Breakfasted at 6.45 am and were met by our guide as we left the elevator at 7.50 am. For the first time, we have company on our excursion, a Portuguese couple who presently lives in London, one a doctor and the other an engineer. it is their last day in Vietnam and they fly back to the UK tomorrow.
Today we are going to the Cu Chi Tunnels. These are the underground labyrinth of tunnels, three levels deep and over 250km in length, that the Vietcong lived in and fought from. The tunnels even extended underneath the American Base nearby. The journey took around an hour and a half, through the usual impossible traffic and our guide kept us occupied with facts and stories about the tunnels and Vietcong, finishing with a black and white video that painted a rather one-sided view of the war on a drop-down video screen in the mini-bus.
Upon arriving we were straight into the forest. The humidity was overpowering and the noise from the insects in the trees was deafening. We were careful to not step on the many huge millipedes randomly traversing the track we were following. W stopped at one of the entrances to the tunnels and couldn’t find it. The guide of course lifted the cover and there it was, very small and impossible to see unless you knew about the bent twig on the tree to the side. And, we would have probably stepped on a landmine sited next to it if we didn’t know about the three tiny pieces of bark that sat on top of each other to its left. I had a go-getting into the entrance (for photographic purposes) and just managed it, though getting back out was considerably more difficult. They were built that size to prevent the larger Americans from going down.
We were then treated to a demonstration of the many booby trap devices employed against the GIs. Not nice to think about falling into them and they were not always meant to be lethal. A little later on, after seeing how the Vietcong lived and worked in the tunnels. There were as many as 8000 living there, only coming out at night to relax or attack the enemy. There was a hospital, kitchens, laundry etc. all down there to make it a little underground town. Amazing, especially if you see the size of the tunnels and rooms. They even melted down the shrapnel from the bombs dropped on them to make the barbs for the booby traps as well as making their versions of landmines from unexploded bombs.
The highlight was going through the tunnels. What a squeeze! It was fortunate that none of our group was on the large size or someone would have gotten stuck. As it was, because of Sue’s broken wrist, she hasn’t the strength in her left hand yet, in one underground section where we had to squeeze around a bend and then over a ledge she couldn’t pull herself through. Luckily, I was at the back of the group and behind her, so a gentle push managed to get her eased up into the next section. She didn’t complain about being manhandled!
Afterwards, we had a Vietcong meal. Tapioca root and tea, the root had been boiled for half an hour and to make it tasty we had a small bowl of spices, otherwise, it didn’t have much taste, though was palatable. Our guide mentioned that after the war he was arrested when he tried to escape the country as one of the ‘Boat People’, he spent 6 months in a Hanoi prison and had nothing but Tapioca to eat, so it brought back memories.
Passing through the shop on the exit, I bought a trinket before we returned to Saigon and a much-needed shower and change of clothes. As before, we didn’t bother with lunch as it was too hot to eat.
The afternoon was spent on a walk to the ‘War Remnants Museum’. Very moving. The museum is set on three floors and throughout all the rooms, people were silent as they looked at the exhibits and the many photographs outlining the Vietnam War. I noticed on our journey through the horrors that the Americans unleashed on the local population, particularly the ‘Mei Lei Massacre’ and the effects of ‘Agent Orange’, some had tears in their eyes. A very sobering place to visit.
We returned to the hotel to shower again and change in readiness for the evening meal and show at the Opera house.
Dressed in our glad rags we set off to find a restaurant and eat before the performance. There are so many options around our hotel that it can be quite difficult to choose. While reading the menu outside one establishment we were persuaded to enter the premises up some stairs. On entering we could see that it was quite small with just five empty tables. Not a good sign I thought. In the corner was a middle-aged woman strumming a guitar and the menu when presented didn’t seem as expansive as we first thought. We smiled weakly at each other and decided to ‘tough it out. The main constituents in the menu appeared to be based on spring rolls with a few soups and some rice dishes. I ordered the crab and prawn soup with Hue Style spring rolls, Sue chose shrimp and crab rice.
Whilst waiting, the guitarist brought us some rather tasty flatbread and I noticed that on one wall was a collection of cups and shields and a few appeared to be for golf. Asking whether they were for golf she said yes. Asking if a member of her family had won them, she said yes again and that they were hers. That started up a conversation. She is on the amateur circuit and has played in tournaments in Australia and the UK, Gleneagles was mentioned. She then told us that Vietnam only had one professional player and that was her son, showing us an article in a well-known Golfing magazine. He is presently sponsored by Glenmorangie. And tonight he was cooking our meal! When the food arrived Sue and I both agreed it was superb. Soon after we had settled into our seats, the word had gotten around that it was now the ‘in’ place to dine, and it quickly filled up. As the golfing chef was busy cheffing, my earlier thoughts on thanking the guy personally didn’t seem appropriate, so after finishing the pot of tea with ginger that came with the meal, we thanked his mother and left.
We were an hour early for the show so we sat in the auditorium with a glass of wine. You could tell the Vietnamese don’t do sophistication like what we does, cos the barman offered me potato chips to go with my drink, obviously to improve the taste. After the first sip, he did have a point!
The show started on time and our 2nd row upgraded seats ( I kid you not, it is stamped on the tickets) afforded us a brilliant view of the stage. We have seen quite a few shows out in the Far East and they have all been superb. This was no exception, but I add the phrase, quirky. It was a mixture of storytelling done with acrobatics, movement and song. At times it was tearfully funny and at others tearfully sensitive. It would be unkind to try and find superlatives to describe the show as the choreography, timing and skill displayed has to be seen and not hinted at. It is called the AO Show, Saigon, Vietnam. If I can find them on YouTube they will appear here: AO SHOW, SAIGON