The previous evening’s wanderings had led us into a shiny, spacious tourist agency. We had heard that the Cu Chi tunnels were a thing to not be missed, so a bit uncharacteristically, we gladly payed for the chance to crawl through the impossibly narrow tunnels.
Our afternoon trip to the tunnels meant that we had the morning at our leisure, so we decided to do something also uncharacteristic for us and take advantage of our hotel’s beautiful pool. The top of the hotel felt a million miles away from the cacophony of traffic below and we swam and relaxed our morning away.
A large white van from the agency showed up at our hotel early in the afternoon, and we boarded the air conditioned vehicle and continued on our quest to pick up the other guests. Fortunately, we chose the afternoon tour which meant a small group size, and once we had picked up the remaining 4 guests who were all related we headed off into the Vietnamese countryside.
Our guide was talkative and told us all about life in Vietnam. He told us about the top brands of motorbikes to get if you want the girls, how expensive it is to live in the city and where to go with your “honey” if you wanted some privacy away from your family with which you will likely live (by the way, the answer is the park in the center of town). It was an amusing ride, and the 40 minutes went by quickly.
Arriving at the tunnels, we immediately knew that we (Bree) were in trouble as the mosquitoes swarmed. Thankful for our pocket full of DEET, we began spraying. It seemed to be for naught, though, and Bree still got destroyed by them.(Bree’s note: I’m a great travel companion when the bugs are out- I went home with somewhere in the range of twenty swollen bites and Ben was spared entirely). As we moved, though, things seemed to get better.
The bamboo traps that we saw were a morbid testament to these people’s ingenuity. The booby traps almost always ended with spikes puncturing some part of the victim, and were often laced with poison. We passed trap after trap, each with a light demonstration using a bamboo pole. After the traps we walked through the heavy woods to bunkers which had been cleared out and exposed to the outside air. There were several dummies (some were robotically mechanized) portraying scenes from the war era. As as we made our way in and out of doorwarys I couldn’t help but hit my head on EVERYTHING. Seriously, I’m not a tall person and don’t usually need to worry about things like this.
I really knew we were far from home when we came across a hollowed American tank. Apparently a mine had taken it out, and our tour guide insisted that Bree and I climb up on it for the most awkward family portrait there ever. We posed for a ridiculous photo, the moment being set to a backdrop of rattling of firearms.
Next up, the shooting range. The entire experience took place against a soundtrack of the ear splitting rattle of machine guns, and finally we were up. The ammunition was exorbitantly priced at about $1 per round, but when else are you going to get a chance to shoot an M16? We split a few rounds with one of the girls in our group, and felt the glory of missing a target set into the mountain 3 times a piece with an automatic assault rifle.
Finally, it was time for the tunnels. We had made an attempt at descending into a secret entrance previously, and it was ridiculously tight. The tunnel they let us crawl through had been enlarged for westerners, though the term “enlarged” is all relative. As we followed an employee dressed in a green military outfit into the tunnel, the pace quickened. There was hardly time to contemplate how small the tunnels actually were and to imagine the people living for weeks on end in these things before the guide practically started running through the tunnel. He was the only one with a light, so our group clambered as quickly as possibly to keep up. Before we knew it, we were out of the damp, dark tunnels and back in the daylight panting and laughing at how poorly we’d fared below ground.
After a quick snack of tapioca and a crushed peanut concoction, our tour was over. We boarded the van, and had a nice chat with our new Australian friends along the road home. They’d been in Saigon for the last two weeks to have dental work done. Their company made the ride back to town seem too short!
Upon arriving back in Saigon, we thanked our guide, took a quick shower, and then met back up with our new Australian friends for dinner. We ate our first round of western food since we’d been gone (if you consider pizza topped with corn western), and then they invited us up to their hotel for fruit. We chatted until well into the night. Thanks Ben and Andy, it was a pleasure to meet you both! It’s always great to make new friends on the road – now we have yet another excuse to head to Australia!