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Published: November 9th 2015
The Vietnamese are cool people. I never thought that they would invite me to fire an AK47 at the Cu Chi Tunnels and pose like Rambo on an amoured vehicle. I've crawled through over 100 metres of tiny tunnels, seen the lethal traps and hidden down holes. It's fun now, despite the sweaty heat, but it would've been a horrible way to exist back in the 60s and 70's.
The day didn't start so good. I had suspected that Qatar Airlines had more nasty surprises for us, but it still was a horrible shock to be poven right when our luggage didn't arrive with us when we finally got to Ho Chi Minh almost a day late. I was suspicious that when we asked staff in Doha and Kuala Lumpa if our luggage was being sent through that we were being fobbed off. Lo and behold, that staff a Ho Chi Minh had no idea if our luggage had even left Mancheter and we have no idea when and if it is coming. After two days travelling, being subjected to delays, lies and rudeness, this was the last straw and I just had to cry a little.
From which a drink was made
met our Tour Guide Ho who is great and hopefully Qatar Airlines will call him with news of our luggage before we leave Vietnam in two days. He'd also re-ogaised the tour so that we could get to the tunnels. When I'd called the UK office from Doha, I had expressed my specific upset at missing this. We also ad a driver called Hi, so it's Hi Ho!
There are four other people on the tour; a Scottish couple, Andy and Helen plus an American couple Steve and Ee (that's probably not how you spell her name, I must find out lest I appear foolish). They'd had a quick city tour of Ho Chi Minh in the morning including a stop at a very harrowing museum. I'm annoyed we missed it, but I don't think it was a tour highlight.
Agent Orange has left many people handicapped after the Americans used it during the Vietnam War (it's known as the 'American War' in Vietnam - makes sense). So the first stop was visiting a laquer workshop where the staff were all handicapped due to Agnet Orange. We were given a quick tour, shon how the egg shell, mother
of pearl and laquer was worked. It was mid afternoon and all the staff were sleeping at their benches and didn't even notice us. The wares they were selling were lovely, pricey but not expensive considering all the work that goes to them. I was able to use my credit card and buy a couple of small pictures. I know that this stuff will be available to buy all over Vietnam and possibly cheaper elsewhere, but it's good to know your tourist cash is going to a particularly good cause.
After a really nice Vietnamese lunch at an outdoor restaurant, we headed to the cu Chi Tunnels. These centuries old tunnels ran for miles in the area and were key part of guerrilla warfare, where the locals hid from and ambushed the Americans during the war in the 60's and 70's. (It seems weird calling it the 'Vietnam War' when you are actually in Vietnam). These tunnels had living quaters and held lots of people with hidden entrances, some being underwater. Air vents we hidden in termite mounds and tunnels we also hidden under fake tombs. This is because the Americans used dogs to try and sniff out the
people, but when they came to the tombs, they just assumed that the dogs were smelling the dead and moved on.
All the trees at the site are recent having been imported from Australia just to make it look better for tourists. The original trees died due to the Agent Orange. The tunnels were purposely very small and claustrophobic, so that the larger Americans could not get in them.
We started off by getting in hiding 'shelter' a tiny hole in the ground with a leafy lid. If my bum was much wider, I wouldn't have gotten in it. It was deep enough to squat down and close the lid, but I needed to be pulled out of it. When I emerged, I was covered in dirt, but after having been in my clothes for over two days, it made no difference really.
We were shown the many traps that the Vietnames set for the Americans, made of wood, bamboo and metal spikes. They had a variety of styles such as the chair trap, the elbow trap, the seesaw trap plus many more. Each one was a very painful yet creative way to die. It was mostly
women that made the traps, sharpening the bamboo and suchlike.
We arrived at a firing range: for just over a quid per bullet we could fire a minimum of ten shots. There was a choice of weapons, but we went for the top gun, the AK47. The kickback wasn't as powerful as I feared (I've fired a hand gun in the USA and that knocked me back every shot). It was loud and I've no idea if I hit a target, I was just happy to shoot. We spotted a machine gun mounted on a army vehicle and though we couldn't fire it, we all got to pose Rambo style for photos to the bemusement of the staff. The base of the gun was buried deep in empty shells of which Andy managed to swipe a few, sharing them out later.
Then we had the option to go through some tunnels. When they saw the size of them, the Americans decided against going in (so the Vietnamese plan was still working even now!). They were so low: I'm just over 5 foot and I had to stoop right down and it was single file only. There were places
Going all Rambo
Cu Chi tunnels, Vietnam
where it dropped down a step that was around 3 feet, so I had to slither down. It was so close and sweaty in there. After the first 20 metres, there was the option to get out. Glyn being 6 foot 3 with bad knees thought it best to exit at this point having experienced it as did Helen.
There was a guide in front of us with a torch and even though he's a small skinny guy, it was tight for him, but Andy and I soldiered on. Andy had to crawl at one point and there was one area I had to slide along on my bum. Naturally I banged my head a few times. Every 20 metres or so, there was the option to ascend a ladder to escape to the surface and fresh air. After 80 metres Andy saw sense and left. I have no sense and kept going until the end, emerging at the 'dining room' and kitchen, soaked in sweat and plastered in dirt.
Andy had kindly lent us some local cash as we've had no chance to change our money yet so we were able to buy drinks. Using my credit
card we bought souvenir shirts just to have some clean clothing.
We then began the 3.5 hour journey to the homestead where were are to stay overnight, watching the mad traffic on the way. OMG the mopeds. The law is that you have to be 18 to drive one but many of the riders looked younger. Sometimes we saw entire families of Mum, Dad, two kids and a baby on one moped. The parents wore helmets but it appears that kids don't need them. I think that Ho said it is legal to have a couple of kids on the bike with an adult just so long as the bike can accommodate them - babies don't count, so can be an extra. Most of those moped and motorbikes looked damned dangerous.
We eventually arrived near a homestay in a lush jungle area three kilometres from the town of Cho Lach - we were to walk the final kilometre as the road was not wide enough for the minibus. Ho had promised that we would stop to buy some underwear and change currency but this never happened. Andy and Helen kindly lent us some clothes and deodorant but we
still needed underwear having been in our clothes for three days now - things were getting unpleasant. We were pretty upset about it, so Ho arranged a young man to take me into town on the back of his moped. I was pretty anxious, but after moaning and smelling, I had to go. I nervously donned my lightweight helmet and got on the back of the moped.
The guy who was taking me into Cho Lach didn't speak any English so communication was minimal. I was holding onto the moped but he had me put my hands around his tiny waist. The 'road' was in fact a dark footpath cutting a tunnel of foliage through the jungle. Had it been daytime, it still would have been dark and the path was strewn with sticks, leaves and small obstacles. I saw my first cat! When we got into town, there were quite a few locals milling about but moped man was struggling to find a clothes store open, it must have been around 7.30 pm by this time. He stopped at a house and talk endlessly with two women whilst I sat there like a lemon.
Eventually we got
to a shop where the proprietor was lovely, but also spoke no English. I pointed at the knickers and flatteringly he offered me a pair that looked child size to me. With a bit of miming we found some larger pairs. Then I had to try and explain underpants for Glyn, socks big enough for a 6"3 man and shorts. We got there in the end but he didn't take credit cards, or at least, not mine. I had the last of the borrowed money from Andy but moped man still had to kindly lend me some.
Upon arrival back at the homestead the others had found more clothes to lend us and we were supplied with toothbrushes. So we finally got to shower and wear clean clothes. Ahhhhhhh!!!
Best news of the day - not one, but TWO black kittens.
Our room is awesome, wooden walls with a mosquito net over the bed like a princess' curtain. There are tiny paths and cute bridges in between the rooms and the dining area was outdoors, an oasis of light in the blackness. We had a lovely supper after which I went chasing after kittens barefoot into the black jungle, heaven!
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