We arrived at Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon) after our comfortable flight on Vietnam Airlines.
As the flight was slightly delayed we didn’t have much free time so we went straight out to eat.
Today we would learn a lot about the Vietnamese war. It was a really interesting day. First we boarded a bus where met our local guide for the day. His name was Mr Hi and he was a really fascinating man.
Now in his early 60s he was a veteran of the Vietnamese War and he fought for Southern Vietnam alongside the US troops. They were of course the losing side and after the North took over he was made to spend 5 years in an ‘education camp’ where former Southern Vietnamese soldiers were fed propaganda and forced to agree with communism and the politics and ideas of the now ruling party. Of course, he only pretended to agree so that he could be released early.
It was very interesting hearing all his stories about the war and we were able to ask lots of questions. Within the last few months he has actually come into contact for the first time with one of the American GIs who he fought with. He remembers helping the US soldier after their truck hit a landmine. They’ve exchanged many letters and Mr Hi has now organised for the American veteran to return to Vietnam and revisit where everything took place.
Our destination for the day was the Cuchi Tunnels. Cuchi was an area just North of Saigon that was held by the Viet Cong, Southern Vietnamese peasants and farmers who rebelled against the South and fought for the North. AS Saigon is in South Vietnam, Cuchi was an important strategic point for the Viet Cong to maintain control over. They managed to do this in secret by building many many underground tunnels where they could hide for up to 7 hours. The US and Southern Vietnamese troops had no idea they were there for a long time. Even when they did find out, the huge network of tunnels, trenches and booby traps meant that it was extremely difficult for the US to liberate the area.
Finally after carpet bombing the area, the Viet Cong were eventually defeated. The bombing destroyed most of the tunnels but some of the original once still survive today which you are able to visit.
The first thing we saw was a typical entrance to a tunnel. It was tiny! One of the guides demonstrated how the Viet Cong would get in and out of the camouflaged entrances. We were then able to give it a go. It was a bit of a struggle for my Western frame to get in and out but I and Heidi managed to do it. Here’s a video:
We then got to see working versions of all the different types o booby traps. As groosome as they were, the Viet Cong were very clever when it came to these things. I can’t imagine how much pain and suffering these traps caused the US troops, who no real experience in guerilla warfare.
We then had a traditional meal of Tapioca and green tea. This is what the Viet Cong would have suvived on during their time here.
Finally we were able to crawl 80m through one of the original tiny tunnels. This tunnel had been widened slightly for tourists but nonetheless it was very tight, hot, dark and claustrophobic down there. Only a few of us went into the tunnels as most of the group didn’t fancy it. I don’t know how the Viet Cong could live like they did, it must have been very uncomfortable.
Back in central Saigon we visited the War Remnants Museum, a collection of stories, facts, photographs and artefacts from the war. It did a very good job of explaining the history and politics of the war.
It was also very disturbing and sad particularly when depicting and explaining the war crimes commited by US soliders as well as the aftermath of agent orange. Agent orange was a chemical used by the US to defoliate the jungle and forests to make it easier for combat. Unfortunately the harmful substances in these chemicals has left a devasting lasting legacy causing illness and severe deformations and disabilities to many generations of Vietnamese living in those areas.
In the evening we met the new group of people starting the tour to Cambodia. They were two English girls about our age and an older couple from Lison, Portugal. Unfortunately we had to say by to the Aussie family (we’ll miss you!) and Bristolians Lee and Paula (we’ll miss you too!), who finished their 10 day tour of Vietnam.
We had a nice meal together at a barbecue where you cook your food on the grill that sits in the middle of the table. I was a bit keen and hungry when our food came out and forgot you had to cook it so I ate a chunk raw of pork, oops. Tasty though!
A visit of the Mekong Delta was the activity of the day. Once again Mr Hi was the interesting guide as we set off on a long boat to visit the beautiful area. As well as floating markets, floating lillies and lots of rivers we had a little ride on a small long boat paddled by one of the locals. Plus we all got point hats to wear!! We also visited a local handycraft place where they make souveniers and also food like rice paper, puffed rice and coconut sweets. It was a nice trip where we saw lots of beautiful scenery, sat in a hammock and drank coconut juice, can’t complain!
The trip took most of the day and when we arrived back we had just enough time for some Fanny’s ice cream before our tasty meal in the evening. We both ate Bhun, a delicious Vietnamese dish of noodles, herbs and meat. It just tasted amazing! It was also Aussie Michelle’s Birthday so Mark had organised a cake, which was nice. Happy Birthday mate (say in Aussie accent)!