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Big Indochina Adventure – Days 16 & 17: Cu Chi Tunnels & Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

On our way back from the Mekong Delta, we stopped at the Cu Chi Tunnels which were dug by the Vietcong to avoid being captured by the Americans during the Vietnam War. They rarely collapsed since the ground is so hard, it was like concrete!  The tunnels were dug by hand and up to 1 kilometer could be dug in one day. They were quite narrow and had everything from bomb shelters to surgery rooms to kitchens to schools for children!

The entrances to the tunnels were very well camouflaged among the leaves on the ground. You would never even know they were there!  Some of us tried to enter the tunnels and leave the camouflage undisturbed, but only a few of us succeeded. The trick is to lift the door straight up over your head while you’re going down and gently place it down.

We walked past rocks with holes in them that were used to let the smoke out of the kitchen tunnels below. They usually released the smoke at night so it would just look like fog.

One of the more interesting stops was looking at all the booby traps the Vietcong used to deter enemy soldiers. They had doors that would open onto spikes coated with poison, spikes that would impale be mm someone’s foot, spikes that would impale a body from the side as soon as you fell in a a hole and even door spikes inside the tunnel just in case Americans made it inside. They were brutal. I can only imagine how paranoid soldiers were, terrified that every step they take may be a booby trap.

The Vietcong also wore their sandals backwards to make it harder for Americans to track their footsteps, which already would have been hard in that kind of environment.

We were able to pay a bit of money to try some of the machine guns that were left by the Americans after the war. Let me just say that the kickback was insane!

The final stop was an actual tunnel that we were able to go down into. They used to be pitch black, but added minimal lights for safety reasons. The people would crouch and walk while trying to avoid random drops and booby traps along the way. A few people in my group went 20 meters, but the rest of us went 50 meters before we saw a rat and decided to ascend back into the light.

It is truly what the Vietcong did to win the war. Some people lived underground for 28 straight days with minimal food, surviving on bugs and rats.

After the tunnels, we headed back to our hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. I took a quick shower to get the mud off me before meeting up with my group to explore the city. I was able to find a new GoPro headband since mine broke and then we visited the Ben Thanh Markets, but didn’t buy anything.

We then met up with our group for a BBQ dinner similar to Korean BBQ in that you cook the meat yourself. I had a beef platter and the meat was so tender. The night was a great opportunity to meet a few new people that joined our tour that day as well as get to know the people that joined our tour a few days ago.

After dinner, we headed to a rooftop bar with amazing views of Ho Chi Minh City. Drinks were expensive, but you were paying for the view. I’m a bit spoiled by the NYC skyline, but it was still pretty cool!

We headed back to our hotel pretty early for a good night sleep!  The following morning, we had a quick city tour of Ho Chi Minh City. Our first stop was the Independence Palace which was built in 1962 to be the home of the President of South Vietnam.

We then walked through a park to see the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica which was just like its Parisian & Montreal counterparts.

Then, we had some free time so I mailed the 3 kilos of souvenirs I’ve accumulated back home. It cost me $60, but my back is already thanking me since it doesn’t have to lug them around anymore. It was also getting really hard to pack my backpack up every morning!

After the Post Office, we headed to the War Remnants Museum, formerly known as the museum of American War Crimes. It provided an overview of the Vietnam War, or as they call it, the American War. Obviously, the content was quite biased and didn’t show any of the bad things that the Vietnamese did, but some of the pictures and stories were horrifying. In retrospect, the war was such a senseless war that the Americans were not prepared for.

The museum focused quite a bit on the use of Agent Orange and the after effects that it caused like birth defects and cancer. There were quite a few pictures of people born with various abnormalities like conjoined twins, missing limbs, deformed faces and alien shaped heads. The Agent Orange also affected American soldiers and their children when they returned home.

There were also pictures of how Americans tortured and killed soldiers and civilians including children. One of the pictures was an American chopper that had someone pushing a body out to their death. Another picture was of a family just before they got murdered – the photographer took the shot and turned around. He heard gunshots, but couldn’t bear to turn around. It reminded me a bit of Abu Ghraib – there are bad apples in every bunch that take things way too far.

The final exhibit was pictures of worldwide protests to stop the war. I never realized just how unpopular the war was in countries that weren’t even involved, but there were photos of protests all over the world from Italy to England to Cuba to Mexico to North Korea to Thailand.

As I said, the museum was quite biased. I will need to watch few documentaries and go to a museum back home in order to understand the full picture.

After the museum, we headed to the airport to catch our flight to Nha Trang.

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