Day 99, Thursday 12, April, Ho Chi Minh City
Up early again as we had to be at the airport for 8.30 for our flight to Ho Chi Minh City (HMC), Dan and a few others were still really unwell so it was a quiet trip out to the airport where Van’s family met us to say good bye to their daughter.
The flight to HMC was a wee bit bumpy and the landing was pretty bad, I am going to try Jetstar for any further flights I think, depending on cost of course ! I spent the whole flight head down in the Lonely Planet and have pretty much come up with a plan of what I want to do, so now all I need to do is join in all the dots and maybe book a couple of flights. I have decided to fly on some of the longer or more complex legs, one to save time, but more because I think after five months on the road I will be over long bus rides and hassles associated with land border crossings.
Van had organised a bus to pick us up from the airport, take us to our various hotels and then on to the bamboo bike factory and the Cu Chi tunnels. Such awesome organisation ! most of the group were staying at the highly expensive (and luxurious) Rex hotel, but I found the Luan Vu, a decently priced guest house about a ten minute walk away in the backpacker zone. Van said the area was very dangerous and was horrified we were staying there, but it appears to be safe as houses, loads of westerners around, I have stayed in much much worse… We all checked and dropped bags and then back on the bus for the fifty or so km ride out to the bamboo bike factory.
Dan and Malcolm want to build bicycles made from bamboo and have been working with a small meditation centre that has been making bamboo furniture. They are well on the way to design and have been testing out the manufacturing, the visit was for Malcolm to have a look and to discuss some design. However, Dan was still really crook and didn’t make it out with us.
The factory area is very rudimentary.
Malcolm testing out one of the hmmocks. I havent seen a lot of hammocks in SE Asia until we got to South Vietnam where they are everywhere.
The meditation centre made us a delicious vegetarian meal, lots of locally grown vegetables and a coconut to drink. that is tea by the way – not beer…
It was all a bit much for this lad.
We had a look around the gardens and the factory and then left to go to Cu Chi tunnels a couple of minutes up the road.
Cu Chi is district just outside of Saigon, (HMC) during the Vietnam (or American war, depending on where you come from) that was heavily it was a stronghold of the Viet Cong and was bombed by the US Airforce. The villages moved themselves underground and built a massive tunnel system – up to 200kms long, linking with other Viet Cong tunnels all over southern Vietnam. The tunnels were used to move troops and supplies around under the noses of the US military as well as being entire villages with hospitals, kitchens and living areas all built metres under the ground.
We arrived quite late so the tour was a wee bit rushed especially as there was an opportunity to fire weapons used in the war, and we really did not want to miss out on that ! Our guide through the site was really good, fantastic English and very funny, the best guide I have had in SE Asia by a long long way. He showed us a couple of the tunnels and they were tiny, I could not imagine living underground for years or moving around in things so small and so dark. The local woman were the guides for the tunnels, he called them ‘maps’ and each woman only knew a small section of the tunnels so that the whole system would not be compromised if one was captured or turned traitor. He led us into a clearing and asked us if we wanted to go down the tunnels, and then asked us to find the entrance, one of the guys was standing on the trap door, it was very well disguised. The entrance was tiny, and I am not sure i could have actually got myself into the tunnel at all once I was in the ground. Luckily these tunnels were not the ones us westerners got to experience, and we walked through a 30 metre section that had been enlarged to all us to move about. It was still pretty narrow, and quite dark at times…
We then had a look at some of the horrific man traps the Viet Cong used (and I am sure the southern Vietnamese and Americans had similar). This was my favourite – or worst, not sure which, a rolling trap that gets you all the way down.
A number of the traps were designed to only trap legs, but in some cases they would then put explosives underneath so that when someone tried to free you from the trap it exploded, this was not done often, but often enough to spread fear amongst the Americans, as they would never know.
We then went an spent a vast amount of money (I spent $40 USD on 2 rounds) and fired Ak47s, it was short, loud and a lot of fun. The barrel ends were strapped down, to reduce the recoil and to prevent anyone accidently shooting someone else…
Then it was day over and back on the bus and back to the hotel. I was sharing a room with Malcolm and after showers etc we met Mark and Hayley and went to a local vegetarian restaurant for food and a beer or two, followed by another earlyish night.