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Published: June 16th 2009
Cu Chi Tunnels
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Our four day visit to Saigon included a visit to the Reunification Palace, which was the home of the South Vietnamese president until April 30, 1975 when Saigon fell to the North and the Liberation Army crashed through the gates with their tanks. We also toured the War Remnants museum where we saw pictures of the profound horrors that took place during the “American War.” We walked around that museum in shock and disbelief that this country could be so utterly ignorant to repeat all the same monumental mistakes time and time again. Outside of the city we traveled to the “Cao Dai Holy See” in the city of Tay Ninh (see Posting #2), and the Cu Chi Tunnels in Cu Chi City. The latter are an elaborate series of tunnels, totaling more than 250 kilometers in length, which the North Vietnamese used to hide from and maneuver against the American and South Vietnamese forces. The
Cu Chi Tunnels
Nancy compares sandals with those worn by Liberation Army soldiers in the American War. "Same same" as they say in Vietnam.
Liberation Army launched countless attacks from these underground quarters and then escaped down them to apparently vanish from the enemy. The tunnels grew into a sophisticated complex of living quarters, kitchens, weapon making facilities, field hospitals, command centers, and storage facilities. At one point during our tour, we were led down and then through a segment of the tunnels. You would not believe how small they were (granted, we are a LOT bigger than the Vietnamese) - we could BARELY fit through them. They were stunningly hot, humid and claustrophobic and it was exhausting to shimmy through even a few feet of the tunnels. Joe bailed and went up before I did!
The next morning we hopped on a lovely, air conditioned bus to the city of Can Tho, five hours south of Saigon in the heart of the Mekong River Delta region. We spent a lovely evening strolling along the riverfront in that coastal city and bargaining for a river trip to see the floating markets the next morning. Although I don’t think we made the best bargain possible, we did negotiate a four-hour sunrise boat trip to see the fruit and vegetable trade of the Cai Rang
floating market (the largest in the region), tour a Mekong fruit farm, and float along the canals of the delta. We set sail at 5:30 am on a Sunday morning after a simple breakfast of coffee, bread and bananas on the street. It was cool and breezy on the river and we sat back and watched one of the most glorious sunrises come up over the horizon. When we arrived at the market, we found a little “boat city” of pineapple, banana, potato, and squash sellers, to name only a few. A few miles down the river, we were led through a farm and shown the typical fruit of Vietnam - mango, pineapple, coconut, papaya, bananas, guava, jackfruit, and jum jum (delicious!) - as well as a typical rice paddy (the Mekong is one of the most prolific rice-producing regions in the country). It was a lovely morning but we were really surprised and disheartened to see the garbage problem in the river. People who live along the Mekong still throw their garbage into the river - a hold over from when most trash was organic and compostable. Now, it is tragic to see how the plastics and other crazy
consumer goods of the 21st century pollute the water that has supported the lives of the Mekong for decades. Our little boat had to stop 3 times to extricate plastic bags from its propeller.
We would have been content to end our day after our morning boat trip, but we needed to catch a bus down to the city of Rach Gia so that we could take the ferry over to our ultimate destination - the island of Phu Quoc (“fu qwook”) off the southwestern coast of Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand. Unlike our last trip on the fancy, air-conditioned “tourist bus,” we were treated to a local bus experience where the custom is to cram as many people as is physically possible - and all of their bags, buckets, chickens, and children - on a rickety old bus, complete with burning incense and the triple collection of Buddha, Confucious, and Laotse idols adorning the dashboard for protection against the innumerable hazards found along Vietnam’s roads. Joe was entertained throughout the entire 3 hour “thrill ride” by the two bus employees whose job it was to yell out the open bus door and windows to tell the motorbike
drivers on the side of the road to get out of the way! Not everyone makes it safely to their destination while traveling on the Vietnamese highway system - we were very thankful that we did!
The 2.5 hour ferry ride from Rach Gia to Phu Quoc the next morning was not nearly as exciting (thankfully). We had a terrific time on our first Vietnamese beach holiday. For $12 a night, we rented a simple bungalow where we could pretty much step out of our door and onto the lovely (but windy) Long Beach. We spent an idyllic four days swimming, playing in the waves, walking on the beach, and eating the absolute freshest fruit and fish we have ever tasted. The fruit lady who walks the beach cut us fresh pineapple everyday and we tried exotic tasty local fruit like “jum jums” (see our forthcoming blog dedicated to the amazing food of Vietnam)! I (Nancy) treated myself to a beach-side manicure and pedicure but I couldn’t bring myself to indulge the local hair removal services where the locals use dental floss - yes, dental floss - to remove each and every strand of hair on your legs.
One of the very best parts of our island get-away was making friends with three kids from Hanoi who were also on holiday. Billy, Sally and Peter were their “English names”. They were so interested in us and we were fascinated by them. They would always come over to our bungalow and hang out on our front porch or sit with us on the beach and try to teach us how to speak Vietnamese. Their parents thought it was a hoot and loved to take pictures of them talking to us! We fell head over heels in love with them; I could barely bring myself to say goodbye. It is so lovely to see how truly universal childhood is. Children are children everywhere in the world!
We also met lots of other interesting people, including the two young Vietnamese waitresses at our resort (Huyet and Thum), a New Zealander (Mike) who worked at the Phu Quoc Pearl Farm and his pet monkey “Ba bu” (we learned all about culturing pearls and I couldn’t resist buying a Phu Quoc pearl from those two), and a delightful old Frenchman named Michael (he pronounced it “Michele”) who lived on the island and
Our new friends - Sally, Peter, Billy from Hanoi
Here's to peace, love, and joy in the next generations!
told us great stories in the morning at breakfast. We had a great time chatting it up with all of them! It occurred to us during our stay on the island that our trip isn’t just about getting to know the Vietnamese people - its also about getting to know other travelers and “wanderers” who come from countries all over the world.
Finally, another fun highlight of our trip to the island is that Joe and I rented a motorbike for the first time in Vietnam (he drove, I passengered). We had a great time zipping down the coast on our little scooter. It was so much fun. We even ran out of gas but it was right in front a house where the family happened to sell petrol! You would have thought we had done this all our lives!
Life is good in Vietnam.
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