Cu Chi tunnels
Cu Chi tunnels are a vast network of underground tunnels spanning about 200 kilometers across Vietnam and even into Cambodia. They were dug by ordinary Vietnamese villagers and guerrilla warriors by hand between 1960 to 1975 during the Vietnam war. The tunnels were used by them for hiding from the US bombs and for stocking materials, discussing strategies, etc. Thousands of ordinary people lived in these narrow tunnels, which have a diameter of a few meters only. The tunnels played a key role in defense of the Vietnamese people during the war as the American forces struggled to find these tunnels. When any entrance to the tunnel was found, the unsuspecting American soldiers were booby trapped through hidden trap doors, stepping on which one could find his body pierced by iron nails!
It took me nearly half a day to explore the Cu Chi tunnels. They are around 70km away (since distance is best measured in time, 1 hour away) from Ho Chi Minh city.
Going through a 100 meter portion of the tunnels open to tourists was a unique experience in itself. One has to either stoop too low and crawl on their fours to cross them. Elderly people and those suffering from claustrophobia are best advised to avoid them. Hard to imagine how the Vietnamese people lived in there! These tunnels are indeed an astonishing example of man’s will to survive.
There is also a shooting range here, where I had a shot at firing an AK 47 gun with real bullets! It felt eerie to think that the same gun is used by terrorists to kill innocent people.
We returned to HCMC by 2.30pm. I had a quick lunch at the Ben Than Food Street Market, with a fellow traveller – a Dutch boy pursuing a course in International Business studies in Singapore.
After checking out from the hostel, I left for the airport to take a flight to my next and final destination of this wonderful trip to South East Asia – Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. I happened to be on the flight with an Australian couple, Ben and Mary. When I first saw them, I noticed the tattoos on their arms and legs and I immediately took them to be the new age, hipster couple – with the wind in their hair and not a care in the world. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Whoever said looks can be deceiving was one hell of a wise person. I found that both, Ben and Mary, worked with the Melbourne police department (how often does one come across a holidaying police couple!). They told me about their life as police officers and described the kind of situations that they have to deal with. They also mentioned that they get 5 weeks off in a year and if they work night shifts, they are entitled to get additional days added to their annual leave. This, in comparison to the holiday scene in India, is pure luxury. In my profession (corporate team in an Indian law firm), we get only 2 weeks off annually and even then one has to “remain available” for work, by hook or by crook. Apart from being responsible law enforcement agents and incredibly amazing fellow travellers, Ben and Mary were also very kind. I had shopped a bit in HCMC because of which my baggage exceeded the permissible weight limit. They told the airline staff that I was travelling with them and I got away with not paying for extra luggage. Later, I realized that I was destined to meet Ben and Mary today. I had first met them at breakfast in my hostel and coincidentally they had also taken the same Cu Chi tunnel tour. As luck would have it, their hostel in Hanoi was just 100 meters away from where I was staying; so I got to share a cab with them from the Hanoi airport.
I checked into Hanoi Rocks hostel that night.
Walking through a Tunnel
Shooting an AK 47!
Food Trail: The famous Vietnamese coffee, which is strong and full bodied and is had with condensed milk in syrup form
Travel Epiphanies: Never judge a book by its cover.
Next up: Hanoi – Day 1