I woke up early to go to the Cu Chi Tunnels, the network of tunnels used by the Viet Cong (the Northern Vietnamese guerrilla group) during the Vietnam War.
The tour bus left around 8:30 am. The group was HUGE– there was 43 of us.
About an hour into the bus ride, our guide Kenny started his stand up routine. He joked mostly about the husband-and-wife dynamics.
“Vietnamese women control all the money in the family. But the husbands have black money. They give their wives 80% of their money but keep 20% as black money, and spend it on the weekends.”
We made a stop at a lacquerware factory on the way, where napalm gas victims make various lacquerware. We had a “guide” take us through the lacquer-making process, but you could tell she was immensely bored of her job. She started explaining the process (quite speedily) as soon as the first person got off the bus, so it was over by the time the people in the back of the bus got off.
We got to the tunnels about an hour later. Our first stop was at a booby trap. TBH I had no concrete understanding of what a booby trap was until I was shown one here. I always thought it was a land mine or a bomb or something. Turns out it’s a disguised hole in the ground with lots of sharp rods, designed so that if you fall in you get trapped and injured by all the rods.
We then moved on to see one of the hiding places for the Viet Cong, i.e. a hole in the ground. One by one, everyone proceeded to take turns climbing into the hole, peeping their head out, snapping a pic, and then climbing back out. This went on for about 20 minutes.
Next up was an old U.S. military tank. The level of obtuseness displayed here was quite remarkable. People were climbing all over the tank, some even climbing to the top, to take pictures (of themselves on the tank). I also saw someone standing in a ditch that was created by a B52 bomb, posing as if he was holding a gun. I mean… innocent people lost their lives because of that bomb and that tank. So it totally makes sense to make a mockery of it! !!!
We saw a few more booby traps, all of which were terrifying.
We walked further to the shooting range. For a few bucks you could shoot 10 bullets. Why yes, I’d love to remember the violence by celebrating more violence!
I sat in the neighboring cafe, crunching on my wasabi peas, in the middle of the jungle where the war was once waged, and every few seconds a loud pop would go off. I thought about how the sounds of the gun shots must not even faze the cafe staff members anymore, and it made me sad.
Next was the grand finale: the tunnels. We all started crawling through, and I soon realized just how intense it would be. The ceilings were too low to stand so we had to squat the whole time, it was completely dark, and hot as hell. If you were even a little claustrophobic, this would have been your worst nightmare. It was honestly a bit scary even for me because I wasn’t not sure how I was getting any oxygen. I barely made it through without panicking, and I’m usually pretty calm and collected with these sorts of things. The one thing that helped was knowing that thousands of people have done it before me, and others were in it with me and going through the same thing with me now.
I reached the end of the tunnel, sweating profusely and relieved to be done. I cannot believe that the soldiers used to spend hours in there.
I started talking to two Japanese guys who had been crawling ahead of me in the tunnels. One, named Naoki, was a 25-year-old from Kyoto. The other, Shun, was 19 from Nagano. Naoki had just graduated university and was about to start a job at the Japanese version of Proctor & Gamble called Kao.
Shun is a rare breed of Japanese: he dropped out of high school and works in restaurants when he’s not traveling. I honestly wasn’t sure if Japanese people like him existed, and I’m glad they do.
We chatted more on the bus ride, and then sat together when we stopped for lunch.
Man, my Japanese is RUSTY. It was hard to come up with certain words, and I’m sure I said a couple things wrong. But I love having the opportunity to flex my language muscles because it rarely happens. My Japanese brain is getting weaker!! I need to hit the gym more.
My lunch was a sad plate of instant noodles and veggies. There was absolutely no flavor, and it cost me $3.
We got back into town, and I went to the Ben Thanh market. It’s more for clothes and trinkets, but I bought mangos.
I went out for dinner at Healthy Farm, a vegan restaurant similar to Vege Creek in Taiwan. It has a 5-step process: you grab a basket, pick your greens off the wall, pick your other veggies (all of which are individual wrapped in plastic bags), pick your noodles (which are also in plastic bags), and pick mock meat/tofu (plastic bags). You then give your basket to the cook, and they cook it all up for you.
Yeah, it’s a lot of plastic for a restaurant that purportedly supports a sustainable lifestyle.
There was another girl eating alone, and she invited me to sit with her. I accepted and we got to talking. Sanna, from Sweden, was staying at a beach town a few hours away. She was in HCMC for a few days with a tour organized by her hotel.
She said her group was mostly older/retired people, and that they have to do all the day-time activities as a group. That day, the guide had given them two and a half hours for both lunch and the War Remnants Museum. The service at the restaurant she chose was really slow, so by the time she was done she only had 25 minutes for the museum.
This is why I don’t like big tours… they leave you no flexibility or independence to do what you want.
This was her first time traveling alone, and I could tell she was struggling with it. I can understand why– she was staying at a (presumably) big hotel, with mostly older people, and she was doing a huge tour. It can’t be easy to make friends or really enjoy yourself that way.
Anyway, I liked my food here more than I did at Vege Creek because they actually took the time to cook the veggies through here. I remember some of my veggies, like the eggplant and pumpkin, were partly raw at Vege Creek.
We also had a cup of their vegan soft serve, which was really delicious. I have no idea how they make it or what flavor it was, but I loved it.
Sanna and I parted ways and I went back to the hostel, where I met a few people who were hanging out in the front. We chatted and played Uno for a few hours before I went to bed.