Day 16 Saigon Cu Chi Tunnels 9th April 2004

Today we met up with a group tour run by Kim Travel (same as yesterdays Mekong Tour) for a day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels. Cuong didn't join us today as he had another family from Sydney to pick up from the airport, but he planned to meet us later after our return. We drove to the tunnels through very heavy traffic in Saigon, and other tour minibus drivers indicated to our driver that the traffic was worse ahead. After passing a cow on a spit, we detoured out of the city to avoid the traffic and eventually were heading back in the right direction. When we got to Cu Chi Province we stopped at a rubber tree plantation to see how they cut the bark to retrieve the sap, as well as to stretch our legs a little.

When we arrived at the car park for the Tunnels, we waited beside a large bomb crater for our turn to watch a propaganda video about the enemy (the USA) and how they wanted to kill and destroy the beautiful Cu Chi countryside. Then it was on to the tunnel area where we saw how the small entrances to the tunnels were concealed. Liam went down the hole, but we had to move on before I had a turn which was probably just as well as I likely would have become stuck. We saw how the various booby traps were made which were all quite nasty.

Walking through the jungle we passed an abandoned US Army tank as we approached the shooting range. The effect was very spooky, as it was almost like being in the war, with the bombed out tank dead in it's tracks and the sounds of AK-47's echoing through the jungle.

At the shooting range, I decided to have a go of the AK-47, even though I hate guns, the chance to fire an AK-47 doesn't present itself too often. I bought 30 rounds, at US$1 per round, and preceeded to shoot at the targets. The gun was frightening, with an incredible amount of power. A gentle squeeze of the trigger was followed by a huge explosion and kick back as the bullet exploded into the hillside at the back of the range. I managed to hit the target 3 times, which was good enough to earn me a book about the tunnels and a badge, as well as the admiration of the rest of the tour group.

We saw demonstrations of how the villagers lived in concealment in the tunnels; tasting some tapioca which was quite nice (though I wouldn't want to eat it years on end...), and seeing how ingeniously they got rid of smoke from the cooking fires. Liam even got a chance to try making some rice paper, which didn't turn out too badly on the second attempt!

We then crawled through some of tunnels which were well suited to Liam's height, but quite difficult going for my 6 foot height. Walking back to the exit through the jungle we saw a cashew nut tree (a fruit with only one nut hanging from it. No wonder they are so expensive!) We also saw a mango tree with lots of mangoes, but didn't pick any. Liam got some bullet casings as a souvenir, which we were assured would make it through the airport security without any problems. Then we returned back to Saigon, passing the cows on spits, which were completely depleted.

We walked over to Zen Plaza shopping centre for lunch, which was really very nice, and there was also a good view over Saigon as the foodcourt was on the top floor. I bought a Seiko watch as the prices were about half of the price back in Melbourne. All of the girls in the watch/jewellery section crowded around Liam and wanted to hug and kiss him. He was the main attraction once again! They gave him 2 glass beads in a pouch which he thinks are wonderful.

We returned to the hotel, and we had a message from Vietnam Airlines that our waitlisted flight home had been confirmed. I headed off to their offices while Liam and Michelle rested at the hotel. It was really enjoyable walking through the streets of Saigon, even though I was offered a cyclo ride every 5 minutes. The cyclo driver couldn't understand why I wanted to walk in 30 degree heat! I walked past the river, and had a little diffculty working out my location from the street signs and the map, but eventually found the airline. I walked back past the Opera House and Notre Dame Cathedral, as well as a number of other beautiful buildings. I passed the Palace as well and took ages to get across the roundabout with all of the traffic. It was getting darker, and I was walking down a street with what must have been a night club or huge party with thumping music and lots of people before returning onto the main streets, passing some cute girls with huge smiles who wanted to pose for a photo.

Cuong took us out for a fantastic dinner at a local Vietnamese Restaurant. We had our own little brazier on the table where we cooked marinated beef and chicken (including the head!) and sipped Saigon Beer. The menu on the wall even offered rat, but we passed on that choice. We had an early night as we are off to Cambodia very early in the morning.