Sunday, February 28, 2016

Entry 2

In Vietnam people get up early (4am early). Their breakfasts usually contains meat such as a bowl of pho or cooked rice with pork. For vegetarians and vegans it will be sort of difficult to stick to your diet because a lot of soups are broth based and most meals include pork, beef, chicken, eggs, fish and/or dog. 

The French clearly had a great influence on the way Vietnamese cook and eat, we found several nice French pastry shops where you can find delicious, authentic croissants and baguettes. If you’re a church goer and temples or pagodas are not your thing, worry not fellow christians, the French also left some nice and interesting pieces of architecture in the form of catholic churches and several colonial-style houses.

Cu Chi Tunnels (TNK Travel Tour)

When you visit Paris you have to see the Eiffel Tower, when in Toronto, you must go to the top of the CN tower, when in Ho Chi Minh City... you're going to go the other way, underground. The most touristic attraction in the area is a system of tunnels built by the Vietnamese in order to escape the heavy American bombings during the war. The tunnels are located outside of town but you can ask any hotel staff and they can set you up with a tour including the ride there and back.

I have a few important tips to share based on my personal experience. We asked our hotel staff to set us up for the afternoon tour. We booked the day before so short notice was not a problem and the price was fair. A travel agent came by our hotel to pick us up and brought us to their agency where we had to wait for other people to show up so we could all get on the bus to Cu Chi, a 55 min. drive according to Google Maps (adding to the 15 min. we waited in the travel agency). 

Our tour guide had a few good jokes, some more tasteful than others, and managed to kill some time so the ride didn't seem too long. Our bus was also equipped with wi-fi and a television which featured a film about the war. Personally, I wanted to know more about the tunnels. We were told we would make a short stop at the "handicap factory". A few guys sitting next to us were discussing the morality of calling this place the handicap factory and I was on board with their thoughts. 

Basically this warehouse was a place where handicapped people made authentic Vietnamese art such as ceramic plaques and ornaments. They make you go through a production line outside of the building itself explaining the different steps to get to the final product while handicapped people sort of awkwardly smile at you. And of course you exit through the gift shop. I think two people on the whole bus bought something, to me this felt so wrong and from my perspective I'm paying for a tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels I have no interest in being guilted into buying things made by handicapped people and the feeling was mutual within the group. Back on the bus.

We finally arrive at the Cu Chi Tunnels where our guide gets our tickets and stickers in order to identify us as, well, visitors. We skip the video on the war part since we already saw this on the bus and head straight for the different displays of traps. The displays were sort of prototypes of traps made during the war surrounded by mannequins building artillery and a big tank which got stuck on a rock to they left it there (photo op). So far, nothing had been said about the tunnels and I thought this sucks! Suddenly we hear a loud bang like AK-47 bang! The first though that came to mind was, calm down you're in the middle of the forrest in Vietnam I doubt this is a terrorist attack but this was just a few weeks after the Paris attacks and that gloomy feeling was still present in our heads. Surprise, it's a shooting range! Yes because a visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels would not be complete without having fired an uzi or AK-47. For a few dongs you can shoot some guns and have the whole group wait for your ass and feel all stressed and edgy every time you fire a shot. Bummer.

So 40 minutes in the tour we finally get to the entrance of the tunnel. Even though this whole trip was sort of unexpected and chaotic, entering the tunnels was a blast! They made them a little bigger so that visitor would have a good understanding of how it felt to live underground at that time without having a panic attack. Speaking of which, one of our fellow visitors had a hard time breathing and along the 110 meters stretch of tunnels with exits every 20 meters we started to wonder how anyone would managed to pull a body out in case of emergency which made the whole experience a bit more authentic. Don't worry he made it out. That being said if you're claustrophobic or have a fear of the dark consider the first 20 meters a good representation of the rest.

If I had some pointers for your visit, book a personal guide which can tell you more about the tunnels, skip the handicap factory and maybe bring some earplugs. The extra cost to have a private tour and ride is definitely worth it and maybe you can also catch something else than an old war movie on the way there and back.