The focal point of our second day in Saigon was a trip to see the Cu Chi tunnels. Dug between 1948 and 1968 the tunnels were used by the Vietcong while fighting the Americans.
The site seems to be very well preserved and set up to give you a taste of what it must have been like, both to live in them and to try and attack them, neither of which I would have enjoyed in the least. It’s not hard to see how difficult life would have been living there or how terrifying it would have been for the Americans.
The tunnel exits seem to be everywhere, there are 200 km worth, and though they have been widened for tourists, they’re still very, very small. This is especially true for those of us over 6 ft., as two of us in our group are. The tunnels were made as small as possible to make it harder for the larger American GIs to fit. As you may know, I may be tall but I’m far from “big”, and this is even more true for Russell, our other six foot plus guy on tour, but it was definitely a squeeze for me to try and fit through the little entrance. Once inside, it was very dark, stuffy and claustrophobic. Only three in our group made the full little tourist journey, the rest dropped out at various intervals. I can’t imagine living down there for days on end.
The tour highlighted some of the ingenious, and gruesome, inventions that the Vietcong made. One I had wondered about before our visit was, if they cook down there, how do they avoid having the smoke give them away. The answer is a 15 ft chimney that leaks the smoke out so it blends into the fog. The other inventions were less constructive: various booby traps. Most of them, ironically made with metal scavenged from US bombs, involved spearing those unlucky enough to find one.
The one aspect of the site that I found a bit inappropriate was the gun range where you can fire war era, and scale, weapons, e.g. M16 rifles and bigger things. With the tunnels underfoot and the guns pounding in the background, it’s not hard to understand why some visiting vets find it to be too much. I can’t imagine that the locals living nearby appreciate hearing the weapons that killed so many on a daily basis.
Along the route between the tunnels and Saigon we stopped to see how rice paper for spring rolls is made. Turns out, it’s harder than it looks. Apparently the women teaching us can do 500 an hour. Katy gave it a try. She struggled to get one done, as did everyone who tried.
Back in Saigon, we walked over to have lunch at Pho 2000, the same restaurant Clinton ate at when he was in Vietnam in 1995 after the US embargo was lifted. The Pho was really good and cheap to boot.
The afternoon saw us strolling around town window shopping. We also stopped at the Majestic Hotel to have a drink at the rooftop patio overlooking the river. The patio was great and offered a great view of the city. It definitely wasn’t cheap, my beer cost four times the one I had at lunch, though still much cheaper than it would have cost at home.
We planned to have dinner in the market but, having been there the night before, we decided to check out the backpacker district instead. Not surprisingly, the area was full of young travelers and cheap places to eat and drink. We picked one that looked good and watched the people flow by. All in all, a perfect way to finish another great day.
No real lessons learned today, but if your Vietnamese is a little rusty, you may be wondering about the title of this post. Well, “Ôi Chúa ơi” (pronounced oi-choi-oi) means “oh my god”.