Good Morning, Vietnam! (Sorry) – Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Good Morning, Vietnam! (Sorry)
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

November 7
The Cu Chi tunnels are about 40 miles from Saigon (only the government calls the city Ho Chi Minh City, everyone else calls it the historical name of Saigon). The tour starts with a Communist propaganda film inside a building followed by walking into the jungle and visiting the tunnels. The original entrance to the tunnels has been made bigger (from 60 cm. by 80 cm to 80 cm by 120 cm) so tourists can get in. What I found to be most interesting was the traps around the tunnels, which were made of either bamboo or metal. There were many different types including one meant for soldier’s feet, a door trap and one that would hit them in the sides. The ideas was not to necessarily kill the intruder but to mame them so badly that when they would go back to their platoon and tell stories of the tunnels, so no one else would want to go.

The Cu Chi Tunnels are a tight fit for tourists
The Cu Chi Tunnels are a tight fit for tourists
The tunnels were originally just one layer when the Vietnamese fought the French. It became two to three layers when the US fought because of American use of the chemical weapon Agent Orange that cleared the land. The first layer had a health room, meeting room, armaments room, kitchen and a military planning room. I went about 100 meters underground in the tunnels on my hands and knees, which in itself was demanding. We then went to the kitchen where they fed us tapioca root. The Vietnamese used to cook at three in the morning before the morning bombing raids so that the smoke from the kitchen wouldn’t tip off the Americans.

When they dug the tunnels, they removed the dirt and placed it in the holes from the B-52s. Then they would put the original soil back over the top so as to not tip off where the tunnels were. They also had air holes with pepper spray so oxygen would come in and so that American hunting dogs would stay out. The lowest point was 25 feet down; from here they could enter through the river.

Then back to the Jade Emperor Pagoda, which is an incense-filled temple that combines Buddhism and Confucianism. After leaving the pagoda, I went back to a square near my apartment and visited a woman selling coconuts. She said that she worked 14 hours a day, six days a week. Next to my hotel, I picked up two free CDs for booking through my tour agency. There is a lot of dubbed CDs here in Southeast Asia; it’s possible to pick up the new Windows XP for seven dollars.

November 8
The Mekong Delta is about two hours from Saigon. I had seen some of the Mekong in Cambodia as it moves north towards China. The trip is a combination of motorized boats and paddleboats as some of the Mekong is not deep. The actual place we went was called My Tho. It is amazing how tall the bamboo gets. There are a couple places to visit on the Mekong including a honey factory where I stuck my hand in a beehive.

They also have a coconut farm. It’s impressive to see how they use everything. The liquid is squeezed out and they made candy out of it. Also, the old shells are used as fuel for fires. I also bought eating utensils made of coconut. We then headed back to Saigon after a scenic trip on the Mekong.

November 9
Travel day from Saigon to Dalat in the Central Highlands. The bus trip from Saigon to Hanoi is only $25 and it stops at a series of cities and is flexible as far as what days you can travel. It also stops in between cities to show attractions, but I am just interested in getting from point A to B.

Dalat is one of the main cities on the trip from Saigon to Hanoi
Dalat is one of the main cities on the trip from Saigon to Hanoi
We were ushered into a hotel by the travel agency, but it was reasonably priced so we stayed. I took a quick tour of the city including the central market and a mini Eiffel Tower. I went out with the group on the bus trip and we had a wide range of personalities and a wide variety of conversations about cockfights, “Happy Pizza” and taking a cargo plane to help film Temptation Island.

The group went to karaoke, which is a popular place to go here. We got sandwiched in between a professional unfortunately. She was fantastic, but the Californian who went after her didn’t do too badly. We also tried some snake blood wine, which still had the snake inside. This was strong. It’s possible to eat a beating snake heart but we stayed with just the wine.

November 10
After last night, I slept in. It’s cool here because it is elevated and I have a good bed also. The Bao Dai Palace, named after the former leader, is here but isn’t terribly interesting. Then I went around the lake and past the Pink Cathedral. They have a tour around Dalat into the country, but I got up late and wasn’t in the mood. I went out with the group again and had a good time.

November 11
I spent a lot of time on a bus today as I went from Dalat to Nha Trang. This is known as a place to go to the beach and just hang out. Unfortunately, it was raining most of the day. The whole group stayed together so we went out tonight. The food was really good. I had boar as the main course and that was delicious. I also had shrimp and morning doves as well as a really nice soup.

November 12
We were on the beach today and we started to play soccer with some local kids when I kicked the ball and I think I broke my big toe. I couldn’t walk on it so Jared, the Kiwi in the group, carried me to the closest bar and they put a block of ice on it as they chipped away ice for mixed drinks. I returned to the beach and laid out with the group. We were only moderately bothered by people trying to sell us books on the beach.

The incense-filled Jade Emperor Pagoda mixes Buddhism and Confucianism
The incense-filled Jade Emperor Pagoda mixes Buddhism and Confucianism
I was a bit worried as I could not really stand. However, by the time night rolled around and we went out it was good enough. There are some good bars to go to and they don’t have a closing time. The ones we went to were largely tourist bars, which are mostly tourists and local girls who are “working.”

November 13
I stayed in Nha Trang today. I had planned to go yesterday but with my toe that was not possible. My toe is very bruised but I can walk on it, however, my backpack feels really heavy now. I was fortunate to leave tonight, as yesterday there was a typhoon near Hoi An and a couple of cars were swept away and people died. The worst thing happened on our trip was that a rock was thrown through one of the windows, near where I was sitting. They were going to get another bus, which would have taken a couple hours, but we convinced them to just continue on. Some of the group decided to stray in Nha Trang for a little longer, which is unfortunate because it was a good group. With an all-nighter last night I should be tired enough to sleep on the overnight bus to Hoi An.