Cheap Day at Cu Chi Tunnel
Two cheap days, one because we didn't do anything and the other due to our canny way of travelling to the Cu Chi Tunnels. Plus Jac got a right ol' bargain!
How time flies! Before we knew it, it was 6 pm, and we were going over to Ben and Myriam’s to look after Mae and Jude for the evening. What had we done all day? Tim ventured out to buy some food, but Jac and I stayed indoors. Jac busied herself washing and ironing! Yes, Ironing. I think Tim and I have only seen an iron a couple of time in the last 800 days! I relaxed writing, planning and booking accommodation and travel for our next few weeks. It all takes time you know!
We arrived for Ben’s delicious signature dish of Pad Thai and enjoyed looking after the kids. While Jac was her usual domestic goddess and enjoyed playing with Jude’s cars, Tim and I had fun being instructed on the art of being good babysitters from Mae and Jude.
Our next day, we planned to go to Cu Chi Tunnels. Matt, (Jac’s daughter’s friend) recommended we made our own way to Cu Chi Ben Duoc which although further away, is not so touristy and is more authentic. The other destination is Ben Dinh where the tunnels have been widened to cater for the more rotund tourists!
I thought we’d be leaving in the morning, but after faffing (it’s incredible how long it can take us to get ready now we are three), we got bagel takeaways at a nearby café and waited 14 minutes for our Grab taxi that was 4 minutes away, we finally left the area at 13:20!
That said, it turned out to be a blessing. When we arrived at Ben Duoc, we ended up having our own personal tour with an amusing guide called Qi (pronounced Wee), who, on hearing we were English, replied that he was too – from Manchester United! Oh, football - the international language!
The tunnels here were quite different from the Vinh Moc tunnels near the DMZ we saw on Day 760. Those were mainly used as living quarters to escape from the bombs. At Ben Duoc, these tunnels were first used during the resistance against the French. These eventually became military headquarters and a revolutionary base where the significant 1968 Tet Offensive was planned and launched against the Americans.
These 150 miles of tunnels took 20 years to build by hand, and it’s said that if the tunnels held up, they would win the war, if they failed, they would lose the war.
We watched a black and white film showing the life that these soldiers led. Many locals were involved, learning how to fight. We saw one young woman, laying booby traps, firing at the enemy, and grinning from her success.
Qi took us through narrow, low mud passageways, coming across rooms made into hospitals, storage rooms and kitchens. Outside was an innovative air vent disguised to look like a termite hill, and slits under bunkers used to carry out gun attacks. The Vietnamese showed much ingenuity and creativity.
The whole sight was well laid out, and public areas well-kept and clean. Jac is keen to make a pineapple room diffuser like the one she saw in the ladies loo!
Qi started to rummage through dried leaves and suddenly a tiny hatch appeared. He invited us to slide down into the darkness. Tim and Jac were enthusiastic, but with my stomach wounds still tender, I refrained. In turn, they wiggled down with arms stretched and slowly disappeared. We walked the 30 feet to a bigger hole where Tim popped his head out. Mischievously, Qi put the lid back on before Jac reached the opening. She is not keen on the dark so I was concerned for her, no need. She came out with a grin from ear to ear.
Before we said our goodbyes to Qi, he offered us some cooked tapioca bites to dip in peanut sugar.
After the land had been poisoned by Agent Orange, they were not able to grow rice and survived on Tapioca, (starch from the root of the cassava plant that copes well in poor soil).
Qi was wearing some sandals made from tyres which took Jac’s fancy, so we popped into the gift shop, and she found her size. At £2.50, she had a bargain! I wonder how the middle-class market town of Dorking is going to react. Perhaps she will start a new trend.
It was closing time, how were we going to get back to Ho Chi Minh City 38 miles away? Walk? We had hoped to get a boat back but were told this was impossible, so asked a couple of tour coaches if they had room for us. The answer was No. A security guard informed us where the nearest bus stop was.
We set off through the village, admiring beautiful flowers, trees and vegetables grown by the roadside, avoiding the local dogs, and catching a man grinning at us while breaking the neck of a chicken he’d just caught for his supper. Thankfully a bus arrived promptly. At Cu Chi city, we transferred to our next bus, which left immediately. The buses took us through tiny rural villages, then busy towns with motorcyclists everywhere. The total price of the bus journey back, for the three of us was £1.31, the total price for the day out was £34. Bargain!
Our day ended in Hum Veggie Restaurant. We contacted Adam, the British Council guy we met a couple of nights ago, to join us. What a delicious meal – first class, and more delightful conversation. A great end to a fascinating day.