Well Anthony wasn't keen on going in the Cu Chi tunnels but he did just fit!! The tunnels had been described as an amazing feat of infrastructural ingenuity and they weren't wrong! We visited the The Cu Chi tunnels to get an insight into what the American military were up against fighting a war underground.
On arrival at the Cu Chi tunnels we were taken to an an underground room to watch a short history documentary about how people survived in these tunnels, disguised the entrances, and the scope of how far the tunnels spread (the network system covered 250 kilometers from the Cambodian border to the outskirts of Saigon). We were given explanantions of how the Cu Chi village people dug the tunnels and disposed of the dug out mud after dark in the nearby Saigon river, or used it to fill in bomb craters. The tunnels contained a hospital, store room, kitchen...and even babies were born. All this time soldiers were playing hide and seek with the Australian and American tunnel rats who passed through the darkness of the tunnels trying to kill them.
After being shown a few B52 bomb craters and horrific types of natural booby traps they made out of bamboo like spikes of a punji stake trap, we walked on to where you could pay per bullet to shell up and fire genuine AK-47's and machine guns.
We then made it to the hot, pitch black tunnels. We were the last of our group to get inside the tunnel. Anthony went in first and as he ducked down to start his cramped crawl through on hands and knees, I followed.....Once in there it's very confined, claustraphobic, sweltering and suffocating to say the least...and what's crazy is that these tunnels have been made larger for Westerners, and also sprayed to keep insects away (we were told the tunnel walls used to crawl with stinging fire ants and scorpions!) After I could see we had passed two exit escape routes I asked where/when Anthony actually intended to get out as I hadn't heard what the guide had told us to do, but Anthony said he thought we should carry on as he was sure he could still hear people ahead. So there he was tunnelling away like a big badger.......
When we eventually popped our heads out we could see no guide....we had lost our group of people!! We carried on the route in the direction of the exit signs hoping we would bump into them, but made it back to the entrance with no sign of group. We were left waiting, thinking the entrance was the best place we could be found.....but after an hour of waiting it was clear we had been left behind! Our guide obviously didn't do head counts, or just felt like abandoning us - I don't know....? After a few pohonecalls to our hotel asking them to make contact with the tour opertaor, we found out the rest of our group had gone by boat (away from the entrance/exit we were waiting at). Turns out we had to wait three hours to get a return bus journey back to Saigon......FRUSTRATING!!
So we were in Saigon 3 nights ....the city still has the same high energy mix of hustle and bustle, racing motorcycles, street vendors with every variety of food or merchandise under the sun, people sat on their little plastic chairs by street vendors - almost sat in the middle of the road with traffic weaving past them everywhere....However, our lasting impressions will be how overwhelming their National pride is here, and how much you can see these city dwellers love to take their entire family to the park at night to play volleyball, badminton, football etc. It's amazing to see so many family generations are all packed in to the parkside playing sport, or exercising on the parks fitness aparatus early in the morning and at sundown. The park is bang in the middle of a majorly busy road though so the pollution can't be good for them....or me...and although it is less dusty here in comparison to the other places we've visited - I am looking forward to the coastline.....I much prefer being by the seaside with no flashing advertising billboards, fancy malls and high rise buildings!
When we were still in Saigon, after a lot of indecision we agreed our time was getting too limited to stop in too many more places going north. We agreed to miss out on on visiting a hill station called Dallat (wheer you can visit or stay in a bazaar tree house hotel, and see the perfume river), and also miss out Nha Trang (which is apparently very touristy but has stunning sand dunes).
After spending lots of time reseraching the internet for best modes of transport and places to be we decided to save ourselves a day of travel and head to Hoi An by aeroplane using VietJet (1 hr trip) rather than the train (16hrs!!!). Our hotel receptionist (who I'm sure still took pity on us for losing our tour guide in the Cu Chi tunnels) helped us whilst we were getting frought with the internet trying to book a flight....she rang around and found a good flight price for us and printed our boarding tickets etc.
After a good flight landing in Danang, we had a 40 minute taxi ride into Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage town. Now here, we are in the perfect seaside village.....it'so very pretty here. Besides being able to see the sea again and the Cham islands dotted in the distance, this riverside town is heavily influenced by French, Japenese & Chinese tradition, culture, cuisine & building architecture.
Our first night stay was in a spectacular tropical paradise lodging called Ang Ban Seaside Village - we stayed in a villa called Mango. We walked 5-10 minutes along the beach from here to find an incredible beach bar run by a very charismatic French man and his Irish wife. This bar was filled with other friendly expats and locals who all love to play pool! After nibbling on a few complimentary tapas, we had one of our best meals in Vietnam here.......It was steak fillet and garlic potatoes with salad, all cooked exactly the way we had asked for it...we also had some amazing complimentary grilled oysters at the bar later...all very delicious. Apparently his Mango creme brulee is magnificent too! French cuisine is pretty popular here (many upmarket bakeries selling patisseries and breads).
Last night was spent walking along the river with the hundreds of quaint bar's, cafe's and restuarants dotting the streets, and colourful chinese paper lanterns floating in the river. The guide books and hundreds of reviews I've read about Hoi An really do tell the truth! The town is striving to be upmarket and to preserve it's history, and it shows....
We only have one night left here now....
Tomorrow, we will be making our way back to Danang to take the train to Hanoi (apparently the first part of the train trip - from Danang to Hue is supposed to have the most spectacular scenery of the country). The train trip is 10 hours long.
The good side is we leave at 12 midday tomorrow, so thankfully have daylight for the first part of this trip to witness the scenery, but the downside is that we arrive in Hanoi at 4am!! Unfortunately there were no other tickets available, and to be honest (from how we've been woken up early in the cities) most locals are up and about at 4am anyway so sure the streets will be far from bare, and we should be able to get some good sunrise piccies too!
P.S Must also say this......the most confusing part of being in Vietnam now is the change in currency from the Cambodian reils or using dollars to only using dong (not many people accept dollars here).... At this point, 1 dollar or 20,829 dong is worth 62p.....there are no coins here, just a big wad of paper notes!! Everyone looks rich to us.....odd having so many small denominations in notes!!!!