A trip down some tunnels and sightseeing in Saigon
Our final stop in Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). I was dreading a big city and all the chaos that goes with it. Hanoi was by far my least favourite place in Vietnam, and I imagined Saigon to be a busier version of that. I was wrong though. Saigon was busy and bustly with hectic traffic and street sellers, but it also had a beautiful park where locals played together in the evening. The morning attracted the healthy residents for Yoga and Thai Chi. I enjoyed watching the community come together and have fun- something I think we have lost touch in the West.
Having been struck down with a stomach bug I wasn’t in my usual party mood and so didn’t get to sample the Saigon nightlife as much as I would have wanted. Perhaps that was a good thing, as it meant I was up bright and early to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels to the south of the city.
During the Vietnamese war, the Cu Chi people (Viet Cong), who supported the Communist North were fighting the American army in the south around Saigon. Rather than leave themselves exposed for the American soldiers, who had much more advanced weaponry, the Viet Cong took to the ground. They dug over 200km of tunnels by hand using picks and bamboo baskets. The tunnels were split into 3 layers for fighting and living. Kitchens, meeting rooms and bedrooms were all underground. Women even gave birth in the tunnels.
The entrances to the tunnels were so well disguised that the American soldiers could rarely find them amongst the debris of the forest floor. If they did find them, they were usually booby trapped with grenades. The Cu Chi people were much smaller than the Americans, allowing them to use tunnels so small that the Americans couldn’t fit down.
Life in the tunnels wasn’t a pleasant one; disease, rats and parasites ran through the tunnels. Occasionally the Americans would try and flush the Viet Cong people out using the nearby river.
During our tour of the area, we went down into some tunnels that had been expanded for tourists. The original tunnels were less than 40cm high and the Cu Chi people would shuffle along these with rapid speed. Despite being expanded, the 100m of tunnel we crawled through still felt very small and claustrophobic! Dim lights lined the edge of the tunnel and I tried to imagine life down there with no lighting. Not pleasant.
Back in the city we took a free map from our hotel and set off to explore the sights. We visited the war museum and the “Notre Dame”. There was still a very heavy French influence present in the city- fresh bread sold every day and beautiful architecture on select buildings.
We treated ourselves on our last night in Saigon to a drink at the prestigious “Skybar”. 27 floors up the outdoor platform bar offered some of the best views of the city. They also offered western beer which was a real treat! I tucked into a Corona and looked out at the city lights. I would be really sad to leave Vietnam behind.