You may have noticed that I have been pretty crap at keeping my blog up to date, so although I am writing about Ho Chi in Vietnam I’m actually sitting in a hotel room On Ko Phangan in Thailand. The weather is so hot today that I have decided that ‘outside’ is no place for a skinny white boy to be! So I have splashed out 600b on an air conditioned room where I am going to sit and get up to date with my blog. I have Chocolate Chip Cookies two litres of water and Michael Jackson on my iPod lets go…
We caught our last sleeper train from Nha Trang and arrived in Ho Chi Mihn City at the rather un civilized time of 4:30am! We had arranged a trip to see the tunnels that were dug and used by Viet Cong during their war with America, which left the hotel at 7:30. So time for a much needed power nap before we left, I never manage to sleep on the sleeper trains, so am always a little zombiefied the next day.
The section of the tunnels that is open to the public are about an hour and a half outside of HCMC, there were a few other tour buses, but it was still relatively early so it was fairly quiet. There was a little introductory video, although very serious I found the ‘America are scum we hate America’ element quite amusing, some of the yanks were a little less impressed! After the video we have a tour of the jungle area, we are shown entrance to some of the tunnels, replica meeting rooms, weapons factories, kitchens etc. The tunnels were ingenious; they thought of everything they made the air holes look like ants nests, they had chambers for steam/smoke so it wasn’t seen by the enemy. The locals and Viet Cong all wore the same rubber sandals with non directional sole so that the tracks could not be traced to the tunnels!
You were not allowed to crawl through the original tunnels but you could climb down in to the tunnel entrances, I popped my camera down in to the tunnel and took a couple of snaps just out of curiosity. I was looking through the photos later and I was a little disappointed by the rubbish that had been left in the hole but totally amazed that I had managed to photograph a bat hanging upside down asleep! Quite glad I paid the twenty quid for that rabies jab now!
A new section of tunnel has been dug for the tourist, you could crawl the full length about 100m or there were escape tunnels every 25m or so. The tunnel started at about 4m below the surface and ended about 6-7m deep. There was no light except for the guide’s torch, which is neither use nor ornament when you are the 3rd or 4th person, crawling single file in a cramped tunnel. The heat was unbelievable, I was dripping by the time I got out but couldn’t moan, partly out of respect for the soldiers that fought in the tunnels and families that lived under ground for over 5 years, but mostly because about two minutes after I surfaced and eighty eight year old American lady clambered out dusted herself down and carried on as if she had just got off a bus!
Again my ignorance on the war infuriated me, I didn’t realise that tactics used by the Americans aside from the phenomenal level of bombing that was carried out including an unthinkable number of dirty bombs that have left generations affected. When the Americans found a tunnel entrance they would fill it with rats, snakes and Alsatians! Mind you it was evident why the Viet Cong won the ground fighting, their bamboo traps were pretty gruesome.
The next day got up early and had a wander around the city and saw a few of the big attractions, The Rex Hotel, Notre Dame Cathedral, The Reunification Palace, The War
Remnants Museum and (Dad will be proud) The General Post Office!
The Rex Hotel is a five start hotel that was home to the international journalists during the war, it was just a 1950’s hotel not that impressive to look at, but when you think of the information that was relayed to the rest of the world from it’s rooms you can understand why the guide books list it as a must see – The bar was pretty flash though!
I only saw the Reunification Palace from outside the gates as it was lunchtime and everything closes for lunch. Well luckily everything except for KFC!
The War Remnants museum was a collection of military hardware mainly American which was interesting to see, but the real eye opener was the detailed graphic photographic record of the war and the victims of the dirty bombs dropped by the Americans.
The GPO was designed by a chap called Gustav Eifel, apparently he built a tower or something??? Two birds with one stone, I managed to send some stuff home to Elizabeth and see a pretty fantastic building! I walked out of the GPO and randomly bumped in to Kasser & Johanna, two Swedish girls I had been traveling with in China, so we went for ice cream and caught up on each other’s travel stories.
That night we met our new Cambodian tour guide, Long and had a farewell dinner with Nga. I’m sure her heart was in the right place but she was bloody annoying and not that useful, so looking forward to a change of guide. After dinner I walked back to the hotel, it must have been about midnight, the heat was still horrible very humid. On the corner of the street there was a street vendor selling something or other, she had a stainless steel bucket next to her stall, as I approached a head popped out with a huge laugh. The bucket was full of water and a little boy, he must have been 18 months old, he was that happiest boy in the whole of Vietnam, splashing around in the cold water!
HCMC is my last stop in Vietnam, so what did I think?
…The rural areas are breath taking with some absolutely stunning scenery and beautiful white sandy beaches that stretch for miles. Tourism is taking its toll, the beaches are starting to become more developed, and I just hope that other coastal towns don’t end up like Nha Trang. The cities are interesting but chaotic mopeds, people and taxis everywhere. You could buy a genuine watch, T-shirt, DVD, or book if you tried, hence why my Lonely Planet for South East Asia is a photocopy! The people are on the whole very friendly, more so in the North as it is more rural and people seem to have time for each other and tend not to apply the ‘white man tax’ as much!