Today we could not hang around at the hotel too long as we were to be off visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels situated a bit of a ways out from HCMC. First we had to hot foot it around to the tour operator’s place situated just around the corner from our hotel. After a short sit down on the shops ‘stools’ our tour bus turned up but on the other side of the street. So our first adventure turned out to be us almost losing our lives getting to the bus such was the traffic down the main street. Most of the drivers and riders seeming to be making a beeline straight for us – must have been ‘kill the Westerner Wednesday’!
Once on the bus, our heartbeats slowed and we finally dropped into our seats. It was well organised from the off but we just had the feeling that it was going to be a bit of a rushed ‘do’. With all the morning’s traffic it took quite a while to collect everyone up from their hotels and residences but once we had a full bus and our guide had introduced himself we were off and running. The guide turned out to be a bit of a card and he joked about the government, saying how it had improved greatly over the years, people were still being ripped off by them but the government now thanked them when they took their money.
Along the route our first ‘port of call’, not far out of Saigon, was a factory that was manned by disabled people. These were victims who had suffered either directly or indirectly from America’s somewhat indiscriminate use of chemicals during the Vietnamese war. The factory sold all sorts of goods but the main items you could see being worked on were the lacquered goods made up by hand using tiny broken duck eggshell and mother-of-pearl pieces. The workmanship was absolutely amazing but although some of the workers looked disabled in a number of ways I was not really sure whether it was bone fide or even necessary to point out the link, between these people who had obviously suffered and the American chemicals. I think it would have perhaps been a bit more appropriate and respectful if the worker’s disabilities had been a bit more downplayed. It then becomes an issue of fighting with your conscience as to purchasing anything which we, quite frankly could not afford let alone carry, so we just bought a squeezed fruit drink each at the factory’s cafe.
From the factory it was still quite a way to the site of the tunnels. These are a well frequented attraction as the number of coaches in the car park could testify to. Once inside, first we watched an information film about the Vietnamese war in good old propaganda style. Then the guide led the way and showed us the various exhibits including the man-traps which though gruesome were effective at the same time. The Americans thought the Vietnamese were ‘dirty fighters’ and to be honest some of the traps exhibited made us wince when we watched them but the USA tried to bomb the Vietnamese out of existence so which is worse?
Next, the main event, the tunnels themselves. First, we had a bit of a stand in a tunnel hole then we were allowed to go into a tunnel ‘run’. The tunnels on this site, we were told, had actually been made bigger and wider in order to accommodate Westerners and we soon saw why, as although you can get in, as you continue the tunnel gets smaller and smaller – more Vietnamese in dimensions – and from bending you soon end up crawling and Liz eventually had enough as she was feeling claustrophobic so she ducked out at one of the many exits along the route.
How soldiers ran through the tunnels wearing uniforms, carrying guns and equipment and even lived and thrived in them was simply dumbfounding. As the guide told us, they were simply fighting for their lives against an enemy they truly hated and they are a very resilient people to be up against. The extensive tunnel plans were explained and showed them to be a well thought out piece of engineering, in particular, the traps and escape tunnels which often made use of the water from the nearby rivers. It had been a really cool visit and informative too but far too soon we were back in the bus and winging our way back to HCMC to hit the teatime traffic.
We got back to the hotel but were soon back out as we fancied a bit of a walk to the Bitexco Financial Tower which is the tallest building in HCMC. First though we needed a bite to eat and at an eatery we tried a bit of duck which was very nice before trying to walk the pounds back off. It did turn out to be quite a trek though and for such a tall building it sure knew how to hide itself! Inside we went on yet another of these super fast lifts and at the bar up at the top the prices were as high as we were up in the sky! The skyline though from our vantage point, was an amazing light show and the inside decor was very opulent to match the view. Whilst we wandered round at the top floor a young Vietnamese man walking round with his girlfriend dropped down onto one knee and proposed, holding out a ring. We thought she seemed to accept as he seemed quite happy so we gave them a bit of a clap and a bit of a hoot and a holla to boot!
The return walk back to our neighbourhood tested our boots out so we needed a drink. We settled for a place called Allez Boo, a pub recommended by the Lonely Planet (Mistake Number 1) which had obviously seen better days so we sat outside (Mistake Number 2). The weirdo we ended up sitting next to is probably mentioned in some alternative ‘Weird Lonely Planet’ too. He was an altogether unhappy chappie who was drowning his sorrows and somehow we got talking to him – doh! This gave him the opportunity to tell us his entire life story – i.e. he married a Vietnamese girl who then had a baby and she was bringing the baby up Vietnamese style, which was making the man unhappy in a number of ways, which needed booze to resolve. Strange thing is, we actually ended up buying him a couple of beers which were served in mugs, which was quite appropriate as that was not too different from the way we were feeling, a most strange ending to the day. The last thing he did though,possibly in reply for the two beers, was to give me a book and left his email address in it so that I could contact him to let him know what I had thought of it – a most strange bookworm indeed!