Aug 7, 2014

Cu Chi Tunnels, Day Two

in case you haven't noticed, i'm on a blogging roll! might as well write as much as i can before i go off on the next trip! which is, incidentally, this weekend. hehehe. 

ok back to topic! basically my trip to vietnam consisted of two point five days in ho chi minh, three days in mui ne, and one point five days back in ho chi minh before flying home. here's Day Two: 

so we bought tickets to the Cu Chi Tunnel tours from a tour agency located (sort of) below our hotel. i'm a terrible blogger and i lost the receipts, so i can't remember how much it cost. somewhere around 150 thousand dong. probably. 


there's the option of 'small group or big group', and we went for the 'big group' option. cheaper ma. 

i specifically asked the tour guide whether we will stop anywhere before the tunnels, he said "no, straight go. no stop". 

we were told that the bus will pick us up at 8am. the night before i planned to wake up REALLY EARLY so i can try out some morning street food. but plan fail. we had hotel breakfast instead:

ta dah! got pho somemore. (the plate with the banana is siauli's. she had slightly greasy but tasty fried rice, baguette, ham, butter, and a banana.)

the hotel restaurant is located on the rooftop bar, so we had pretty great views of people hanging out their washing:

after gulping down our breakfast we rushed to the lobby, a minute after 8am. the bus wasn't there! tour agency dude explained: "8am TO 8:30am, the bus come". 

cheh. so i hung out at the lobby, utilizing the amazing internet connection (duc vuong had a row of pcs with insanely fast internet connection. i uploaded a load of photos from our first day into blogger IN A COUPLE OF MINUTES; which explains why i blogged about this so soon after the trip. internet connection makes all the difference lah!)

then the mini bus arrived! not so big group afterall. seeing a place by bus is quite good too. you get all the aircond, none of the sweating, lots of the sights:

early morning park stretching. we also saw a bunch of ladies having morning dance practice in the park. 
morning rush hour; a river of motorcycles, spreading as far as your eyes could see. i kept trying to take a nice shot of the tree-lined streets with a sea of bikes, but so far, mission failed. 
breakfast alleys!
everything in saigon is catered for bikes. shopping mall parking entrances are bike-sized, gigantic bike parking lots, bike helmets sold everywhere... ... 
the kindergartens in saigon all look like this. 

we've seen quite a few during our days of wandering around town. one even had inflatable animals hanging all around the entrance!



*****


the drive to cu chi tunnels took about an hour, and we dozed for most of it. 


although our tour agency promised that we would go straight to the tunnels, the bus stopped at an art warehouse for a toilet break. the art warehouse is basically a place where artists affected by Agent Orange worked on traditional vietnamese lacquer art. so we took a look at the artist workshops and the display warehouse where lots of lacquer art is sold. reminds me of bali.

i found a pretty little bowl but after conversion it's about RM55! haih. 


after that we went on the Cu Chi tunnels! the landscape is all little villages and narrow bumpy roads. 


the entrance fee is separate from the tour. we paid the tour guide (90,000 dong) and he bought tickets for us. 


*****


the tour began with a black and white video explaining how the vietcong built the tunnels and fought the war.

the video reeked of propaganda so much that i was very much hoping that it's all a joke.

after visiting the War Remnants Museum on the first day, i had loads of respect for the vietnamese videographers. how else could they get those incredible footage of life in the tunnels? 

anyway, the video is in black and white, blurry footage, and the music is all jaunty war marches.

i seriously hope the narrator's translation is mistaken because she kept saying things like, 


"this man is very brave, he is AMERICAN KILLER HERO". 


while the video showed footage of a little girl carrying a gun, 


"she is gentle and brave. she is also AMERICAN KILLER HERO."



the westerner seated in front of me kept laughing whenever he heard the term HAHA. i also felt like laughing in disbelief but by the side of the tv is a scale model of the tunnels, so one can see the three levels of tunnels with red glowing lights in them. it's very sobering to realise people actually lived like that.  


near the end, the narrator also said stuff like, "life is happy and harmonious in the tunnel.", while the video showed footage of them playing cards happily and rubbing each others' heads. 



hmmmm. hmmmm. hmmm. how do i put this into words. 


in the War Remnants Museum (sorry i read a lot of stuff there), there is a photograph of two american soldiers dragging a vietnamese between them. 


the card explained that, while everyone in his unit was gunned down, this lone vietnamese stood his ground and held off the american troops for more than an hour with his gun. finally he was overpowered and captured.

an american soldier remarked, "if he had been an american, he would have been awarded a medal of honor."


HMMMM.



why were american soldiers given medals for acts of courage, while the vietcong condemned for protecting their homeland? 


i know communism is bad, but i couldn't fathom living in that era. an era where you were just a simple villager and then bombs and poison were rained down upon you and then everyone is forced to scrabble underground for more than two years like a freaking mole and your tunnels were bombed and you had to dig even deeper and you just couldn't understand why would someone bring hell to your home. 


there is no rest. 


american soldiers can go home after the war, homes intact, fields intact. 


vietnamese? they had to live with decades of poison in their land. 



*****


after the video, it's time for the tour!


first up, the famous hole. 

this is a slightly enlarged hole, one of the gazillion the vietcong used to escape from the enemies. you have to raise your hand to enter, or else when your arms are down, it's just too wide to squeeze in or worse, you pin yourself in, making yourself vulnerable to the enemies. 
it's very important to bring your kids travelling with you. a couple brought their two little girls with them. SO CUTE! 
i had a go. 

once i entered the hole, i  looked around for the tunnel to (presumably) escape from the enemies. you know what? the tunnel was about enough for my knees. there is no way i can get in. 

the tour guide also explained that the tunnel entrances are usually in trenches so the injured can escape into the holes, instead of crawling out of the trenches and to certain death. 

at this point, someone asked, "wouldn't the tunnels flood?"

the tour guide looked slightly speechless. then matter of factly, he said, "yes, it will flood." 
another question: "where is the oxygen in the tunnels?"

tour guide: "come i show you!"


this mound of mud below is an 'air hole'. 


they stuck bamboo poles deep underground as tiny air chutes. these mud piles are to disguise the hollow bamboos. usually these air holes are hidden by bushes and stuff. 

halfway through the tour, IT FREAKING RAINED. 

full blown monsoon rain.


luckily there is an old army tank with some sort of tarpaulin covering in the middle of the jungle, so the bunch of us took cover beneath it. 

some even took the opportunity to clamber to the top of the tank for photo ops. 

after awhile, the tour guide urged us to run for it. (you can see the girl in the white tank top sprinting hahaha) 


the next exhibit showed the various chillingly intelligent traps that the vietcong rigged for the enemies. traps to strike fear, traps where you can't escape, traps tipped with poison, traps that foresaw your reaction. i was uncomfortably reminded of Gale's traps in Hunger Games. i bet Suzanne Collins visited Cu Chi tunnels. 

it kept raining, and we shared an umbrella with a girl from Netherlands called Maria. she was travelling alone through southeast asia! 



*****



without any warning, it's time for the tunnels. 


they had especially enlarged some tunnels for the benefit of plus-sized tourists, and boy, it was a terrible experience. 


in total, we crawled through two tunnels, and both times i wanted to die. 

it was already raining and the tunnels were insanely humid. then i kept knocking my head painfully, and my legs burn from shuffling in the muddy tunnel, and i accidentally tripped once (bring proper sport shoes for this extreme workout).

luckily siauli used her phone as a flashlight. without flashlights and going through that in the dark? *shudders* 


then our tour mates kept stopping for selfies, and there definitely isn't much oxygen to go around when everyone is squished together breathing heavily. 


i had to do a lot to keep my claustrophobia in check. heck. i didn't even know i had claustrophobia. 


very emo lah. 


at least 17 children were born in the tunnels. i cannot imagine growing up like that. scrabbling underground like a centipede, always being hunted, fathers or brothers dying all the time or coming home without limbs. 


when we emerged from the tunnels into the rainy jungle, air never tasted so sweet. 



the tour guide says that the vietcong always dug tunnels during monsoon as the rain softens the clay, and also because rain provides cover for them. i watched forrest gump for the first time today during lunch at the office pantry! just watched that scene about various types of rain in war though. 



****



soaked right through, we wet cats arrived at the gun station. paid 35,000 dong to fire an AK47. (at least, i think that's the gun we used lah. hahahaha)


this is siauli. she looks the very picture of professionalism and kickass girl power. 

another close up. cool right?! 



GUNS ARE FREAKING LOUD. MY EARDRUMS. 

for 35,000 dong, we get 10 bullets. so the deal is, siauli fires five shots, then i get five shots. 



THIS IS ME. looking like shit. hahaha

the staff told me to aim with my right eye, which is, frankly, a bit wonky. you have to steady the gun with your shoulder (that's what the staff is doing. steadying my shoulder. he looks like he's praying for me though lol). i didn't even see where the bullet went. just pow pow pow pow pow five times to get it over with. 

i like paintball, but when you know your shots can kill, it kinda... kills the mood. 



*****


fuh. we trekked onwards. the rain stopped by then! 


water dripped from the trees around us, and there were no animals in sight. 


it's easy to imagine how life was back then, as an american soldier trekking through this asian jungle full of booby traps, every step leading into danger.


and we come to the end of the tour! everyone sits in a  sort of tent, passing around a tray of tapioca sticks to dip in crushed peanut and sugar. it's like mua chee. hehehe. quite tasty. 

in the above photo, on the right you can see a sort of thatched roof. on the left, you can see a fog like thing. 

now imagine the thatched roof is the vietcong's kitchen. they devised an ingenious way of letting the smoke out. they only cook in the early mornings, when there is plenty of fog. the chimney diverts the smoke away from the kitchen, and only lets out the smoke slowly to give it plenty of time to blend with the fog. ta dah! 


these people are geniuses. 


we finished the tapioca and headed back to the bus and dozed all the way back.


*****


we trudged back to the hotel, stopping to tapau banh mi.

i got my banh mi at the starbucks corner. 
while siau li is now very into COM TAM. she said she didn't want to get banh mi after witnessing the lady count her cash and then proceed to make my sandwich with the same hands hahahaha. 
this com tam stall even had meatball soup! and mini egg yolk thingies below:
we also bought some yoghurt and instant noodles from the convenience store beside our hotel and went back to our room. showered, had lunch, watched “爸爸去哪兒” on siauli's iphone. everyone's really into this show. 

roughly translated, it should be something like "Where Did Daddy Go?" HAHA it's a chinese reality show about celebrity dads going places with their painfully adorable kids and the kids learn moral lessons after lots of funny happenings. 

i also read a couple of issues of Word HCMC that i snuck from the lobby. it's like Time Out Ho Chi Minh. lots of interesting profile features on people that's making a difference in the city, where to eat, etc. 


after that i couldn't stay awake anymore. energy level zero. took a nap. at sometime around 3pm, i think. 


*****

THEN I WOKE UP. AT 9PM. 


that's a whole day gone! so so so tired. this cu chi tunnels damn hardcore lah.


we had instant pho from the convenience store for dinner. kettles in  hotel rooms are important, man. 


after having dinner and lazing around (the instant pho isn't very nice), we decided not to waste time anymore. we'd be leaving saigon the next day!

one must not spend all their time flopping in hotels.


so we went out in the rain, ponchos and umbrellas at the ready, camera in hand. 


after a rainy night shooting session (more on that in the next post), we decided to have supper hehehe. 

i forgot the name of the place. it's open until 12midnight and it's located opposite bookworms. this is my banana pancake! note the orange fruit knife. it's just bananas, man. 
this is the banana pancake; dissected. it's just a pile of chopped bananas hidden beneath the pancake. literal translation huh? 

i had yoghurt (again. it's very yummy!), banana pancake, and a pot of tea. siauli had extremely chewy pizza and coffee. 


this was the most expensive meal of our trip! before this, we'd been slumming it by sharing pho and banh mi! totally saved a lot on that. 



it was a nice ending to the day: sipping tea, reading, a creaking fan in a corner, the sound of rain pitter-pattering on the street. 

by twelve, we initially planned to jalan a bit more, but the streets seemed rather empty and unsafe (and i remembered reading a feature in Word HCMC about the crime rates in saigon lol), so we went back to pack everything for Mui Ne the next day.




that's all for day two! 




i'll dump the rainy photos into the next post heh. goodnight! 

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