DAY 2: CU CHI TUNNELS AND WANDERING AROUND HO CHI MINH CITY
Our second day started off nice and early in the morning with a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels. We took a boat up the Saigon river about an hour and a half and met some Aussies and another pair of Americans on our boat. We enjoyed some delicious banh mi (sandwhiches) and new fruits on the boat as well as getting a bit of a history lesson during our trip. During our ride we were informed that the green clumps of plants, known as water hyacinths, growing in the river were brought in by the French and have become so invasive that they can clog up the entire river if they are allowed a few days to grow undisturbed. They die as soon as they hit salt water, but the river being fresh water is a perfect place for them to grow. Unfortunately large amounts of plant cover can limit oxygen concentration in the water and kill off fish too. I’m now remembering a co-workers much loved story about how the DNR was able to scientifically determine how the grayling died out in Michigan many years ago due to a similar phenomenon, but I digress…
The tunnels and exhibits around the Cu Chi tunnel “tourist area,” for lack of a better term, paint a very grim story about the conditions both sides suffered through in the war. There are also visual demonstrations of the various clever traps designed to impale and kill any unsuspecting person who happened to step in the wrong place; these are quite terrifying in their own right. The most impressive of all though is the tunnel system where many Vietnamese both lived and fought during this time. The tunnels themselves are quite small with poor ventilation and are several hundred meters long in any given direction. We were also offered a chance to shoot AK-47s and other various machine guns for ~$1/bullet. Only the Australians in our group were keen to give it a go though. Our guide then told us of all the groups he has led, the people who have spent the most money on ammunition in his experience are Australians, particularly from Brisbane. Perhaps something to do with the fact that they will very infrequently get such an opportunity. We continued our trip sweating profusely and crawling through a widened version of the tunnels with extra ventilation and lights every few meters. We were not offered a chance to try out the original tunnels, so we were spared the debate of wanting to try it out vs. the stories we had heard of bats and massive spiders from them being less frequently traveled.
After our tunnel experience we went to the war remnants museum in the city and got “the other side of the story” from what we learned in history class. The exhibits on the after affects of napalm and agent orange were horrifying as well as the prison and torture sections. The events leading up to conflict and news/photographer series capturing the war itself were quite eye opening, and the world support and finally “peace after war” sections were more uplifting. Overall it was well worth a visit while we were there. The rest of our day consisted of us trying to wander our way to a good banh mi restaurant and snapping a few pictures along the way.
For those who are wondering, yes, we managed to find a delicious banh mi place really close to the church and then got a taxi back to our hotel. The taxis here were incredibly cheap, I don’t think we ever paid more than $3 trying to get around town. You cannot even get in and out of a cab in NYC for that amount! Stay tuned for day 3 when I have some more spare time and the Chinese internet stops refusing to upload pictures to a site it has blocked…
On a completely different topic (and for those who were wondering) yes, we got up at 3:30am on Sunday and stayed up long enough to watch this! Go Green.