“We come to it at last, the great battle of our time.” – Gandalf the White
Vietnam started off slow as our journey out of Phnom Penh, Cambodia turned from an anticipated 4 hour journey into a delayed 6 hour journey, resulting in our missing the one(!) afternoon ferry from Ha Tien (a border town in Vietnam), thus having to spend Christmas Eve in an unplanned location. When you’re with beloved friends, you can even make a $12/night hotel a special holiday experience (the iced coffee really does make a huge difference)! We did end up making the early ferry which is delightfully called the Superdong VI (FYI Vietnamese money is called Dong), to Phu Quoc Island in south Vietnam.
The style of this video is less interview-esque and more of a footage montage, owing to the fact that Vietnam had more of a vacation-feel, whereas at Angkor, everywhere I looked my archaeological radar went crazy. I think you’ll gather from the video what I thought was most apparent about this small island in the south, known for its tourism and pearl industries, which is that there is this sharp contrast between the rapidly growing infrastructure and a traditional Vietnamese landscape. If you watch the footage of us just riding the motorbikes around the island, you already see a marked difference between what Cambodia looked like on that original drive in from the capital to Siem Reap. But on Phu Quoc itself, which has a booming tourist industry, you can see the remnants of what old Phu Quoc looks like, and then you see the amazing amount of road building going on all across the island. When I went scuba diving (which you can see footage from at the end of the video), my dive buddy who worked with Rainbow Divers, told me that there had been a 50% increase in hotel and road building in the last year alone! I don’t know how accurate that figure is, but it isn’t hard to see in the roadside landscapes, with new half-built roads and lots the size of a supersize Walmart complex. The problem it seems, and I know that Katie and I are going to do a further in-depth ArchaeoVenturers #AVProject episode on it, is the lack of communication and awareness between the local people and those invested in the tourist industry. Nothing is more apparent then on the beaches all around the island- in front of the resorts, perfect white sand beaches, but step 25ft to either side of the resort beach, and the whole beachfront is covered in trash, to the point where it’s impossible to walk sometimes. I’ll leave this discussion to our planned episode, but it is noteworthy to point out that I heard one of the scuba instructors also say that the dive industry in Phu Quoc could be easily gone within 10-15 years because of the serious overfishing problem, dying coral reefs, and unparalleled trash buildup- and if the dive industry goes, a serious chunk of foreign tourism goes with it…
You will also see in bits throughout the montage, is when we landed in Ho Chi Minh City, and visited the Cu Chi Tunnels outside town. I have to be honest here, I had very mixed feelings going into this and even more so on the other end. The Cu Chi Tunnels were an elaborate network of underground tunnels used during the Vietnam War by the Viet Cong. These were used for hiding, living, and guerrilla warfare, which is unfathomable if you realize how small they actually are, and how they’ve been widened for tourists (I barely fit and I’m only 5’3″!). I didn’t add more of the footage beyond my going into the tunnels, which they let you do at the end of the tour after they let you fire AK-47s at a makeshift gun range, and I really could say it’s the closest I’ve come to feeling like I was in an archaeological tomb in Egypt (I also felt that way in the Catacombs in Paris). It was very scary to realize that people lived and died in those tunnels, but at the same time, the entire tour consisted of basically bragging rights about all the ways they managed to kill Americans during the war. Not making this a political statement, but I came out feeling very queasy and eager to depart for the nighttime bars in the backpacking district of Ho Chi Minh.
Lastly, and I already mentioned it, but you’ll see some footage from my two scuba dives with Rainbow Divers on Phu Quoc in the northern part of the island. I am told there aren’t any shipwrecks close enough to dive on with tourists, so that was slightly disappointing but I find it hard to be somewhere now and not take the opportunity to dive. The visibility wasn’t up to what I am used to, having most of my dives in the FL keys (and I know, my friends in the Gulf will laugh at me) but what was most apparent again was the lack of significant sea life- that, and also somehow in 15ft of water, my GoPro bit the dust. I managed to salvage the memory card but what a devastating (and pathetic) end to an illustrious camera companion *bows head*…
Check out An ArchaeoVenture to Vietnam: Chapter 4 on YouTube