Ho Chi Minh City and the Cu Chi Tunnels
Vietnam has been on my list of places to visit for a long while now. I always envisaged a post University trip to South East Asia, spending a couple of months between Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, but 14 years later and it hadn’t happened. So 10 days in Vietnam would have to suffice. It also happens to be the first ‘holiday’ with the Mrs, so should be fun or interesting at the very least! 🙂 (it was amazing)
First thing first – YOU NEED A VISA TO GET INTO VIETNAM. I only say this, because I was slightly ignorant and arrogant, thinking a UK passport would mean visa on arrival. It doesn’t!! I realised this, the day before we were due to leave. Luckily, they are used to this incompetence/arrogance/ignorance and there is a great service offered by Vietnam Visa on Arrival that can get your name on the necessary documents, so that when you land (If you are flying into Ho Chi Minh City that is) you come into the immigration area and hard left/u turn. There is a counter that says Landing Visa above it – hand over your papers and then stand back and wait! And wait and wait and out of the chaos listen for your name, hand over USD$45 per person, pick up your passports and head to the counter. Welcome to Vietnam!! 🙂
The Bali Boutique Hotel is really centrally located so a quick refresh and out to explore – recommended to the best Pho place in HCMC – yummy noodles with beef balls and soup and an ice cold Saigon beer – 12,000dong which is about 60 cents!! Then we walked the streets up to Ben Than market and explored a bit. Ended up in a bar just down from the hotel and stayed there till 1.30am. A few more Saigons as well as some of the rice paper spring rolls. Yummy and an awesome start to the holiday – and so to bed, eager in anticipation of what tomorrow had in store.
Early start to get out to Cu Chi tunnels as it’s about a 40 minute drive out of the city. The Bali boutique hotel has an interesting array of food on offer and very limited seating, so be prepared to share your breakfast table with random people 🙂 We had booked Cu Chi Tunnels through the hotel the night before and just after 8am the guide turned up and we joined a big bus of tourists heading to the caves. $6 a head for the transportation (includes a bottle of water) and then Nam our guide who has been entertaining visitors for the last 10 years made us all a kind offer that netted him and his driver a nice 50 cent tip per passenger – and he sorted out buying the tickets for us all.
Usually doing the mass tourist thing is not our thing but even though the place was swarming with groups large and small it wasn’t overly intrusive. Only a couple of moments waiting for people in front to clear out. The story is incredible and the people of CuChi, like all Vietnamese during the war were tenacious and amazingly productive with primitive tools. Over 100km of underground tunnels exist. There is an opportunity to get in and travel a short way in them. They’ ve been widened so big fat westerner a can get in. I’m not claustrophobic at all but those tunnels, even in their fatty widened state, are small!! Thinking about people spending month, even years living underground like that is amazing. How they adapted as well to make sure smoke wasn’t visible so they remained undetected just adds further to the whole experience. It was a hot humid day in the little piece of jungle and I also managed to tick something off my bucket list – I’ve fired different weapons but the 10 round burst on the M60 is something I’ve always wanted to do.
We all trooped back to the bus after experiencing some ‘war time’ food, some really nice tea in a tiny cup and then some boiled/steamed root vegetable dipped in a peanuts, salt and sugar combination. On such a hot and sticky day the air conditioned confines of the bus, designed for Vietnamese sized people, was bliss.
On the way back we got dropped off at the War memorial museum. You can’t miss the massive Chinook helicopter as you walk by along with other military paraphernalia outside the three story building. The experience is eye watering at points and obviously puts across the Vietnamese point of view. Whilst some may say biased there is also coverage of the US perspective too. Either way, the pictures of the kids effected by Agent Orange – the dioxin sprayed in the millions of tonnes by the US – will bring a tear to your eye or make you turn away in horror. I’m glad we went to check it out and as you would expect it has made me want to learn more about the whole saga. I have deliberately not included any photos.
After the museum we realised it was now mid afternoon and time for some ice cold refreshment. Living in dubai for the last 8 years means heat is not a problem. But the tropical nature of Vietnam means humidity is high. 60 cents for an ice cold Saigon Green served in an iced glass was absolutely required. Followed by a nap 🙂 a flight, late night, early morning and a full day meant siesta time. A couple hours later we were rejuvenated and heading out. When we booked this trip we deliberately only had flights in and out of Saigon and 2 nights accommodation done in advance. So we had to decide what and where was next – we went looking for Sinh Travel as a recommended travel service to sort out trips etc. We enquired about the Mekong Delta trip but with the minimum stay being a full day, we couldn’t fit it in and get out up to Danang. Given longer than 10 days we would have done the Mekong Delta trip and then taken the night bus for the 15 hour trip. With only 10 days though we couldn’t afford that time in transit. Sinh travel booked our flights from HCMC to Danang with Vietnam Airlines. A quick check saw us paying double what Vietjet were offering the trip for but we also learned that whilst cheaper they are often delayed which was why they (Sinh travel) only used the national airline – Vietnam airlines. As I write this post we are waiting for that flight. Boarding was due to start at 1.30, its 1.45pm and no real sign of movement, so much for that explanation Singh Travel!! To be fair 2.01pm and we just pushed back!! I take it back Sinh travel – thank you.
After booking the flights we. We went about sorting a bed. Travelling has changed a lot over the years, Vietnam is a developing country but you have wifi access everywhere. And it seems an iphone or ipad are the must take items these days (we both have 1 of each) 🙂 We decided a coffee rather than beer might be in order so a quick trip to Stella coffee on Bien Vien street; some very nice Vietnamese coffee later and a quick look on booking.com and wotif.com (their App didn’t work for the entire trip when it came to actually making a booking!! frustrating.com) and we had a room in the Orient Hotel booked. Then it was time for some Spring rolls and sweet potato chips and liquid refreshment. We walked the buzzing area of Bien Vien, avoiding the Go2 and Buffalo bar on the major intersection – $2.50 for a beer just seemed crazy!!! 🙂 a change of perspective was achieved with seats and Saigon Green on the 2nd floor of a bar just on the cross roads of Bien Vien Street
At this point I just have to digress slightly. In HCMC for the majority of people, the family transport is a Scooter/Honda 125 motorbike. In just two days I’ve seen a family of 4 on a Vespa as well as 5 kids, including one facing the driver balancing on the front mudguard. The best one though has to be whilst looking down from the 2nd floor and seeing a lady and 2 dogs on her scooter. 1 dog on his hind legs with paws on the dashboard, whilst the other, larger, dog was sat, riding pillion!!
We also witnessed what I love about the ‘travelling’ vibe. We were sat between an elderly vocal German on one side and a guy reading a book to the right. As another guy was returning from the loo to the third floor he passed our book reading friend, asked if he was in his own, the response was yes, ‘then there’s a few of us upstairs if you’d like to join’ 2 mins later after new refreshment had arrived he went upstairs. Social bunch these travellers!!
As our 2nd floor establishment closed we made our way to the Lucky Seven, not sure why we stopped here but it was entertaining – our bike reading friend arrived later with his new group of friends to play pool. Outside though we watched the enthralling chapter of drunk British guy (DBG) and slim Vietnamese Lady (VL). This episode culminated in VL firstly handing DBG some money, which we thought was backwards, then VL disappeared and can back with a scooter. She got ready and got on, DBG got on and promptly tipped the bike over, the bike and his full weight resting in his leg, trapped between the bike and the raised pavement of the bar. Sore tomorrow doesn’t come close to how he will be feeling!! Entertaining though.
We ended up back our fave bar/restaurant Sien Viet and were entertained until about 2.30am by the kids in the street. One – who we dubbed Chiu Fat – ran the show and was hilarious in directing his two accomplices in games. Learning to be a fire breather with lit incense sticks. Chasing the ladies down the street and nipping their calves and the occasional bum. He marked his territory by peeing in the street and making quite a show of the patterns he could draw!! We could have stayed and watched the street for hours more but some sleep was definitely required. Fabtastic 2nd day in the ‘nam. Night night!