Oh the woes of procrastination!! Tara and Tyler had decided to rent a motorbike and ride out to the Cu Chi tunnels the day after we arrived in Saigon. This was definitley on our list of places to see , but when we woke up the next morning we just couldn't drag ourselves out of bed. We called and told them to go with out us and we proceeded to laze the day away. We met up for dinner that night and they regaled us with their tale of an exiting and beautiful ride, of seemingly having the entire place themselves, and all the interesting information their free personal guide bestowed upon them. We were stoked.
I should take a step back here and say that during the Vietnam/American war, the Vietcong developed an elaborate network of tunnels where they lived and fought for years, completely befuddling the American forces. They could appear out of nowhere, and then disappear without a trace. There's two sets of tunnels in the Cu Chi area. The first is about 50km from central Saigon, and this is where all the tourist buses go to file you through the tunnels like a herd of cattle. This was incredibly unappealing to us so we wanted to go to the second set of tunnels another 15km further down the road where Tara and Tyler went and had such a great experience. However, to get there on our own we would have to rent a motorbike and navigate our way through downtown Saigon and then to the tunnels without the aid of a GPS (not recommended by Tyler who used a GPS to get there and said he probably wouldn't have found it without), or hire a private car to take us for $40. We went around and around on whether it was worth it to pay that much money to avoid all the tourists, and in the end we decided that yes, it was. On the way, we pass the first set of tunnels and the parking lot is full with about 15 tour busses and give ourselves a pat on the back.
When we get to the second set of tunnels we aren't sure what to do, but there's friendly staff that point us in the right direction saying "guide, guide", and we eventually find a pavillion in the middle of the woods with a diarama of the tunnels and a t.v. We're there alone, and more friendly staff tell us to sit down and we proceed to watch a, slitghtly bizzare, video on the history of the tunnels and surrounding villages. By the time the video's over, however, a group of about 15 tourists has shown up and we're silently groaning to ourselves, yet still hoping that we get to tour the place by ourselves. No such luck. As soon as we stand up, the staff is waving us to go with the group we tried so hard to avoid.
Part of what sounded so great about Tara and Tyler's trip was that they had their own guide, which meant that they could spend as long as they wanted at each area and ask as many questions as they liked (their guide spoke very good english). Instead, we get hurried along through the jungle, having to wait our turn to take pictures, and getting left behind if we decide to linger (which we tend to do). When we catch up, the guide is just finishing explaining something in Vietnamese and the women who brought the tour group is translating. We learn almost nothing. At one point, we (by that i mean Natasha) decide to linger a little bit inside one of the tunnels to take pictures, despite signs telling us specifically not to do this as it is easy to get lost. I'm trying to urge her along as the group is leaving us behind and she gets a little impatient with me telling me to go on ahead and she'll find her way out. Of course I won't leave her alone and when we finally get moving the group is no where to be seen, but the way the sound reverberates in the tunnels they seem to be all around us. We both start to panic a little bit with the fear of getting lost compounded by the claustrophobia of the tunnels. We make it to a junction where we easily could have gone straight if it wasn't for a very thoughtful kid from the group staying behind to make sure we went left. Catastrophe averted we decide to stick with the group from then on out.
Now that the griping is out of the way, I can say that the tunnels were very interesting. They are set in a beautiful jungle.
They had some....informative displays
No wonder the Americans had such a hard time finding them.
They had many boobie traps on display
Believe it or not they actually expanded the tunnels for tourists to fit through.
The tunnels have some new residents
During the war they had to be very inventive. This man is showing how they made sandals out of old tires
When it's all over we separate from our unwanted tour group and hop back in our $40 car to head to Saigon. Lesson learned we shall not procrastinate again.