Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Ho Chi Minh City

Tunnel Rat

I went a bit outside my personal comfort zone drinking Mekong Whiskey - rice wine laced with the blood of a King Cobra. But crawling through a part of the tunnel system used by the Vietcong during the war was a little over the top as well.

We arrive in Saigon and check into our hotel on Monday. We walk to the Central Market to get a replacement suitcase and find one that I stash back in the hotel room while Pat continues shopping. I'm offered a ride back to the market on the back of a 'Honda' scooter for a modest fee which I debate internally but accept. Hopping on, the driver offers me a helmet and then proceeds to drive in that insane traffic flow towards the market. Somehow we get there but not before driving on the sidewalk and going the wrong way on a one way. "No problem, Uncle".

Tuesday, we meet our tour guide for the hour and a half trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels outside Saigon. We stop at a rubber tree plantation to examine the gooey residue of a cut tree. Arriving at Cu Chi, we find tourists of many national nationalities. First we sit through a short film about the caves and the role they played in the war and then we are off to explore. The guide stops on the trail and talks about the tunnels and then lifts a lid off a well disguised opening which he invites me to crawl into. I had to drop down feet first with hands above my head - barely squeezed through the opening. Then, I crawled the rest of the way on my elbows on a floor covered with leaves. The guide told me that once I get underway it was about 50 feet to an exit. Just "be sure to take the second left to get out" - if I take first left or go straight, it was a dead end with no turn around. There was only about a 6 inch clearance for my head and I made my way in the dark, I heard the occasional fluttering of wings. I managed to shine a light up ahead of me and saw a bunch of bats hanging from the ceiling. Oh well, can't go back so just press on. Luckily I took the correct turn and found the exit. Can't imagine how our tunnel rats that flushed out VC hiding in these tunnels didn't have mental health issues as a result. Very intense. Will never complain about an MRI again.

After touring SE Asia and places like Cu Chi, we can see what hardship our troops endured fighting here. That they returned home to a lukewarm reception will forever will be a black mark on the era.

I had a great respect for your efforts during the war but after seeing the hardships you endured, personally, I'm flabbergasted that anyone comes out of there completely intact.

And now back to regularly scheduled retirement.

See the photos here.

Mekong Cruise - Vietnam

Upon entering Vietnam we stopped in the port of Tan Chau where we took a rickshaw ride to a Rattan factory.  After our tour, we took a boat to Evergreen Island where the floating fish farms and stilt houses are located.  Our next port of call was Sa Dec where we visited a street market full of all kinds of interesting foods including farm raised cobras!  After the market we toured a military base of the Viet Cong where we walked thru the jungle to see the underground shelters and tunnels they used during the war.  A final stop in Ca Be to visit the floating market and candy making factory before we made our way to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) to disembark from our cruise.

See the photos here.

Mekong Cruise - Cambodia

Cruising on the Mekong

After a 5 hour bus ride from Siem Reap to Kampong Cham, we board the 160 passenger River Vessel AMA Lotus for the 7 day trip to the Mekong Delta. Highlights include:
A tour of an ancient hilltop pagoda dating from the 6th century, Wat Hanchey.
Walking tour of Ankor Ban, a beautiful old village with traditional Khmer homes.
2 nights in Phnom Penh with a tour of the Royal Palace, The National Museum and the Central Market.

The afternoon is spent in a somber tour of one of the Killing Fields followed by a look at S 21 Detention Center, a former high school divided into small cells and interrogation areas where so called enemies of the Khmer Rouge were held until their executions in the Killing Fields. Here they were tortured and coerced into naming family members and close associates who were in turn arrested in one the worst human tragedies of the last century. Pol Pot, the Hitler of Cambodia, secretly led the Khmer Rouge regime which arrested and eventually executed almost anyone suspected of connections with the former government or with foreign governments, as well as professionals and intellectuals.

See the photos here.