Tag Archives: Ho Chi Minh City

Nothing cootchie-coo about the Cu Chi Tunnels, Vietnam

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About a two-hour drive outside Ho Chi Minh City are the Cu Chi Tunnels where the Viet Cong defended Vietnam from American invasion from the 1960s. A bizarre attraction, with a wealth of reconstructed bunkers, tunnels, artefacts of torture and an AK47 shooting range.

The ingenious, hand dug tunnels on three levels between three and 10 metres deep, ventilated by bamboo holes at 20m internals were often booby-trapped and had their own wells to supply water.

Very narrow (crouching room only), dark and damp – up to 16 people lived there at a time for months on end. Following instructions from our guide the curious among us climbed down and shimmied along all three – sweating profusely, beetroot red and mildly claustrophobic. It was impossible to imagine how people had lived within them, let alone built them by hand in the pitch dark, sweltering conditions.

Returning to the surface, batting off the dirt and letting the shakes in our thighs subside after 20 minutes of crouching, we ate a typical snack of tapioca with ground peanuts and sugar dip and rehydrated with hot tea.

Among the ‘attractions’ were homemade instruments of torture including booby traps made from nine-inch nails, door swings to impale unwanted visitors and my personal favourite, the ‘fish trap’ also known as the ‘Souvenir’, as when someone stood in it they got a nail through their foot and the protruding nails around the top stop them pulling it off their leg, so had to hobble back to where they came from with the contraption still attached.

If you are so inclined you can shoot AK47s for 30,000 Vietnamese Dong  per bullet (minimum 10 bullets). Most of these are high quality replicas provided by China during the Vietnam war. The originals were supplied by communist ‘big brother’, Russia!

A private bus from Saigon with a guide was US$15 – you can do a local bus trip, but it takes longer and not a lot cheaper.

Understandably, it is not an uplifting place. As you hear the shots fired, take a walk through the forest, look down in the tunnels and see some of the weapons you can only imagine the horrific conditions endured during the war. It is however, a very insightful and interesting place that should be part of any Ho Chi Minh City/Vietnam visit.

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Miss Saigon, miss out

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Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known (and still referred to by the locals) as Saigon is a must see place – even if you hate it, as many do – just so you can believe the traffic!

With a population of 10million (and an estimated 7million motorbikes), it is busy, hectic, filthy (in parts) and only the brave survive crossing the road.

Despite following the ‘walk slowly, do not stop or hesitate’ rules, on my first solo road crossing only a Matrix style hips-forward manoeuvre helped me to narrowly escape being run over by a moped who’s driver was picking his feet rather than avoiding petrified pedestrians!

First day there I wasn’t impressed and, although I still feel Saigon lacks soul, after a few days settling in it grew on me and I enjoyed the contrast with the rest of Vietnam.

Walking is the best way to get around (if you are brave enough to cross the road), but regularly repeated warnings of bag snatchings and pickpockets mean minimal valuables are advised.

A US$15 bus trip and guide to the gruesome and impressively masterminded Cu Chi Tunnels (where the Viet Cong lived during the war) and then a drop off at the war remnants museum is a fascinating  and spine chilling day out, as well as a lesson in propaganda at its best .

The beautiful architecture of the Colonial Post Office and the Catholic Cathedral are worth a trip, as is the hidden gem of an Art Museum. It’s 30,000 Vietnamese Dong (about £1) entrance fee gives you admission to two buildings of exhibits, which are impressive enough without the paintings. And, out through the courtyard are four or five smaller commercial galleries are all worth a look.

The Imperial Palace could be given a miss, unless Soviet style war strategy basements and 70’s architecture are your thing. And, if you’ve been to China, the central market doesn’t offer much variation – only in attitude and it’s not more positive!

For a treat and a glimpse of expat Saigon, the rooftop bar at The Rex hotel is great, but not cheap and the opera house, tourist information and high-end shops are close by.

On the flip side, Pho 2000 does some of the best (and cheapest) beef noodles in town – without the frills!

I had high hopes for Ho Chi Minh City and am happy to say I’ve seen Saigon, but three days were probably enough to soak it up.