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Cu Chi Tunnels & Saigon

OCTOBER 29

It took about an hour and a half to drive from Saigon to Cu Chi Tunnels. On the way a short stop at a rubber tree plantation.

Each tree had a diagonal cut through its bark. White liquid rubber seeps down the cut into a spigot that drips into a small bowl hung at the cut's lower end.  It is similar to the collecting of maple sugar sap.

Dipping the tip of our finger into the bowl, the sap coated our finger like hot wax. 

Rubbing our fingers together, exposing the resin to air, we soon got a sticky round ball which could be stretched.  Because of its congealing properties, the trees have to be slashed once a day during harvest time which lasts for ten months of the year.
The Cu Chi Tunnel network is a well known site of both the "French" and "American" wars.  Like a giant cobweb of 200 km, the tunnels were built on three different levels deep in the earth.
During the war "American" war, "Viet Cong" guerrillas built onto the already labyrinth of narrow tunnels (from the French war) virtually underneath a major U.S. air base, using them to hide during bombing raids and to stage surprise attacks. 

There were sections for living, cooking, eating, meeting, munitions construction and fighting. During the 1960s and early 1970s, this area had no green trees or underbrush. It was deforested through the use of Agent Orange. Bomb craters still pox the ground where American bombs were not only dropped on targeted areas but dropped freely as a "dump zone" by fighter planes returning to the base. 

We learned how the "resistance fighters" (known as "V.C." [Viet Cong] by much of the world) built the tunnels, hid excavated dirt, built weapons (and even footwear from old tires), dissipated the smoke from cooking fires, invaded the nearby enemy base and set painful traps for military attackers.

Besides the growth of green foliage the site is now visitor friendly.
 Once underground rooms have now been opened from the top and covered with palm thatched roofs. A variety of traps are placed in a line so visitors can file passed and envision. Thirty and fifty metre sections of tunnel are available for visitors to experience the tight quarters of the "hallways" and even some escape holes are available to try by those whose size is similar to the small structure of the fighting Vietnamese.

Many former American soldiers come to visit. The tunnels show the "undaunted will, intelligence and pride of the Cu Chi people" and today the preserved areas are "a symbol of the revolutionary heroism of the Vietnamese people".

After freshening up back at the hotel, we went out for a walk and dinner. Just across the street from the Continental, a young girl was selling books and postcards on the street (not an uncommon occurrence) and we prepared to say "no thank you".

"Want to buy a book? Five dollars," she said predictably.

"No, thank you"

"Post cards. One dollar."

 
"No, thank you," we answered with a smile expecting the scene to repeat itself with the price dropping.  But she fooled us. 

This pint sized dynamo whose top of head only came up to Terry's armpit said in the clearest English. "Well, I know you don't need a book but they make great souvenirs. These books are good. This one is about ...." and she went on to give us a summary of the contents.

We were dumbfounded. What was this articulate person doing hawking books and postcards on a corner in Saigon? When we caught our breath, we asked in admiration, "Where did you learn your English?"

"From tourists," she answered.

"Not from school?"

"No," she said, "The teachers don't know how to speak proper English. They only speak Vietnamese English. Their pronunciation isn't right," she said in an accent that would have felt very much at home on a street corner in Vancouver.

"Do you watch tv?"

"We don't have a tv at home."

"What is your name?"

"Ha."

"We are pleased to meet you, Ha. May we ask how old you are?"

"Sixteen," came the answer from her petite childlike frame. "I've been selling for thirteen years and listening to how English speaking tourists talk." Sherrie asked if she would mind having her picture taken. "No. Go ahead" Terry continued to carry on a conversation with her as she told him she had been written about twice in books. "I'm going to own my own business one day," she informed us. Without doubt we agreed. After sometime we realized we were keeping her away from making sales with those who may want to buy.

 

 "Ha," we said, "we don't want to buy a book and we already have postcards, but you have spent so much time with us and let us take pictures, we would like to pay for the pictures and your time." Her demeanour changed immediately. "I don't sell my pictures. I sell books and postcards. I do not beg," she said stepping back and scowling. We had insulted her. We apologized immediately but no matter what we said now, we could not undo the hurt we had caused. We bought some postcards and like children who had been reprimanded, walked away ashamed of ourselves for not anticipating the outcome of our words beforehand even though our intentions were good. 
We walked eight or so blocks towards the Presidential Palace and found a garden restaurant. A huge place with lots of tables. The tables were occupied by Vietnamese ~ a good sign. 

We were seated and immediately attended to by four or more young waiters. One was able to communicate with us clearly and very quickly a menu arrived with a sticker on the front, "English".
 
 
Page after page of options were presented: fish names we had not heard before, snake, pigeon, frog, rabbit (one which was shown live to a table next to us before it went into the pot in the kitchen) along with the standard chicken, beef and pork.  

We selected something simple and recognizable as the large restaurant quickly filled up with the dinner rush.  Obviously a popular spot with locals but unknown by the tourist set since looking around we were the only Caucasians in the place. It is certainly a place we wouldn't hesitate to recommend. Leaving the restaurant, we noted how scooters were being directed onto a roped off area of the sidewalk. Handle bar overlapping handle bar they stood nearly the long length of the building.

Several motor bikes were driven into the restaurant where additional parking (or VIP) was available.
  
 
We walked back to the hotel but were not yet ready to call it a night, so we walked across the square and into the Caravelle Hotel to take a look at their casino. A small space and all electronic -- even the dealer at the Black Jack table "dealt" digital cards which showed up on a screen in front of each player. A sign said that the odds were the same as playing with regular cards and the system was approved by the Nevada Gaming Commission. We didn't try it out but instead took the elevator up to the tenth floor.

The Saigon Saigon night club has a few tables on a very narrow terrace overlooking the lights of Ho Chi Minh City with the Opera House below. 

We could see where we were staying, the Continental Hotel.  In another direction the Rex Hotel with the roof top garden bar where we had shared a drink on the day of our arrival,  glowed in golden light.
                        Magical ! 


This was our last night in Vietnam, tomorrow we would be moving on to Cambodia.

We made a toast ... "Thank you, people of Vietnam, for making our first visit to your wonderful country such a memorable experience.  We look forward to our return."

   
 
 
 
 
   
click here to continue to October 30 and to Phnom Penh, Cambodia ...  
 

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