Jan. 14, 2017:
After a much-needed day recuperating yesterday, we’re back on the road today, starting off with a flight from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). I, for one, was sad to leave the lovely Furama Resort behind! However, Saigon beckons us.
Upon landing, we immediately boarded a bus for a drive to the countryside surrounding Saigon. We stopped for an upscale box lunch provided by our hotel, the Saigon Sheraton. Our stop was by the side of the Saigon River at a rustic resort. Then it was on to the Cu Chi Tunnels. The tunnels were built over 250 kilometers by the Vietnam Cong (Communist sympathizers/guerillas) between 1960 and 1975. Ironically, there was a huge US Army base just outside the tunnels and the Viet Cong used to pop out and raid the base to supply themselves. The US soldiers never found the entrance to the tunnels outside their base. The tunnels served as the headquarters for the Communist Party in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
The jungle over the tunnels
We walked into a forested jungle with a guide for the tunnels. Without knowing where they are, the entrances are very cleverly hidden, and you are not able to see them. The guide demonstrated how to get into the disguised entrance of one tiny hole hidden under a pile of leaves, and then popped up a few feet away in a spot no one could tell was an entrance. Then it was our turn to venture down into the tunnels and you can’t believe how tiny and claustrophobic they are! I had to bend double to walk through, and Jim had to get down on his hands and knees. Even then, our shoulders were scraping the sides of the tunnel. That one experience was enough for JIm, but I went on to try a couple more.
The exhibition is set up to show the various uses for the tunnels where hundreds of people lived, including women and children. We saw the various cooking, sleeping, hospital and command bunkers. The cooking fires were dispersed by use of dampened mats of grasses. One of our fellow tour members dubbed us the “Tauck tunnel rats” as we ventured down below. Then we spotted a bat hanging on the ceiling of one room (and heard several more), and that pretty much ended the tunnel crawling for the rest of the women in the tour.
Then the guide showed us the various forms of booby traps used by the Viet Cong. They were chilling, to say the least. However, they also had preserved a couple of bomb craters caused by American bombers, and those were immense, and also very sad.
Fortunately, that was about all the tour, so we headed back to Ho Chi Minh City (“HCMC”), which is still referred to as Saigon by most of the locals. We arrived just in time to hit the afternoon rush hour, which made that in Hanoi look like child’s play! We came into the center of town just as it was getting dark, which gave us a preview of the extensive light and floral decorations which had already been erected in preparation for the Tet festival.
We settled into our very modern and comfortable lodgings at the Sheraton Saigon, ready to learn more about this vibrant city tomorrow.