By Jenny Mackintosh
My first impression of Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, was that it was organised chaos. It was full of lights, sounds and smells and there were there were scooters everywhere! Road rules seemed to be non-existent as there appeared to be an unspoken code of tooting and steadily merging lanes. I was very surprised that traffic flowed as easily as it did! With old world meeting modern new world the city is interesting and exciting like a mix of flavours merging to tantalise the taste buds.
I visited in March when the climate was warm and humid, although not unbearably so.
One of the highlights of my time in Vietnam was an excursion out to the Cu Chi Tunnels. They are approximately an hour and half outside the city, during the journey we passed scooters, bicycles, carts and rice paddy fields which made it really interesting as the scenery changed at every turn. On arrival at the Cu Chi Tunnels it was refreshing to be outside the city as the location of the tunnels has a kind of country/jungle feel to it.
Our introduction to the tunnels involved watching an ancient video about the American War (the Vietnam War to the western world). Watching it gave me a new perspective on the war as it mentioned some of the great Vietnamese ‘American Killer’ heroes that are honoured in Vietnam.
We walked along some well-worn tracks with massive bomb craters to the sides, just seeing these craters really brought home to me the amount of destruction those impacts must have caused not just here but also on the cities and villages as well. The actual tunnels themselves span some 200-km and in some cases these were often located right under the enemy’s feet! The Vietnamese were certainly thinkers and creative in their tactics. The tunnels are incredibly small so it’s quite hard to imagine that at one time they housed hospitals, kitchens, supply stores and much more. The mental strength it must have taken to live under the ground is amazing and when exploring these tunnels it does give you a sense of respect for the people who created them and lived down here. I certainly struggled with crawling a mere 20 metres into a widened tunnel! And it wasn’t just me, while we were there two burly Australian blokes had great difficulty in squeezing through an entrance. This did give us a bit of a laugh and was a comic photo opportunity.
Venturing further along these jungle paths bought us to an abandoned tank, a stark reminder of the serious business of war. During our walk more inventive architecture was pointed out as we were shown vents from the underground kitchen that had been disguised to look like rocks. These were actually dotted in random spots away from where the actual kitchens were because should they be discovered and bombed, the bombs would not then land on the kitchens. All the while we are taking in these sights we could hear a peppering of gun shots from the shooting range which all added to the authentic ‘jungle under attack’ feeling.
At the end of our excursion to the Cu Chi Tunnels we were given the option to fire one of the big guns in the shooting range. This is not something that happens every day so although slightly nervous of what to expect, I thought I am here and I should make the most of every opportunity so I took up the chance to fire an AK47. I can certainly say it was an exhilarating experience!
With our excursion drawing to a close it was back to the hustle and bustle of the city. Vietnam is a country full of surprises so I was really looking forward to what our tour would bring next.
We visit Saigon and the Cu Chi Tunnels on some of our tours to Asia, click here for details.