Vietnam 2009 Travelogue

03 November 2009 – day 18 – Tuesday – Saigon, Cu Chi Tunnels

Today we had an optional trip, but everyone in our group decided to do it. The trip was to the Cu Chi Tunnels.

First we had to get there, and it's more than an hour away. So our bus lumbered slowly down the streets of Saigon, a behemoth in a sea of motorbikes. The traffic is amazing. It's a very chaotic mess of motorbikes going every direction with apparently no rules.

But it flows amazingly well. Motorbikes turn in front of others, cut each other off, weave into oncoming traffic. Whomever is bravest wins. If there's someone in front of you, stop or weave. If you're in front, keep going and look out for people trying to cut you off.

At least here in Saigon there are lanes designated as motorbike lanes. People don't always follow the rules, but it helps.

Speaking of traffic, every day we see some vehicle, motorbike, bicycle, cyclo or other vehicle piled sky high with durable goods. We've seen lots of examples of it every day, so I'm now taking photos of an “overloaded motorbike of the day” or “overloaded motorbike du jour”. It's great fun.

The bus took us out of the city and into a rural area. Pretty soon we started to see forests of trees planted in straight rows. At one point, we pulled over and got out of the bus to see. In fact, they were all rubber trees. Lee showed us how the people cut the tree in a circular pattern and collect the raw latex. After they are done, a small stream of residual latex stays on the tree and hardens. We played with it and it's really weird. Not only weird, it's also like a very strong rubber band. I tried to pull it apart to break it, but it was very difficult.

After a little more riding on the bus, we arrived at the tunnels.

This was the actual site where the Vietcong soldiers had a hundred and twenty miles of tunnels leading to underground bunkers.

Near the entrance was a veteran of the Vietnam war who lost his arm in the war.

American soldiers were sent into the jungle to fight there, but it was full of deadly traps. Some examples were left at the site to show what they were like.

Many movies made about the Vietnam war had these scenes, but it was very interesting being at the actual site.

It was very spooky. There I stood in front of a beautiful, pristine forest, but instead of the normal, peaceful feelings I get from a forest, I felt rampant terror—extreme fear—and grisly horror. A forest of tormented souls.

The forest was riddled with large craters left by American bombs that scarred the land.

The bad feelings permeated the air and I had a very hard time. I could feel myself put up psychic walls to keep from being bombarded by these bad feelings.

The tunnels and bunkers themselves were very interesting and we took many photos. Our local guide (who looked like a Vietcong soldier) showed us the hidden entrances and how you got in and out of them.

Then he popped up at a different location. Two of us, Marty and Bob, went into some of the hidden entrances, but it was a very tight fit for Americans.

We did go into a few of the tunnels, but we were told they had been widened for tourists. We could still see the older, smaller tunnels though.

Some of the caves had bats and Kathy took some photos of them.

One of the bunkers was the actual place where the tet offensive was planned.

Near the exit was a display of various booby-traps, mortars and weapons from the war.

After the tour of the forest, we had a snack that consisted of tea and a tuber that was very much like a potato.

Cu Chi was a beautiful place, a historical place, but a spooky place.

After visiting the major sites, we visited the bathrooms before leaving, but much to our surprise, the women's bathroom contained a tarantula walking around. A bunch of us men went in to see and take photos. It was very big.

After we left the cu chi tunnels, we had a very long, boring bus ride back to Saigon. We were very hungry by the time we arrived at the restaurant for lunch.

After lunch, we were dropped off at the hotel. After freshening up a bit, we left again. We took a taxi back to the camera store where we had left Kathy's lens yesterday. Fortunately, they had somehow managed to fix the lens and it was back in perfect working order. We gladly paid them the sixty dollars they wanted, and went on our way.

We hailed another taxi and asked him to take us to the palace we had seen from the outside yesterday. We wanted to tour the inside of the palace, but unfortunately, it was closed. The ticket office was clearly closed and the guards at the gate told us it ordinarily stays open until 4:00pm, but today it had been closed at 3:30pm due to some special meeting. Kathy was bummed.

We decided to take another taxi to our next destination, which was a Buddhist temple. It was very cool. It seemed very old. It was definitely “active” because we saw monks and other people praying there.

Like some of the other temples we've visited, they had statues of the ten gods of hell. So now I know who to look for when I get there. Bahahahahaha!

They also had a pond with turtles.

After visiting the temple, we took another taxi. (Taxis are very cheap here. Each of these rides cost us about two dollars.) This time, it took us back to the central market. We went inside a jewelry store and I bought a nice sapphire ring. It took us a lot longer than I ever imagined because we did some arguing about the price, and also the ring had to be resized to fit my fingers.

Next, we took a taxi to a restaurant we selected, called the Hue An. There were live musicians playing Chinese music inside, which was unexpected and very fun.

The food was excellent.

Another taxi, and now we're back at the hotel.

Interesting Vietnam observation for the day:

I have said this before, but it's simply amazing to me that so many people here are bundled up as if it were cold weather. It's extremely hot and humid here. I always seem to have sweat pouring from me. After it started cooling off, I noticed a bank clock that was flashing the temperature as 31C which is 88F here. The humidity seems to be 100% and it's just stifling hot and uncomfortable. And yet, we see thousands of people bundled up: long pants, long sleeve shirts, long gloves that cover the arms, bulky hats, face masks. It's simply absurd. But not a rare occurrence: it's pervasive. Yet there isn't a drop of sweat to be found on them.

Overloaded vehicles of the day:

Here's a tip: If you're hauling a huge load of bricks with your scooter, make sure you've got plenty of gasoline. It's a bitch to tow to a gas station.

And my personal favorite: How to move a full-sized refrigerator.