KOCHI: It’s my second day in Ho Chi Minh City. By now I have learnt one Vietnamese word, Xin chao, which means hello. This is the first thing our tour guide Jackson taught us: “You meet people at shops, hotels, or anywhere, say Xin chao. They would love your effort to learn the language and be part of the culture,” he had said.
Today, I am visiting the War Remnants Museum, the most visited tourist spot in the city which displays the horror of the Vietnam War. From tanks, aircraft, and weapons of the war to the people who lived to tell the tale, the museum is all-encompassing. Mines and bombs, with their detonators removed, have been displayed here.
“These are the originals used in the war,” Jackson informs. I was curious to step inside and explore what else they had inside. The photos displayed there hit me the hardest. There were hundreds of photos with a brief description about how the war affected the lives of people here. Some photos are taken by the photojournalists who were killed in action.
The Agent Orange Room in the museum stops you with your heart skipping a beat in shock. Agent Orange is a chemical herbicide used by the US as a weapon during the war. The destruction caused by the toxins is exhibited in this room. “During the war, the US Army sprayed more than 100 million litres of toxic chemicals, which poisoned Vietnam’s soils and affected millions of Vietnamese people,” a guide informs us.
A photo shows a toddler smiling toothly in the frame. He is standing with the help of crutches, and one of his legs has stopped growing beyond the knee — the debilitating effects of the chemical. The museum also displays some remnants presented by the American military to show their regret for taking part in the unjust war.
Just outside is a bell, made of 500 lb canisters of unexploded bombs. The US military had used bombs and mines to destroy several localities, and Binh Thuan Province was one of them. The bell was created by the villagers of the province at Buu Lam Pagoda, an ancient temple in the area and is marked with four Chinese characters representing the seasonal cycles — spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Budhist philosophy alos is inscribed on the bell.
The temple used to ring the bell during ceremonies as a reminder of the consequences of war and the collective desire for peace. Later, the bell was passed down and eventually donated to the museum.
From the museum we returned to our room, a day we spent musing among ourselves, with images of the war passing through our conversations.
Today, is a day of leisure. I am on an early morning flight to Cam Ranh, known for its scenic coast with beautiful beaches. The view from the aeroplane itself is mesmerising. After experiencing the busy Ho Chi Minh City, Cam Ranh offers a relaxing and soothing experience.
The coastal town is also known for fascinating attractions such as the Champa Kingdom and Buddhist temples, apart from the clear blue beach. The province also has a Hindu temple. “The temple was built when Hinduism was flourishing in the Champa Kingdom. So the goddess statue has the shape of Uma, Shiva’s wife,” says Jackson. A bit of Googling also helps, thanks to the international roaming plan of Airtel.
The atmosphere around the temple is vibrant, peaceful. With ancient architecture and surrounding trees, it is an otherworldly experience. Visitor are abundant all for a glimps of the rare HIndu diety and to bask in the peaceful surrounding. Next on the itinerary is a life puppet show. Inside a small theatre, everyone is waiting with bated breath. As lights went off, the artist began playing traditional music instruments.
The life puppet show is a version of the Vietnam Water Puppet, one of the most unique folk art in the world, creating a completely new art space with a combination of traditional and modern technologies.
Here the art of string puppetry has been combined with the puzzle game tangram. A few artists ride bicycles on the stage, which are part of a control machine, making the puppet move.
In short, the life puppet show is ‘Motion Capture’— a live motion sensor on stage is applied in combination with handmade shadow puppet arts and contemporary dance to create exciting movements of 12 zodiac characters. As the show comes to an end, I got an opportunity to interact with the artists, mostly those who lived near the city.
The orchestra sounded unique; are those traditional musical instruments of Vietnam? I ask one of the directors of the show. “The group is called Seasoul, Southeast Asian Soul,” says the director. Interesting.
“It focuses on developing, composing, and performing local music based on soul, sound, and timbre of traditional musical instruments such as the earth drum, the moon lute, bamboo flute, plucked zither, tung, kipa, tarta, and more. Seasoul renovates the sound and plays live music on the stage for the show,” he explains.
The show is organised at ‘DO Theatre’, with a unique architectural design. The theatre looks like a basket. Jackson says it is inspired by ‘Cai Do’, a popular local farming tool used to catch fish and shrimp here.
Clear, blue sea
Finally, next day early morning, I managed to visit the beach to watch the sunrise. According to hohe best time to watch the sunrise. Red and orange hue fill the sky. The rising sun along a crystal clear beach is an overwhelming experience. Colours paint everything in front of you.
Nearby Nha Trang and its surrounding islands have plenty of coral reefs, where marine life is so alive and diverse. Snorkelling is widely popular here. This is my next destination. Swimming in a calm, blue sea, something unimaginable on Kerala, is a unique experience.
I spent the last day of my brief Vietnam trip in the ocean, above the coral reefs, sorrounded by calm waters, and a boat. A fitting end to my first foreign adventure. The writer was on a sponsored tour of Vietnam organised by VietJet.