Day 12: Saigon and the Cu Chi Tunnels

We got up early and met for breakfast at 5:30am, ready for our flight to Saigon. The poor hotel hadn’t quite reckoned on the group’s thirst for a hot morning drinks, and the calls for coffee were loud and strong! Once everyone was fed and caffeined up to the hilt, we were loaded onto the bus for the drive to Danang airport. There was very little at the airport save a lone Burger King (which tempted a few people!), so we headed straight for the gate and boarded on time at 9am. An hour later we landed in Saigon and transferred to the hotel.

We dropped our bags off and those who wanted to, we continued on to see the Cu Chi tunnels. When we arrived, our tour guide showed us to a bunker, and began explaining about the tunnels and their use in the Vietnam war (the American war to the Vietnamese). The tunnels had everything to survive underground for weeks on end, including meeting rooms, kitchens, and even operating theatres! Our tour guide explained that the tunnels were too small for American soldiers, designed instead to fit Vietnamese weighing just 40 – 50 kg. He told us about the excess soil being hidden in bomb craters, airholes disguised as termite hills, and how smoke from cooking underground was angled out so it crept along the ground rather than rising into the sky. He also showed us an odd propaganda film about the war produced in 1967 by the Viet Cong. We then embarked on our tour around the tunnelled areas, seeing the termite hill airholes, B52 bomb craters, smoke creeping along the ground and underground ammunitions factories. There was even an old singer sewing machine for making the clothing! We were also shown the bamboo traps used to protect the tunnels from the Americans, which looked pretty brutal. It’s no wonder that so many came back maimed.

Then came the bit I’d been waiting for – going down into the tunnels! They had been expanded for us fat Westerners to be big enough that we could walk through stooped over. In the South Vietnam heat they were sweaty and humid and smelt of earthy clay. Some people felt very uncomfortable with such an enclosed space, so they did either the shortest distance (30 metres) or chickened out all together. Some got a bit panicky when were down there. I managed to do 50 metres before surfacing. After the tunnels, we tried boiled cassava, which is what the VC ate when the rice ran out. It was weird, like potato but with a more woody texture. I didn’t like it. We also saw the guns used in the war and had the opportunity to fire them (at a cost per bullet). The noise of each shot was phenomenal! It hurt my ears, and I didn’t even fire them! The tour then ended (in a gift shop, naturally). The whole experience was very odd, from the propaganda film telling us how barbaric the Americans were, to seeing the bamboo hunting traps used by the Viet Cong.

After our tour, we took the bus back to our hotel in Saigon. We had dinner in what our guide called ‘a real Vietnamese restaurant’. I’m starting to get wary every time he says that! I chose a pork and crabmeat noodle soup which was nice, although the piece of unidentified offal floating around in the soup put me off a bit. Plus I flavoured it with far too much chilli, so it became too hot to eat the whole thing. Tonight we have a comfy sleep ahead of us in a really nice hotel, before sleeping outside at a home stay in the Mekong Delta. Hoping there won’t be spiders…!

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