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Mark's World Tour 2007-08

Day 152: The Cu Chi Tunnels

VIETNAM | Saturday, 5 April 2008 | Views [2748] | Comments [2]

Mr Binh, our mad guide on the Cu Chi Tunnels tour

Mr Binh, our mad guide on the Cu Chi Tunnels tour

Saturday 5th April

I woke up just before the alarm went off at 06.45 and got a fright when I looked over towards Maria's bed and, in my half-sleep, thought I saw an old, bald man lying in the bed across from me! My brain must have still been asleep and I thought that, somehow, I must have changed room during the night or someone had come in and replaced Maria in her bed! My eyes – and brain – finally adjusted to realise that it had been Maria after all, and I had forgotten that she had been wearing a flesh-coloured hoody with the top over her head to keep away the ants during the night. I have been known to sleep walk in the past but thankfully those days seem to be over.

We got up and packed our bags once again, walked to De Tham St. and grabbed some breakfast before we boarded the bus on the tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels. We had bought tickets for a half-day trip which we expected to get us back to central Siagon at 14.30. The Tunnels are one of the most popular sights in the area around HCMC, and there were buses full of people setting off at 08.00.

We got on our bus and our guide for the day introduced himself as Mr Binh (or 'Mr Bean'....geddit?) who had fought with the South Vietnamese Army, alongside the Americans and against the North Vietnamese Communists in the war in the 1960s and 1970s. We didn't know what to make of him at first as he seemed to be quite intense to begin with, ranting and raving on a number of things including Communists ('They fucked with my mind! You understand? They fucked with my mind!'); but he reserved most of his vitriol for the Lonely Planet guidebook to Vietnam ('That's a bullshit book! It should be made illegal in Vietnam!', he spat). Maria and I found this hilarious as he was almost jumping up and down as he said it! We also tended to agree with him, the Lonely Planet is a bullshit book.

Anyway, once he started to speak he wouldn't stop, so we were at least getting value for money, even if he was doing our heads in. He told us a lot of things, such as what Vietnam was like before the war, during the conflict and what happened to people like him after the fighting had stopped (like many South Vietnamese soldiers, he was taken to a 're-education' camp by the communists, and he stayed there for four years after the war). When he started to talk about the dimensions of the tunnels themselves (through which we would get the chance to crawl through later in the day), he couldn't stop talking about the size of peoples arses. We felt quite embarrassed for the rather large Canadian woman who was in the tour party.

After a forty five minute stop-off at Handicapped Handicrafts (I don't think you would get away with that one at home, snappy though it is), a crafts factory which employed disabled or disadvantaged young people to produce souvenirs for the tourists such as pictures, lacquerwork and carvings, we finally got to Cu Chi. Entrance cost $5 and the first thing we saw was an old propaganda film recorded in 1967 praising the resistance and ingenuity of the inhabitants of Cu Chi in the face of the 'imperialist enemy'. Despite the fact that it looked like it had been recorded in 1867, it didn't take away from its value as a window into the past, and into the lives of people who built and lived in the tunnels.

Mr Binh took us around the rest of the site, showing us some of the reconstructed traps that were used to snare enemy soldiers, some of which looked particuarly primitive and very nasty. We took a noisy break beside a firing range, where some people belonging to another group felt the need to let off a few rounds of an AK-47 machine gun (Mr Binhs favourite gun: “All US guns no good.... AK-47 work under water!”). The tour ended with a tunnel run (or crawl) of our own. One of the original tunnels had been widened and the walls covered in a protective layer (to keep the dirt away), allowing the tourists (even the large Canadian woman) the chance to experience what it is like down there. I'm not too keen on enclosed spaces, but I knew it was a fairly straight route from start to finish, so it didn't feel overly claustrophobic. It was good fun and it was funny to see Maria fall on her arse again (not sure how you manage that in a small, confined tunnel, but she managed it!).

Mr Binh had also offered spaces on his private boat as an alternative way to return to Saigon and we decided it would be worth an extra $7 each. There were about seventeen of us and the trip was very enjoyable, nice and cool and reasonably dry despite a few heavy downpours along the way. We also got talking to a few of the other passengers and it turned out to be good fun. We had also taken a shine to the eccentric Mr Binh, his mannerisms and sayings providing us with more than a few laughs. We got back to the jetty in central Saigon at 16.00 and a bus was waiting to take us back to De Tham St. where we had started.

I had been speaking to a really nice guy called Peter from Utrecht in Holland and we went for a drink with him and his friend Prangi after we got off the bus. They had been in Bangkok on a conference the week before and had decided to come to Saigon for the weekend before going back home. They were very easy to get along with and it was a real laugh, but we had to excuse ourselves after an hour or so as we had to go in search of somewhere to stay that night.

Maria had wanted to stay in a decent hotel on her last night (and I wasn't going to complain as she was paying), and after a search on the internet for some last minute deals, we finally booked a room at the 'Omni Saigon Hotel'. We took a taxi over there, glad that we finally had the chance to sit down after a long day. We were also glad not to have to negotiate with the rush hour traffic that we were in the thick of. We were pretty tired as we pulled into the hotel, but big smiles crossed our faces when we saw the glistening white entrance, a vision of luxury that I hadn't known for quite some time. Maria and I walked in, dragging our backpacks and sweating away in our mucky clothes, possibly the grubbiest people the hotel receptionist had seen cross the door of his hotel in a while. But, we were paying (well, Maria was) so we had every right to be there, no matter what state we were in.

We had found somewhere to stay, but we couldn't keep the wolves from the door for too long, we were starving having not eaten since breakfast. We got changed, took a taxi into town and had some Thai food. I was in a bit of a mood as I was so hungry and I had to apologise to Maria for stuffing my dinner into me like a pig, but sometimes I just can't help myself. Having been fed, our minds turned to sleep, so we went back to the hotel and crashed our on the comfortable clean beds.

 

Comments

1

Mr. Binh is a really funny an intersting man. We gave him a tip for that. ^_^

  toni Aug 25, 2011 2:05 PM

2

he might be the best tour guide I ever have. we also gave him some tip as we know he doesnt get much for the job

  Michelle Apr 29, 2015 5:47 PM

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