November 2008

We left Nha Trang and arrived at Vung Tàu in Vietnam the following day. A number of excursions were available, many of which were to the Vietnamese capital city of Ho Chi Minh, but the trip we’d booked immediately upon seeing it was a full day to head inland and hit Cu Chi and its network of tunnels.

We knew from our previous day in Vietnam that the country was hot and humid and we also knew that the coach ride to the tunnels would take around four hours. We’d assumed that the coach would be air conditioned. We assumed wrongly. Four hours in a mobile oven with a bottle of water and a moist towelette and with a couple of rest stops (not that there were any fluids to excrete out that hadn’t already escaped in the form of sweat) with the interesting Vietnamese countryside passing by…

We eventually reached the tunnels and set off for a walk into the jungle area, home of many battles in the Vietnam war. We saw bomb craters, remnants of war machinery, and spike pits, and listened to the guide telling us about the tunnels, the people who lived in them, the way they cooked and sent the smoke away from the tunnels to avoid exposure, stories of Americans going insane when pursuing the enemy below ground, and even how an American base was built right on top of a tunnel entrance allowing the Viet Cong to eavesdrop on plans.

We got to see a local enter one of the tunnels showing just how small they were – none of us could possibly have fitted down it – before we were invited to take a trip through a “widened for Westerners” tunnel for ourselves.

There were two coaches on this trip with around eighty tourists on board. How many of us took up the offer to climb down the tunnels? Eight. Including me and my wife, naturally. The tunnel was almost pitch black; you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face but there were occasional low lights along the route. These were needed so you could see where there were ledges to drop down and also used to provide some excitement by lighting up dummy soldiers hidden in recesses along the tunnel. Moving along the tunnels needed to be done in a crablike crouching manner. It was a fantastic experience but no less cooler below ground than it had been above and the exertion left us with rivers of sweat pouring as we emerged several minutes later to rejoin those who hadn’t bothered with the adventurous portion of the excursion.

There was an opportunity to fire weapons from the Vietnam War era taken up by many people but I didn’t bother for the two reasons that guns don’t really interest me and I didn’t trust I’d be able to hold onto any weapon due to my damp hands. We left the tunnels and headed southwards to the northern outskirts of Ho Chi Minh city where we stopped at the lovely Ben Nay restaurant situated on an island between two rivers. The views and food were lovely but it was the cool beers that we fell in love with; our meal came with a drink included which barely touched the sides but when someone on our shared table asked if it was possible to buy another one and discovered how cheap it was we all flooded the waiters with more beer orders. I think we probably had three each and several bottles of water.

We finished up with another sweltering coach trip back towards Vung Tau and the beautiful air conditioning on the Diamond Princess with more of the occasionally chaotic but still fascinatingly attractive views of the Vietnamese landscape to view on the journey.

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