Life in the Fast Lane


The Heat is on in Ho Chi Minh (Part 2)

By 11:35 AM , , , , , , , , , , ,

(See Part 1 here.)

Our second day started bright and early. We were worried that we wouldn't make it to our travel agency in time to board the bus. Thankfully, by the time we got to VietSea, our fellow tourists were still hanging around. We made it with time to spare!

The morning's agenda? The Cu Chi Tunnels Tour.

Because I'm too lazy to paraphrase, I'll borrow Wikipedia's definition of the Cu Chi Tunnels:
... an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Củ Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Củ Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and were the Viet Cong's base of operations for the Tết Offensive in 1968.
The tunnels were used by Viet Cong guerrillas as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous guerrilla fighters. The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces, and helped achieve ultimate military success.

I'd been hearing about the Cu Chi Tunnels from so many people prior to going to Vietnam. Whenever they would start talking about it, the main focus would be on how tiny the entrances of these tunnels were. I wondered just what they meant.

The bus ride was filled with anticipation — and different languages. The five of us were the minority in our tour group. Not only were we the only Filipinos; we were the only Asians!

It took two hours to get to the site of the Cu Chi Tunnels. Along the way, we noticed what seemed to be acres of land with trees that were strangely aligned. I wondered if the pattern of those trees had any significance.

When we got to the Tunnels, we were told that we would do a lot of walking. Under the sun. Thank God we five were used to that kind of weather. Meanwhile, I could see the rest of the caucasians giving each other tentative looks.

The first thing our tour guide showed us were the entrances to the tunnels. Now I could confirm for myself whether they really were "tiny and manhole-sized", as people would tell me. Or if all of it was just overhyped.

As it turned out, they were right!

Check out the size of that thing!

Since our guide was a typical Vietnamese (a.k.a. small frame), he gladly demonstrated for us how the Vietnamese soldiers would hide back in the day.

Some of the people in our group volunteered to try it out. Me, I begged off since I was worried my asthma would act up.

But my brother, Chuck, wanted to give it a go.

Chuck came out on the other side, which was several meters away. He said there was barely enough to space underground and the only movement one could do was to crawl all on fours.

Also, there were bats flying underground. Yes, bats. When I heard that, I was glad I didn't go underground.

We were also shown the different kinds of traps that the Vietnamese would use on the Americans. As I listened to our guide, I realized that I was so glad that I wasn't an American soldier in those times. The Vietnamese were a very resourceful, very clever, and very ruthless people.

At one point during the tour, all we could hear were guns going off left and right. It was insane! We found out that there was a shooting range where people could try the different guns that were used during the war. I think Anna had the most fun out of everyone!

I can't imagine how the soldiers back then would handle the noise from each gunshot, missile, grenade, and bomb. We had our ears protected with those ear muff-like contraptions but we still felt a ringing sensation in our ear canals.

They also showed us the other kind of tunnels, the ones soldiers and civilians would use to communicate among themselves. It reminded me of Mockingjay, the third installment of the Hunger Games series, because in the book, there was also an underground community.

This time, both Chuck and Cooks decided to check out the tunnels. There were several exits that one could emerge from, depending on the distance. Chuck was able to finish the whole thing (which was 120 feet) while Cooks exited after 40 feet.

When they were asked how it was, the first thing they said was, "HOT." It was incredibly stuffy underground, with certain parts that were pitch dark. Thank goodness they were able to use the flashlight app in their iPhones. One could only wonder how the Vietnamese soldiers and civilians managed in such conditions back in the day, while a war was going on aboveground.

The tour ended around 12 noon. After another two hours in the bus, we were back in the city and seriously ready for a late lunch.

For some reason, we wanted something close to home. Something that would make us... well, jolly.

So we went to Jollibee. As they say, love your own! Philippines, represent, yo.

Their Chickenjoy tastes like ours, except they don't serve it with gravy; they serve it with chili sauce. That was something we had to get used to. We missed our rice swimming in gravy, in true Pinoy fashion.

Meanwhile, I was happy with my spaghetti meal. It had that very familiar Pinoy flavor: sweet, cheesy, and topped with hotdogs. Just like home!

Afterwards, we took a cab to Nguyen Thien Thuat Street where a lot of guitar shops were located. It's actually one street filled with guitar shops (and a few shops in between that sold clothes). Our budding musician, CJ, heard about the quality of Vietnamese guitars and wanted to see if he could get himself a nice acoustic guitar at a good price.

Prior to the trip, I researched in advance and found out that there were two reputable shops on this street: Duy Ngoc and Tam Hiep. Since Duy Ngoc was the first one we saw, that's where we went.

CJ eventually chose the guitar above. It was a great find, actually, and when converted to pesos, cost him less than PhP 6K. Something of that caliber in Manila, according to CJ, would cost between 8K and 10K.

He nicknamed his new baby "Nguyen", after the street we got it from.

(Side Note: Actually, his guitar was named after almost anything Vietnamese: Nguyen is probably the most common Vietnamese name. In fact, our new favorite coffee brand from Vietnam is called Trung Nguyen.)

That night, after meeting up with Jino, we decided to have dinner in a nearby mall.

According to Mr. Homeboy-Turned-Expat-Slash-Host-Slash-Guide, malls are a relatively new concept in Ho Chi Minh. The mall we checked out, Crescent Mall, looked and smelled really new. A lot of the shops were still under construction.

We headed over to the food court. I wanted to have pho again, but this time, I added a whole lot of chili flakes into the broth. The result? Spicy but flavorful goodness. As I'm writing this, I'm imagining once again how good it tasted. I miss it!

See what I mean?

Then we checked out a kiosk within the food court that served nothing but mochi of all colors and flavors. Cooks, Ms. Sweet Tooth, must've died and gone to Heaven a hundred times over.

We caught the last screening of The Avengers (yes, we totally watched The Avengers in another country!), then headed over to Jino's to call it a night.

Stay tuned for our third and final day, which I promise to write about soon!

For more information about the places we went to, please see below: 

VietSea Tourist 
90/293A No.1st, Tan Binh Dist, Ho Chi Minh

Cu Chi Tunnels 
Ben Dinh, Nhuan Duc, Cu Chi, Ho Chi Minh

Jollibee Pasteur 
194 D Pasteur St. Ward 3, Ho Chi Minh

Duy Ngoc Guitars 
31 Nguyen Thien Thuat, District 3, Ho Chi Minh

Crescent Mall 
105 Ton Dat Tien Street, Tan Phu Ward, District 7, Ho Chi Minh

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  1. The hub and I had been thinking of going to Vietnam. Your blog is a great way of finding out what we can expect. Thank you so much:)

  2. Hi, Monisima's Life in the Philippines! Thanks for dropping by! I have one more day to write about. Please stay tuned. I promise to finish it soon. :)


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