rest. Instead, what the Indo-Chinese have
achieved is textbook implementation of a marketing fundamental. Create
a need and fulfill it.
In this case, America's fascination with the Vietnam war is obvious.
Hollywood movies like Platoon, Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter
have tapped into this deep-seated interest of the American psyche.
And the Vietnamese are milking this obsession to the hilt.
The Reunification Hall, the Exhibition House of War Crimes and the
underground tunnels of Cu Chi are not just reminders of a war considered
one of the greatest victories an Asian nation can claim over American
forces. They also do service as cash cows propping up Vietnam's fledgling
"Hell no, we won't go" was the
rallying cry of Americans at the height of anti-war sentiments. Since
President Bill Clinton lifted the embargo and formalized ties with
Vietnam this year, the new motif seems to be: "Come hell or high
water, we will go!"
As a matter of fact, Americans have been turning out in droves in
Ho Chi Minh City in the south and Hanoi up north. The nation's two
major cities are swamped with tourists bringing with them the lucrative
Everywhere you go, people on the street, merchants and even beggars
greet American tourists with smiles. Its hard to imagine that less
than two decades ago, they would have been aiming rifles at them.
To the casual Asian visitor, perhaps the greatest enigma is the
War Crimes Museum. Within the walls of the museum is a shocking
collection of pictures depicting the atrocities committed by American
soldiers during the Vietnam War.
In particular, an account of the residual effects of chemical weapons
such as napalm and agent orange is especially horrifying. Photographs
show new-born babies born without limbs, others physically deformed
with malformed heads and hare lips.
In the courtyard are US tanks, jet
fighters and artillery equipment left behind in the aftermath of
the war. Taking centre stage in the yard, a disused guillotine stands
as a reminder of the cruelty of war.
Despite the negative focus, American tourists make it a must on
their stop-over list. They willingly pay US$4.00 per head (person)
to shake their heads over the extent of damage their fellow countrymen
inflicted upon the Viets. One wonders just how many Singaporeans
would pay good money to see their country being maligned by a foreign
Also in Ho Chi Minh City is The Reunification Palace or Presidential
Palace. Built in 1966, Paris-trained Vietnamese architect Ngo Viet
Thu's airy and open design for the palace is a sharp contrast to
the tense and oppressive period it was built in.
It was here, on the 30th of April, 1975, that communist tanks of
the North Vietnamese Army crashed through the palace gates and took
over the state, ending decades of North-South conflict which had
torn the country.
The four-storey building has numerous large meeting rooms, conference
halls and spacious chambers befitting the home of a head of state.
In the past, the hall played host to royalties and dignitaries from
all over the world.
On the same level, is a display of some rather unusual gifts presented
to the president by the villagers of the country. The items include
model ships, horse-tails and the stump of an elephant's foot.
The upper floors were devoted solely to the first family's recreation.
There is a game room equipped with its own bar. Next door is a private
movie theatre, where it is certain, hit movies of the day were screened
for the pleasure of a presidential audience. The entire fourth floor
is a dancing hall (ballroom).
The uppermost floor presents a breathtaking view
of the four corners of the city. Tucked away on the rooftop is a
heliport, with two obsolete choppers, once primed for speedy escape
should the need arise.
The palace has two hidden basement floors. It was here that the
former president, his family and his right-hand men took refuge
from enemy fire. These underground shelters are preserved in their
Various telecommunication equipment and maps are still kept intact.
A chart tracks the 58,183 American soldiers and hundreds of thousands
of Vietnamese who died trying to save Vietnam from the hands of
|Upon leaving the gates of the palace, one can't help
but breate a sigh of relief that the 'domino theory' never materialised.
According to this theory, the fall of Saigon signaled the start of
a communist take-over of the South-East Asian peninsula, including
Singapore. The thought of the Istana being overrun by communist forces
sent shivers down the spine.
A little distance away from the city is another significant relic
of the war. The underground tunnels of the Cu Chi district, now part
of greater Ho Chi Minh City, is legendary for its role in the downfall
of American forces.
The intricate chain of burrows allowed the Viet Cong to spring surprise
attacks - even within the perimeter of American bases - and disappear
into hidden trap doors without a trace.
Today Cu Chi has become a pilgrimage site for ex-Marines. Part of
this tunnel network - enlarged and upgraded versions of the real
thing - is open to public. Dotting the tunnel entrance are souvenir
stands that sell souvenir items fashioned from used bullet casings
and cartridges left behind by the Americans during the war.
While in the past, Marines indiscriminately sprayed bullets upon
the area, now they - and anyone else who cares to - are charged
a US$1 per bullet to fire M-16 or AK-47 rifles.
Once again the Asian visitor can't help but marvel at the ingenuity
of the Vietnamese. It would seem that twenty years after a famous
victory over American soldiers, Vietnam is making another killing
- this time on American tourists.