Hoping to avoid a repeat of our 4am arrival in Nha Trang we booked the 10pm night bus due to arrive in Ho Chi Minh City at 8am. But low and behold at 4:30 am all the lights came on and Vietnamese music was blasted out to signal our arrival. Yet another 3 hour ahead of schedule bus, I don’t know how they do it! After dragging our assortment of bags down some suspicious alleys we found our hotel with the shutters down, great. We headed to the public park and by this time it had come alive! Although it was 5 am the park was filled with runners, walkers, dancers, badminton players and all sorts of people in between. We parked up on a bench and watched the morning people of Vietnam before joining in with a bit of hack sack when we felt more awake. Then we killed some more time eating pastries in the bakery before heading back to the hotel at 8am, thankfully they had a room ready for us because we were both ready to change out of our pajamas!
We weren’t up to much sight seeing on the first day, the museum we wanted to see was meant to be quite emotionally draining so we booked ourselves on some tours for the following few days and went to play table tennis instead. Rob bought his bats about a month ago after we’d seen a table in a Chinese park, we thought they’d be everywhere after that but we’ve not seen a single table since! But finally our luck had changed and we found a ping pong club! Rob was very excited (he used to be on the Lake District ping pong team don’t you know) so we spent the afternoon mixing with the locals in the club. The future child olympians of Vietnam were even there practicing, you don’t need school if you’re going to be an Olympic champion. Some of the super talented Vietnamese guys were kind enough to give us a lesson, apparently I’ve picked up some bad habits from our holiday ping pong games in Florida, I could still beat Rob though and that’s all that matters!
The next day we went on a tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels, it’s been 40 years since the Americans stopped dropping bombs but the country is still recovering. Cu Chi is just outside what was the capital city Saigon, the people there were under constant attack from America because they were fighting for the Communist forces in the North of Vietnam (America was trying to prevent the spread of communism) and they were also on the border of Cambodia were many American troops were stationed. This meant that the land were they used to live was a battleground and the only way for them to remain safe was to go underground. It was a really interesting place to visit, the work they put into survival was immense. 250km of tunnels were built, sometimes 3 levels deep, they had ventilation disguised as termite mounds and even an underground kitchen were they could cook from 4am- 5am when the fog was thick enough to hide the smoke. The people of Cu Chi lived in these tunnels for 15 years, apart from those who would come up to fight everyone stayed underground in the day and then came to harvest the fields at night so there was enough food to eat. Honestly it was remarkable how resilient they’d been, they’d turned animal traps into soldier traps and would pop up from holes in the ground to surprise the enemy, even when sniffer dogs were sent in to locate the tunnels they masked their scent with clothes from the American soldiers. The Cu Chi land was never taken but the conditions they must have endured were so dire. We were allowed to climb through one of the tunnels, it was ridiculously small and so hot inside, we crawled a 100m stretch and there’s no way I could have stayed in there another 10 minutes let alone 15 years!
To learn a bit more about the history of conflict in Vietnam we visited the War Remnants museum on the way back from the tunnels. It was a very emotional museum showing the effects on the people of Vietnam and the devastation that war can cause. Over 2 million Vietnamese people died and many more were injured or contaminated by the use of chemical weapons. The photos were upsetting and it was hard to believe some of the acts that were committed a mere 40 years ago. I’m glad we went because it’s important to learn about but we weren’t half emotionally drained by the time we left. Thankfully the relationship between America and Vietnam has been mended and as if to prove this there was a Chicago grill house on the corner of the street!
Up bright and early the next day to join the morning people in the park. I went to run some laps and get us breakfast whilst Rob stayed in bed, no change there then! After our egg butties from the lady down the street we took a bus to the Mekong Delta. We had a lovely day on the river, we went for a boat ride with funny hats on, went to a bee keeping farm to drink honey, listened to some locals sing ‘if you’re happy and you know it. ..’ and we got to go to a coconut candy factory! After that we had lunch at an alligator farm (I stuck with chicken) and then got to bike round the island admiring the views. After a full day of activities we headed home very happy with a bag of coconut candy each. Tomorrow we’re taking our printed visas and hopping on a bus hoping to get to Cambodia, will have to see how that one goes.