Ho Chi Minh City Day 6 – A fun but slightly disappointing day (Part 1)

As I had decided to extend my stay here in Ho Chi Minh it was time to begin the tours that I had organised with the hotel. Today’s trip was to be a full day out to the Coa Dai temple followed by heading further south to the Cu Chi region of southern Vietnam where there was fierce gorrila fighting with the American forces by use of a network of tunnels which the Americans couldn’t seem to do much about.

I was up and ready by 7:30am and the pickup by the bus occured at 08:30am so I had plenty of time with which to wake up which was good.

There appeared to be a little confusion in regards to the tour that I booked, I was put in the half day tour which others in my hotel had also booked, so instead of Coa Dai & the tunnels the trip for today was just going to be out to the tunnels. I was actually rather looking forward to seeing this temple as it seems to be based on a local religion which souned rather interestering, however given that I have nnot managed to find any of the pagodas here I can simply add it to the list of reasons for me to come back here again.

The trip out to Cu Chi took about 2 hours in the bus, the roads here while tending to be in quite good shape are a tad bumpy so it was an interesting ride out there with one rest stop in the middle at a factory set up by the government for disabled people. They set up a huge workshop and display hall where they get trained in the creation of lacquerwear masterpeices. The level of intricacy and detail in so many of the peices was phenominal, whilst I do have a slight objection to using disabled people as a tourist attraction I can understand the motivation behind it.

The workshop is located a fair way out of town, so by using it as a rest stop they can run a cafe to service the buses as well as introduce a rather large and somewhat more wealthy customer base to their wares, being so out of town it is less likely that tourists would just stumble across it, every peice is a handmade work of art in my opinion, from the small traditional like paintings to huge dresser like tables. They were all made, painted and sealed by hand and they have every right to be proud of it.

It is here that I learnt that like some other regions of South East Asia Vietnam does operate on the basis of “face” this government initative gives them a trade and employment which stops the potential for the disabled becoming beggars on the streets and subsequently loosing face.

It was here that I also learnt that our tour guide has a very odd sense of time lol, 5 minutes in reality was anywhere between 30 seconds to 3 minutes tops and 15 minutes is more like about 8.

Having not learnt much about Vietnam before coming here, I discovered what I had suspected to be true, the language appears to be tonal based which explains their difficulty in handling spoken English as without a fair amount of exposure to native english speakers unless a word is announciated exactly as they expect to hear it then it won’t potentially mean the same thing.

Our tour guides name was Tuey (sounds like T-wee when spoken) and apparently a slight different inflection can change the meaning of her name from beauty to sinking so she asked us to just call her Lulu. With the rest stop out of the way we continued on our way to the Cu Chi region for a look into the history of the region and how they dealt with the American War as it is known here.

One thing that did strike me as we got further out is the place does seem to be kept to the same standard throughout all the areas of the country that I have seen thus far, they have lots of people in orange overalls keeping all the streets and roadsides tidy as well as tending all the numerous gardens they have around, in that sense aside from the slightly higher grime due to being built around a lot of clay it has reminded me of Singapore, they really seem to take pride in keeping their areas clean and tidy as well as well presented.

Another thing of note is thus far there does not really seem to be much poverty either, it is easy to base your opinions on what constitutes poverty around how much money or possessions one has but when travelling the world I tend to take a slightly different view than what it constitutes in Australia. Pretty much everyone I saw had relatively clean and new clothing and they all appeared well fed with most talking / using mobile telephones so it seems overall the bulk of the people here have what is needed for basic survival and most likely a bit extra. From my conversations the government does a fairly reasonable job of looking after it’s citizens and it does pretty much show throughout all the areas I have been thus far.

As we approach Cu Chi, I will make a note that if you are reading this and are American and easily offended do not visit here, or at least if you do you may want to skip the documentary part at the beginning of the tour when you get there, even if you are not easily offended it is worth noting that it will most likely make you feel a tad uncomfortable, that said on to the history of the Cu Chi region.

Firstly let me say this place is beautiful, set in a lush jungle surrounded by various plants and trees it looks amazing, 50 years ago this would be a completely different story however. It is amazing just how resiliant mother nature can be, most of the damage has been grown over already, however I did get the sense that the land has yet to forget what was done to it. Admist all the lush jungle there is still bomb craters from the large amount of ordinance that was dropped on the region.

After first entering the complex we sit down in a little hall for a bit of history. Let me say I don’t take pride or joy in the death of my fellow man, however the documentary going over the history of the region does tend to put a lot of emphasis on the honour and pride of the slaughter of Americans. It begins with going over the peace loving nature of the Cu Chi people, how the area was beautiful farmlands and jungles with rubber plantations and how at the beginning the people were neutral towards the Viet Cong (sp?) and the American forces and how the attitudes then changed as the Americans started to (best way to describe it here) bomb the absolute shit out of their homelands.

After this it moves on to the set up of the tunnels for supply lines, guerilla fighting and overall housing for people that would otherwise potentially die with the amount of ordinance being rained on the area, with the tunnels at their peak being home to about 16,000 people. After this it is rather blatant propoganda of the struggles of the heroic revolutionary fighters against the imperialistic Americans. It showcases the achievements and tactics used by many of the fighters in the region (several of them children) and the awards / recognitions that they received.

Awards that were given:
– American Killing Honour Medal
– American Tank Killer Honour Medal
– American Fighter Killer Honour Medal

They definately did take a lot of pride in their slaughter of the US troops, one point I did notice however is that all of this seems solely directed at the US, there were many countries that supplied forces and supplies to that war including my own, however the only one mentioned as being the enemy was the US.

A point I will make here is that this level of animosity does not appear to have really continued throughout the years, most people seem to just want to be seen as equals and “fellow man” by the US and move forward, which I think is a good thing.

I have what I see to be a somewhat pragmatic view when it comes to war, overall I believe it to be an evil thing and there should always be a diplomatic solution to our problems, however as highlighted by the plight of one little girl who got many medals for killing a large amount of Americans, if someone was to come to my home, a beautiful jungle and then drop a massive amount of bombs on it turning it into a massive pot marked blackened mess of what it once was killing people that I cared about chances are I would want to fuck them up back. Am I proud of this, no I do not believe anyone should be motivated by revenge, however I have to acknowledge that in the case of me it would be potentially true so on some level I have to relate and although not condone at least understand.

I don’t claim to know a great deal about the Vietnam / American war as it is called depending on the side aside from basic knowledge gained by reading history as it was well before my time, however from my understanding the bulk of this conflict and the reason why the Americans were so tenacious with it was “Red Fear” in that they did not want communism to gain another foothold in the world. I disagree with wars based on ideology as they are just plain stupid in my opinion which should not hold relevance in the modern world. Your god wears a pink tutu, mine wears blue therefore DIE INFIDEL!! It is retarded.

Now with that out of the way, it was off to explore the jungle. The whole region seems to be made up of 70-90% clay which does explain why it managed to hold up so well versus all the bombs that were dropped against it, and why a multi level based tunnel system would work so well, it is self reinforcing and the bombs being dropped would only ever be able to collapse the top most level in any given area. Given how interconnected and multi-leveled the system is it makes sense why they could never really irradicate it.

They take you through paths through the jungle, the first thing we are introduced to is the tiny little hidey holes that were used, with us being tasked with finding one on the jungle floor, when it was finally located and we went to open it there was a little guy hiding behind a tree with crackers which he set off as soon as it was opened. They sure did love their booby traps, and who could really blame them in war. The entrance was literally tiny, I think that maybe I could have gotten a leg in there but that would be it, the smaller girls and one guy from our group got in there and it was well and truly cramped. I must say it is not how I would like to spend an afternoon waiting for a patrol to go overhead.

After that we continued through the jungle to check out the various traps that were used and how traditional hunting methods were then adapted to serve as wartime techniques  Not all of the traps however were designed to kill, some were designed with the purpose of maiming. This I don’t agree with personally, if you are fighting someone and at war, kill them don’t design traps to remove their testicles and penises leaving them to a life of a lady boy that is just rude and cruel in my opinion, and can then potentially brew brutality from the opposing force not necessarily always directed where it belongs (also not right in my opinion).

After this it was into the tunnel system that is open for tourists. Apparently a lot of the old tunnel system is still there and intact however so are the original booby traps designed to deal with anyone that is not supposed to be there. The original tunnels are quite tiny being about 30- 40cm wide as the people back then were considerably smaller and not as well fed. The section we could go into is about 100m, with enterances up every 20m however it still involved crawling. The 6″1 guy in the group couldn’t get through the crawling section so needless to say I passed on going down there, that and being mildly claustropobic leads me to avoid tiny dark spaces lol.

After this it was on to the rest area / souvenir shop which marked about half way through the jungle trek. Here I decided to do something a little different, I paid 350,000VND (about $17.50) for 10 rounds and headed down to the firing range to try out an AK47. The guns were all mostly mounted, and mounted for shorter people so I had to crouch a bit. My aim was pretty good in terms of if it was at the right height it would have gone through the center of the target, however the aim was high. Overall not too bad considering I couldn’t properly see down the sights and my first time with a rifle. The AK-47 had barely any kick, I was expecting it to knock back into my shoulder harder than it did, whilst I could feel it kicking back in to the shoulder it was not much force.

After declining the offer to be rambo with a huge ass machine gun it was off to continue the trek through the jungle. The remainder of the tour had setups of camoflauge and how people used to hide and cook including description of huge underground smoke chambers with cotton filtering set up so only slight wisps of smoke would then make it up from the ground. One highlight was a damaged and mostly rusted out US tank that was destroyed by a delay mine but other than that for me it was simply enjoying my remaining time in the jungle before getting on the bus to head back to the city, which was actually good timing as it was just starting to rain.

Overall I did really enjoy my time out in the jungle as well as appreciate some of the history of the region however I was a little disappointed about not getting to see the Coa Dai temple.

Thoughts / Observations for the day:
– Vietnamese appears to be a tonal based language
– I really really like the jungle
– The AK-47 has considerably less kick than I was expecting
– People here operate on the principle of “face”
– They appear to take a great deal of pride over the killing of Americans during the war

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