Today, we walked around downtown Ho Chi Minh City. First, we went to the market, which had a lot of cheap North Face backpacks and coats. We then met up with my friend from Summer Semester at Sea. He is currently working on Semester at Sea this Spring and happened to be in this city with the ship the same time I was there. We met up at a Pho place where Bill Clinton went when he visited the city and is now famous. It was nice to catch up with Andrew and hear about his trip so far. He also knew my brother from an enrichment voyage that they both went on two years ago. After lunch, he headed back to the ship and Matt and I walked around. We saw a bunch of buildings and wandered. We went to the Independence monument, which was just a bunch of chairs and tables to show where treaties were sign during the war. Vietnam is old looking and it seems like most buildings are stuck in the 60’s. We then went to the War Museum, which was basically a big “F You” to American Soldiers who fought here. It showed the brutal tactics Americans used and how many people died or were deformed from the chemicals used like napalm and agent orange. After the museum, we walked to Backpacker Street to eat dinner. We ate pizza and then chilled at our hostel. At night, we met up with our friend Marianna, the girl we met in Koh Tao, then randomly saw in Kuala Lumpur, then randomly saw in Bali. We happened to be in this city at the same time so we planned a meet-up this time. We went to a rooftop bar with her and her parents for the night and shared stories. They told us more about Vietnam and we told them about what to do in Cambodia. It’s always nice to hear first hand experiences. We will probably see her again at some point because we keep crossing paths.
We woke up and ate some Subway. We then tried to catch a local bus to the Cu Chi Tunnels. The bus was hard to find because it never stopped at the actual bus station so we had to track it down by trying to communicate with locals. We eventually found it and two hours and one bus transfer later, we were there. We bought tickets to see the tunnels and walked around. We saw some large religious buildings and eventually found the entrance to the tunnels. These tunnels were dug out by the Vietnamese soldiers during the French War. They were then expanded during the American War (Vietnam War). The tunnels were unique because they were almost impossible to navigate as an enemy. Inside, there were booby traps and dead ends where American soldiers would get caught and then killed. The Vietnamese built their traps with sharp bamboo in different pits. They designed them so they would completely mess up the enemy but hopefully not kill them. They did this so instead of taking one enemy out of the war, they took two because one couldn’t walk again and another had to carry that soldier to safety. There were hidden entrances that were very difficult for the enemy to detect, making it hard to attack the Vietnamese. The tunnels were very harsh conditions to live in though. One in two had malaria, one in three died, mostly from disease, and everyone in the tunnels was sick constantly. We went on a tour with four fat Indian guys. The guys couldn’t fit in the tunnels so they didn’t get to go in any. Matt and I went through some of the tunnels, even one that wasn’t touristy. It was 50 meters long so most people don’t go in it. Most people just do the 15 meter tunnel because it’s still difficult to fit through and walk through. The funny thing is, those tunnels were expanded to fit western tourists. Matt and I went through one that wasn’t altered and it was a tight squeeze. It was also very difficult to walk while crouching so much. There were a ton of bats around us, that I had to hit to get passed. They flew around us the whole time and kept hitting us. It was rough but we were glad we made it out. I couldn’t imagine living in this 200 km network of tunnels for days, months, or years like some people have done. Crazy stuff. Afterwards, we watched a propaganda film about how amazing the Vietnamese government and people are, and how bad America is. We then took the public bus back to the city and a little kid kept staring at us. He then kept putting his finders on his eyelids and pulling up and down to show me how big my eyes are. Haha it was funny because it is the opposite of a white person pinching their eyes back to mimic an Asian person with slanted eyes. I never thought about it before but life is all about perception and to this kid, his eyes are normal and mine are too big. We got back and ate on Backpacker Street again. We showered at our hostel and then went back to that street to grab some beers on Beer Street. It was really crowded and everyone just drinks beer facing the street. You watch traffic and sit on small plastic chairs. It was neat. Saigon was a good place to visit but we were ready to leave and go to a smaller city.