Vietnam - Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) & The tunnels

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Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » Cu Chi
January 9th 2020
Published: January 11th 2020
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Our trip to Vietnam starts with an 11hr Drive & border crossing.
On the way there, I'm reminded of how utterly crazy some of the wild wild west driving you see in Cambodia. There's a motorbike and small trailer pulling some Air Con units. Instead of tying them down, some lad just sits on top of the boxes to stop them from falling off. You can't make this shit up.

We get a public bus with another younger Intrepid group. The guy who's organising the crossing asks us to handover our passports, visa and $1 each. It seems a bit odd, like all the people on the bus do the same, but hey, if it makes our crossing faster, who cares.

We pass through the Cambodian border check fairly quickly, get off the bus and walk to the Vietnamese border. It seems like a pointless exercise, but there must be some logic behind it. We had to do the same going between Thailand and Cambodia.
A girl from the other Intrepid group gets held up as they can't find her visa on the system. It's kinda stressful as she's filled it out correctly, got it done through the UK Embassy, but still, they can't find her. The bus organiser guy talks to a few Cambodian people, then they tell her to pay $10 U.S. - they stamp her passport and she walks on through. This is how corrupt these countries are. Sling em a few bucks and they'll stamp you through without any paperwork.

My first impressions of Vietnam is that it looks nicer than Cambodia. Better roads, greener, traffic looks less chaotic, there's loads of motor bikes, people wearing helmets, less rubbish and footpaths.
This all changes when we get into Ho Chi Minh City. It's fucking insane. There are people EVERYWHERE. They're all riding motorbikes, not push bikes like I imagined. The roads are just full of motorbikes, with the occasional car. People are driving like lunatics.
Wrong side of the road? Fuck it! We'll drive there!
Red light? Fuck it! We'll keep driving as if they don't exist!
Too busy for your liking? Fuck it! Drive on the narrow bit of footpath and block it so people can't walk, then honk at them because you've decided to drive at them!

If you try to walk anywhere, you literally have to concentrate the whole time. There's no walking and looking at your phone, you do that and 4 motorbikes riding on the footpath will mow you down. You try to cross the road and it's like playing frogger. They don't give a shit you're on a green pedestrian light - they have somewhere to be!

My hotel looks pretty decent, except I'm on level 7 and the elevator that is so slow global warming haa destroyed the earth by the time it arrives, only goes to level 6. You've then gotta ascend up another narrow flight of stairs carrying your suitcase and baggage. Thank God I got a suitcase with back straps. To be honest, this is better than my hotel in Phnom Penh- where I was on level 5 with no elevator.

I organise to do tour to the Chu Chi tunnels, 7am start. Wake up early, find a place that does vegan food to go to for breakfast. I've got limited time to get there and back, so organise a Grab (Asian Uber) for 25000 Dong ($1.30). I get picked up on a motorbike and the guy must've thought he was playing Gran Tourismo or something as he's fucking
hurtling through town. Thankfully there's very few people on the road at 545 - for a change.
The place advertises they're open 24hrs, so there shouldn't be any issues. Get there, there's a lady who looks like she's asleep on the counter and the guy says they're closed. Great. Nothing else open either.
Get another grab back to the hotel, then remember they do a delivery service. Get a baguette delivered in 30mins for 30,000 Dong ($2). Insane. I'll use that again in future.

We stop on the way to the tunnels at a small family house to make rice paper. The lady there does several hundred a day and gets a mere $10 for like 12hrs work. I give it a whirl.. the paper crinkles and tears. Turns out it's a lot harder than she makes it look.

We get to the tunnels and watch the 10min Vietnamese propaganda video about how they did so well during the American War (aptly named of course) and were nice to each other etc. It's the biggest load of post-war propaganda. Some real elephantitus sized bollocks, but amusing none the less.

We look at the various traps they set, then I get a chance to jump into one of the tunnels too see how small they were. I get inside (just) and our guide explains this is 5cm bigger than the original. My shoulders scraped on the way in, but even then it was still tighter than a nuns fanny.

You can see why they fucked the Americans up. Once you pull the wooden cover over, you would have no idea some guy was gunna pop outta the ground and shoot you. Sometimes the Americans would hear the sound of wood when they stepped ontop of it, then lift them up and there'd be grenades on a trip wire that'd blow them up.

The tunnels were quite complex. They were set across 3 levels - 3m, 6m and 12m deep. They had pipes for air ventilation to the surface, that looked like ant hills. The Americans would find these using German Shepherd's and then try to gas them. The Vietnamese would just close a wooden hatch for that vent and move along the tunnels further until it was safe.
They'd put chilli or coffee out to hide their smell from the dogs.

When the Americans did get into the tunnels, there were multiple traps set up that'd stop them from getting any further. I went into one of the tunnels for 150m and it was fucking hard work. This replica tunnel was 2.5x bigger than the actual tunnels and it was fucking hard work. The Vietnamese would crawl through these things to get around.

I then got a chance to shoot an M16 and AK47 for 600,000 Dong ($40) for 10 bullets. It was only 10 bullets per gun, so I went 5 each with another guy that was there so we both got to try each gun.
The M16 felt nicer to shoot, but it was hard to get the accuracy.
The AK47 was easier to aim, but had wicked recoil and I got a bruise on my shoulder from the first shot.

We got back later that afternoon and I went with a guy from my tour to see the Women's museum, thinking it might be interesting to see the struggles women had been through in Vietnam. It would've been more fun to staple your nuts to your leg it was that boring.
Literally it was "these are female clothes, these are jobs they do, here's some famous females (with no description). We walked back to our hotel as I had to meet my new group at 6pm.

1x Canadian
1x Swiss
3x Mad Cuntz
1x English/ Indian

Joined the 4 of us from the last trip. Everyone is SO MUCH more talkative and friendly. The Strayanz are a father and his two younger daughters - 16 & 17.

They're all good fun. Maple syrup, mad dad and I keep laughing at the Vietnamese currency being called Dong.
"I've got a dong in my pocket," "check out my dong on the table," "how much dong do you want, " etc etc.
To make matters better, our tour guide is called Manh - so then there's "Give him your Dong, man!"

It's much more refreshing than the previous group.

Manh is a bit socially awkward, but far more organised than our last guide. He looks like he's about 16 (He's 28) and honestly would probably be better suited to computer programming. He's the type of person who tries overly hard to be fun and you're left wondering why he took a job like this. He's nice enough though.

That's all for today, off to Mekong Delta tomorrow!


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