HCMC Tour and the Cu Chi Tunnels

My last day in Vietnam had begun. After almost a month here it had come down to this. My last day.

But last day or not, I had a tour planned today. A half day city tour and in the afternoon the Cu Chi tunnels. Pickup was at 8am and since I had already woken up Willemeijn she came down to breakfast with me. As usual I had a soup, such a great way to start the day, and I noticed that here different herbs were served with it.

Thus energized the tour could begin which it did at the Reunification Palace. The president of South-Vietnam resided here during the Vietnam (American) War and it all ended when a VC (Viet Cong) pilot managed to drop a bomb on top of it. This bomb hit the central staircase which is therefore kept in a state of ‘holiness’. The stairs have been repaired but we weren’t allowed to walk on them. To get to the first floor one had to use the back stairs. Next to the stairs (on both sides) was also a picture of the successful pilot.

The building itself was not so interesting, more the history behind. It was not only the residence of the president, it was also the military headquarter during the war. Anyway, we toured the building including the bunkers and here are the pictures. Quite the cozy residence!

  
  

Please note that the president always had to be higher than his guests. 

These are real elephant legs (male, female, baby). The children of the president used them as paper baskets or so we were told.

The entertainment room with games, a piano and a pool table.

From the palace we walked a short way to the Notre-Dame Basilica. On the way there I noticed that there really was a lot more traffic in Saigon. I got myself an ice-coffee and then slowly walked over to the church and the Central Post Office right across the street. The post office was designed amongst others by Gustave Eiffel.

  

While visiting the church there was a choir singing, if you want to hear it, please click here.

     

And as always there were brides around.

Our last stop on the city tour was the War Remnants Museum. It started slow with pictures taken by American War correspondents of American soldiers and then the further up you went into the museum (it has 3 floors) the more difficult the pictures became to me. The killings and the atrocities and Agent Orange and the aftermath of it. On both sides, but of course they were and still are a lot worse here in Vietnam. Looking at the pictures and reading the stories made me feel so mad at how we could allow it. Actually how we are still allowing really, really bad things to happen all over the world. Have we not learned anything from history? I was glad that I was on a guided tour and there was a time limit to the visit. So in the end I rushed through and couldn’t read everything. So maybe that makes me a coward but there is only so much I can take. If you ever go to HCMC make sure that you go and see the museum. It is well worth your time!

Even in Austria there was a demonstration against the war. It took me a while to find this picture (for Sylvia: there were a couple of demonstrations in Budapest!)
     

I didn’t want to take closer pictures of what agent orange left behind. I think it is enough that I have seen it and if you are interested you can google it. Not easy to stomach though.

The morning program was over and we went for lunch. Since with the cheap tour I had booked only a light lunch was included I decided to leave the group and have lunch on my own. The other reason was probably that lunch was at my hotel and I found it a little bit weird. The tour for the day by the way was only 10$ but didn’t include any entrance fee. I had to pay all this extra. Still it was quite the bargain.

So I went for lunch three restaurants down and had a fish in clay pot. Really good but full of bones. Took me the better part of my lunch hour to not kill myself on these bones. Still have not mastered the art of eating the fish with the bones, but am working on it. It tasted better than it looked!!

For the afternoon we had a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels planned. These were all around Saigon that’s how far the VC came without the Americans knowing. The visit on site was really amazing. The facts you learn on how they lived underground including their animals. How they disguised the air vents with anthills, how they stole American clothes and dragged them across the tunnel entrances to make sure that the dogs wouldn’t find them.

We started our tour with an introductory movie about the tunnels and then went right into the woods.

We saw all kinds of secret holes and traps in the ground. No wonder the Americans lost the war!

The disguised ventilation shafts. After that we came to a shooting range where you could pay for a round of ten bullets. The weapons and the bullets were still from the Vietnam/American War and they had enough left to sell for a very long time! Unbelievable what the Americans had to leave behind or let’s put it this way, what they had brought into the country in the first place!

  

After the shooting range we had one more stop in the woods, the tunnels. Everyone who wanted to could go down and try them out. There were exits after 20, 40 and 60m. I managed exactly 20m. The man in front of me was big and blocked out all light. Plus he stopped every couple of meters which made me nervous if there was something ahead. I couldn’t believe that the VC lived down there, had children, raised animals etc. Unbelievable!

When I returned to the Beautiful Saigon 2 Hotel Willemeijn was already there after a day of leisure. Instead of crawling through tunnels she had gone to the museum as well and spent the afternoon in a spa getting pampered.

For dinner we followed a recommendation she had gotten from someone she had met in Dalat. Since the place was a bit further and we had learned from our mistake the night before we got a taxi and sat down before telling the driver where to take us. As it turned out it wasn’t problem at all. We arrived at the restaurant where only locals ate, always a good sign. I can’t really remember the names of what we ordered, but this is what we got.

  

There was a bit of work involved with dinner since we had to put the little pancakes and also the big one (broken into pieces) on a salad leaf and then roll it. So delicious!!

Since it was our last evening together and the last one in Vietnam for the both of us, we decided on drinks at the nearby Shri Bar which as I have just found out is the number 1 rooftop bar in Saigon. The view was lovely and drinks were excellent. Yours, Pollybert

  
  

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Driving to Hué

We met for breakfast at 7:30 on the top floor and upon Phuoc’s recommendation I ordered the eggs (sunny side up in tomato sauce). This guy really knew what I liked.

Today we started with a museum visit and I heard Beth grumbling about it, because it was hot and who wanted to go to a museum in this weather. But the museum was so much more than just a building. It was a history lesson for me because what do I know about the Vietnam War (the Vietnamese call it the American War)? Veronica and Beth knew a lot about it since Australia was also involved in it.

                

The mother of Veronica’s daughter in law had fought here and an American marine who had stayed at the Farmstay as well. And these two who had been on opposing sites met with an interpreter and Veronica. So to hear Veronica talk about the thoughts of these people while we were on site was amazing. History came alive!

From there we went further south to get to our lunch stop. But until then there was still a long time to once again enjoy the scenery.

      

But also to get a glimpse on how the locals lived.

Suddenly dark clouds loomed on the horizon and I was sure we would need to change into rain gear again. But we drove through the first rain drops and made it to the lunch place just seconds before the big rain. Click here to see.

Lunch was delicious again. Phuoc really knew where to take us. So while the rain was pounding on the roof we enjoyed our food.

  When the rain had stopped and we had finished our meal we were off again to get to Hué. But until then there was still a long way to go. Dark clouds were rolling in again, so somewhere along the way we had to put our rain gear on again.

      

When we stopped for coffee it had also stopped raining and we used the time for a swim at a nearby waterfall. Coffee in a hammock, then swimming with an inbuilt spa (while sitting on a rock little fish were nibbling on my hard soles).

But it was really time to go and get a move on Hué. Phuoc wanted to arrive before the dark and we made it easily.

                

It was our last evening together and we celebrated in style. We went for dinner at “Le Jardin de la Carambole” and shared some sparkling wine along with an excellent meal. And with Jo entertaining us with some hilarious stories, time flew. Rather soon it was time to say goodnight with a promise to meet for one more time at breakfast. Yours, Pollybert

    

Biker chicks

Sunday was the day we left Phong Nha. Beth and I met by Phuoc, the leader of the bikers, and our two drivers. Mine was called Chung.

  

Right away I noticed that I felt comfortable enough to take pictures with Chung driving. But the first stop was not far away. We picked up Veronica and Jo and had a coffee ourselves at the Riverside Cafe. Beth had asked for a stop here to try the supposedly best coffee. And I can tell you it was fabulous. Three kinds of different beans and a hint of chocolate. The white stuff at the bottom is condensed milk so I didn’t stir it. The last couple of drops were too sweet then from the milk.

Love the coffee maker btw. Bought myself one later, but I heard they are also sold all over HCMC (Saigon), so if you want one let me know.

About five minutes into our tour Beth driver noticed that his front tyre had too little air. So we all stopped and waited, while he turned around and fixed the bike.

  

After this involuntary break of 20 minutes we were on the road again. The road actually being the Ho Chi Minh Trail through the national park. And I noticed that except the motor nothing on this bike worked.

But that didn’t matter, I had the fullest confidence in my driver and also in Phuoc’s ability about organizing the whole trip. And I was right, these three days were fabulous.

We stopped every 30-40 minutes to drink some water that Phuoc had stored in his saddle bags with enough to ice to keep it refreshing, including some lychee. The road was very scenic and just driving through the park was a pleasure. After the first kilometers I knew I had made a very good decision in coming with these women.

The small whitish band in the back is a sandy beach.

We stopped somewhere on the road for lunch and a short while later we were off again.

            

And then the rain was upon us but for this eventuality they were prepared. I first thought there was really no need for all this rain gear, but about two minutes after we got dressed it started to rain cats and dogs.

  So dressed like the smurfs (except for Beth’s driver who forgot his rain gear and looked like a drowned rat) we arrived in Khe Sanh, a place with a lot of history for the Vietnamese.

But before we got to this part we checked into our hotel for the night; I shared my room with Beth and I couldn’t have asked for a more considerate roommate.

We met and went for dinner just two doors down from our hotel. Phuoc had called ahead and ordered their specialty, chicken in sticky rice. As you can see the whole chicken is covered in the sticky rice. As far as I know the chicken is pre-cooked/roasted, then covered with the rice and then deep-fried again. I think the chicken might have appreciated another 5 minutes in the oven, but the sticky rice was perfect. And you had to dip it in a salt – pepper mix which was with lime juice. So good, you can’t imagine!
      

And this is how our table looked afterwards.

I am still sad that I couldn’t finish the rice. So good! Yours, Pollybert