Chu Chi Tunnels and City Tour

Ho Chi Minh City Travel Blog

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Anh giving us a history lesson on the Chu-Chi Tunnels.

The honking started again around 4:30am... not sure where all these motorcyclists are going.  (But you need to give them props for their amazing ability on their bikes - we saw bikes with families of four balancing on them, men on bikes carrying ladders, huge loads of produce, etc.).  Then, strangely enough, weird music started blaring from the park around 5:30 am.  It's good our room was far up and set away from the street - or else it would have been unbearable.  Since I was already up, I peeked out and saw men practicing tai chi at the park.  perhaps the music is for the tai chi???

At breakfast (simple toasted baguette and egg) I met an Australian family on holiday - very sweet.  The little girl was only 5 and super articulate and masterful with her fork and knife.

A sample model of the tunnels.
  :)  The bread in Saigon is quite good - fresh, soft on the inside, crisp on the outside, yum!

Promptly at 8am our guide (Anh) showed up to get us.  We drove out to the Chu Chi Tunnels - about an hour or so away.  During the ride Anh told us about the "American War" from the Vietnamese perspective.  The man literally teared up as he was telling us.  Admittedly, as Americans, it was a tad awkward.  I can certainly understand their perspective, but when you've been raised with one version of the history; it is strange to then be confronted with an entirely different version.  Don't get me wrong - I don't think Anh was purposely trying to make us feel bad - but he had immense pride in Vietnam, particularly Saigon, that it was almost palpable.

Demonstrating how the villagers/soldiers hid in these camouflaged holes.
  He was very informative and attentive, and his english was quite good.  Anyways it was a good learning experience.  There really were no winners in any war, especially for the civilians and the soldiers on the ground...The tunnels are located in an area that became a "free fire zone" - and was repeatedly bombed during the war.  The villagers had to live/hide underground, and hence, the creation of the tunnels.  It's mind-boggling to imagine people living in the dark, cramped spaces...

When we got to the tunnels, we saw a propaganda film about the "heroes" who killed Americans.  (awkward again)  Then Anh explained to us how the villagers and guerillas lived in these tiny tunnels.   It's almost unbelievable ... A man demonstrated on how they would hide in some of the escape holes when chased - it's certainly not for anyone with claustrophobia.

Ohmigoodness! Look at the teeny little hole!
  Then we were given the opportunity to go into the holes, but they looked too scary and tiny.  Anh said originally they were even smaller, but they were enlarged for the "foreigners" - apparently some big american dude got stuck some years back so they had to make changes... the vietnamese are tiny!  they must think we are these gargantuan freaks! (OK - maybe not A and me, but you get the picture.)

We also saw a variety of booby traps - quite deadly and cruel.  Here, Anh seemed a bit embarrassed and apologetically said these were necessary in times of war.  They were rather horrific...then we were led to an area where we could shoot guns.  Anh suggested we shoot the AK47's.  (10 bullets for 200,000 VDN)  A and I each shot 5 times - the kickback and noise are quite shocking.

Down the hole!
  I had read about such things but it's different actually experiencing it.  I kept holding the gun wrong, and the kickback would hit my face.  Hope I don't bruise...

When driving back into the city, we saw a bunch of highschoolers heading home for lunch.  Anh explained high school girls still dress in long white dresses and trousers - sort of the graceful, iconic image that I had of Vietnam. 

For lunch, Anh said he would take us to a local place, a famous pho place called Pho Le in Chinatown.  It was definitely better than the pho we had yesterday.  yum!  I also had my first soursop (a kind of fruit) drink.  V had recommended it, and she was right!  It was quite delish.

Can you believe this hole was enlarged from the original?
  After lunch, we strolled through Binh Te Market in chinatown - more of a wholesale market for food, spices, etc.  You typically have to buy in bulk, but some of them seem willing to sell to tourists, at way better prices than at Benh Te Market.  We observed the fish and meat markets, the produce market, the candy market, etc.  Back in LA, we have farmer's markets periodically but nothing as vast as this - here, people shop everyday for food; in LA we stock up in Costcos - very different lives.

Our next stop was Thien Hau (Lady Temple) - a Chinese temple paying special homage to a lady of the sea who protected sailors and boats (for the Chinese who travelled here across the ocean).  The top of the temple had beautiful and colorful ceramic figures crafted by Hue artisans - each of which were unique and hand-crafted.

Demonstrating a booby trap.
  Hanging throughout were cone-like coils of incense - burned for wishes to come true.

We then went to the War Remnants Museum - mostly photos of the war and examples of the type of weapons, vehicles, etc. used in the battles against the French and the Americans.  The photos were terribly disturbing as any pictures of war and its victims would be.  However I think the most affecting display was the Tiger Cells and the guillotine used on political prisoners.  It's amazing how cruel mankind can be...

We were supposed to go to a lacquer factory but we opted to check out the Reunification Palace instead - it was the home of the former president Ngo Dinh Diem and on April 1975, it was where the N. Vietnamese tanks crashed through the gates and took over the building - symbolically representing the fall of Saigon.

Anh (our guide) risking his leg for another demonstration.
  The building was designed by a Vietnamese architect - very 60's/70's - a bit modern and sterile.  To be honest, quite unattractive with outdated furnishings but a building of great symbolic signficance to the Vietnamese people.

We then drove by the Notre Dame Cathedral and Post Office for photo ops.  And our tour was over for the day and while I was happy to learn so many new things, my ankle was now twice its normal size so I really needed a break.  (never knew I was so frail...)

Dinner was a bit disappointing.  We were both so tired and I couldn't trek very far, so we ate at (don't laugh), the Milwaukee Bar & Grill.  It was a total tourist trap and pretty awful - at least my soursop milkshake was yummy.  A had a burger with a fried egg on top - she never had it before - even at Fatburger in LA! 

sybil says:
wow, i am sure that that tour of the tunnels was mind expanding!
Posted on: Apr 13, 2008
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Anh giving us a history lesson on …
Anh giving us a history lesson on…
A sample model of the tunnels.
A sample model of the tunnels.
Demonstrating how the villagers/so…
Demonstrating how the villagers/s…
Ohmigoodness!  Look at the teeny l…
Ohmigoodness! Look at the teeny …
Down the hole!
Down the hole!
Can you believe this hole was enla…
Can you believe this hole was enl…
Demonstrating a booby trap.
Demonstrating a booby trap.
Anh (our guide) risking his leg fo…
Anh (our guide) risking his leg f…
A booby trap.
A booby trap.
Scary barbs - Anh said they used t…
Scary barbs - Anh said they used …
Me shooting an AK47 - scary!
Me shooting an AK47 - scary!
Heres A shooting.
Here's A shooting.
A in the hole.
A in the hole.
I was wimpier and didnt want to g…
I was wimpier and didn't want to …
Making rice tortillas.
Making rice tortillas.
Kitchen in the tunnels.
Kitchen in the tunnels.
An air duct to let out the steam f…
An air duct to let out the steam …
Rubber sandals made from tire rubb…
Rubber sandals made from tire rub…
Posing with a mannequin...odd, huh?
Posing with a mannequin...odd, huh?
In the bomb crater (B52).
In the bomb crater (B52).
Closer shot of us in bomb crater.
Closer shot of us in bomb crater.
Posing with a tank...
Posing with a tank...
A high school student returning ho…
A high school student returning h…
Thien Hau Temple.
Thien Hau Temple.
Ceramic figures atop the buddhist …
Ceramic figures atop the buddhist…
See the incense coils?
See the incense coils?
I think these were peoples prayer…
I think these were people's praye…
One of the altars in the temple.
One of the altars in the temple.
Tank at the War Remnants Museum.
Tank at the War Remnants Museum.
In front of the tank.
In front of the tank.
Going through prison doors.
Going through "prison" doors.
Prison door.
Prison door.
A Tiger Cell - the mannequins were…
A Tiger Cell - the mannequins wer…
View of the cell from above.
View of the cell from above.
The guillotine...
The guillotine...
Pho Le - our lunch spot.
Pho Le - our lunch spot.
Enjoying my 2nd pho in Vietnam.  m…
Enjoying my 2nd pho in Vietnam. …
Close up of my pho - super tasty!
Close up of my pho - super tasty!
The Binh Te wholesale market.
The Binh Te wholesale market.
Look at all the preserved veggies,…
Look at all the preserved veggies…
Central area of the market where v…
Central area of the market where …
Rows of rows of dried goods.
Rows of rows of dried goods.
Pickled veggies.
Pickled veggies.
Candied fruits - looks really pret…
Candied fruits - looks really pre…
In front of the market.
In front of the market.
A tuk tuk.
A tuk tuk.
One of many KFCs in Vietnam.
One of many KFC's in Vietnam.
Tuk Tuk drivers.
Tuk Tuk drivers.
Notre Dame Cathedral.
Notre Dame Cathedral.
General post office.
General post office.
In the post office.
In the post office.
More motorcyles...
More motorcyles...
Reunification Palace.
Reunification Palace.
View of the gate that the Vietcon …
View of the gate that the Vietcon…
The map room in the Reunificatio…
The "map room" in the Reunificati…
Helicopter Pad atop the palace.
Helicopter Pad atop the palace.
Enjoying my soursop drink - yummy!
Enjoying my soursop drink - yummy!
My hawaiian style chicken - looks …
My hawaiian style chicken - looks…