Today was the day that we headed to the Chu Chi Tunnels, the famous cite of the tunnels used by the Vietcong during the war. We also saw the Mekong Delta, an area of Vietnam that is responsible for 1/3 of the food production for the country and one of the most biodiverse areas in the world. The tour started at 7:30 when we boarded the tour bus and set off on our 2-hour drive to the tunnels. On the way there, we made a rest stop for the bathroom but it was really a chance for them to get us to buy local arts and crafts. They showed us how they make the iconic duck eggshell and seashell plates and bowls which were beautiful but a little too steep for us. After the demonstration and a walk through the showroom, we were back on the bus. Once we got the to tunnels, it was a couple miles walk along the trail to see the secret entrances, the blown up tanks, bomb-making facility, booby trap demonstration, firing range where you could shoot an M16 or AK47, and finally go inside a tunnel. The secret entrance was very cool to see, it was only a foot and half long and maybe a foot wide (and it’s been widened for tourists!) so there was no way I was fitting down there but a couple of people from our tour group gave it a shot and fit. It was definitely made for people with tiny shoulders and legs. After the secret entrance, we walked to a blown up American tank that our tour guide was very happy to show us that his people did. Every time he would point something out to us he would say “look at us!” After the tank was the mine and bomb-making hut. They would take unexploded American bombs, take the explosives out, and make new bombs, mines, or grenades with them. Then we walked over to the booby trap demonstration where they showed us dozen of horrific traps they would set up in the jungle for the American troops to fall into. There was another tour guide from the same company already explaining them to his group so we just joined him for the talk. He was a little too enthusiastic about how the traps would kill the Americans and too excited about how terrible the death would be for my taste. I’m a little ashamed to admit this but a little bit of my guilt for the war crimes went away after seeing all the terrible ways the Vietnamese would kill our troops and how happy the tour guides were when explaining how their soldiers outsmarted the American troops. After the traps, we headed to the firing range where we could have shot some guns but we passed. No one else in our group wanted to shoot so we quickly moved onto the tunnels themselves. They had also been expanded for tourists to fit. Even though they were expanded, I was too tall and my shoulders were too wide to fit comfortably and I really didn’t want to get stuck in a claustrophobic, dark space. So I turned around, but Haley went through and said it was really cool but kinda creepy. After the tunnels, we walked to the kitchen hut where we got a chance to see how they defused the smoke so that the helicopters overhead would not see or smell it. We also had the chance to eat the tapioca root and crushed peanuts, which is what they ate most of the time while down in the tunnels. The kitchen was the last stop on the tunnel tour, so after we got back to the entrance we headed down to the river’s edge to have lunch. Lunch was okay, nothing special. We had fried spring rolls, chicken, and some watermelon because it was a set menu through a tour company. After lunch, we got back on the bus and headed towards the Mekong Delta.
The Delta was an hour drive from the tunnels which gave everyone a chance to take a nap which we took full advantage of. Once there, we walked to a boat that took us across the river to unicorn island, one of the several islands on the Mekong river. Then, we got to see a beehive that the locals use to make a local specialty, honey tea. Honey tea is essentially half honey half hot water and then some crystalized bee pollen. It was very tasty but super sweet. Several people in the group did not enjoy it, so I guess it is an acquired taste. After the honey tea, we got a chance to hold a boa constrictor which Haley and I both did. This felt like a random addition to the tour, but it was free so we welcomed it. We then headed down the road to a pavilion area where we were treated to some local music and singing and some delicious fruit. We stayed there for about 20 minutes and then headed through some back allies and over a bridge to a horse-drawn carriage that we all piled into and rode down the road for about 15 minutes before turning around and going right back. It didn’t get us anywhere but it was still fun. After the carriage, we walked back down the alleys to the bridge where we boarded canoes and rode them down the river to where we got off the boat originally. The beginning of the canoe ride was interesting because the tide was up on the river so the clearance was only a foot or two. We all had to lay on the person behind us and I even had to turn my head sideways to fit. After that excitement, the rest of the ride was peaceful and beautiful with palm trees and water coconuts. Once we got to the end of the boat trip, we got to see how they make and taste the coconut candy that is only made in the delta and then we were back on the boat heading across the river to our van to take us back to the City. The tour was really interesting and we learned a lot at both locations. It was a very long day, but definitely worth a visit. After we got back to the City, we were the last ones to get dropped off so we asked the tour guide if he would show us where some really good Pho. He took us just a minute away from where the bus dropped us to this delicious place. They had great noodles and broth but what made them a little more special than your average Pho place was that they colored their noodles with natural vegetable juice. So instead of just your average white noodle, we had orange and purple and green noodles mixed in. After dinner, we walked to the hostel and called it a night because all of that walking and the sun really wiped us out.
Today was our last day in Ho Chi Minh and unfortunately, our train to Hue was not until 9:55 at night and we had to check out of our hostel at noon. We were not sure what we were going to do the whole day with all of our luggage. So after we checked out, we walked a block down the street to get lunch at a dim sum and noodle restaurant and had a very good but interesting combination of Pho, Ramen, and a couple buns. After lunch, we decided that we should just head to the train station and find a coffee shop nearby to hang out while we waited for the train. When we got to the station there was nothing very close by so we had to walk about 10 minutes down a busy motorbike street before happening upon a small cafe that looked inviting. The area was outside District 1, so it had a more local vibe and we definitely stood out until we found this cool international cafe. When we walked in it was just us and the owner and his girlfriend, so we ordered a beer and started chatting. He was originally from India but came here on vacation and decided he didn’t want to leave. Plus, his girlfriend was a local. After about an hour, another couple walked in that seemed to know the owner. After they caught up for a few minutes, they included us in the conversation. Turns out that the girl named Terry is an international DJ who is singed with Amsterdam’s biggest record label and does shows and festivals all over Asia. We talked about our trip and the common places we had been. We found out she was originally from Russia, so as you can imagine with our politics overlapping for a while now, we got into a deep discussion about global politics and the situations in our respective countries. We were worried that this day was going to be super boring and long but we spent the whole day at the cafe talking, so it flew by. At around 6, we decided we should head back to the train station before it got too dark.
Unfortunately, this is where the day took a huge turn for the worse. Haley was guiding us back to the station with google maps. As we were mere steps away from getting back into to the station’s parking lot, a motorbike (one of the hundred motorbikes passing us each minute) came on the far side of us and, at full speed, the second passenger grabbed Haley’s phone right out of her hands and sped off into the crowd. We looked at each other in shock. We took a few quick steps after them not knowing what else to do, but we quickly realized that we were never going to catch them and that we should get to the train station safely. We sped walk to the train station and tried to process what just happened. The scary part about this whole situation is that Haley’s phone was open to maps so they had access to the whole thing, they could get to her passwords and credit cards and anything else they wanted. If it was locked that would have been a different story because the U.S. government can’t even hack into an iPhone. So the first thing we did after calling our parents to tell them what happened is to change her passwords and cancel her iTunes so that the phone would be useless. After we got that taken care of the full shock of the event took hold. Haley’s heart broke as she realized that 4 and a half weeks of her pictures during this once in a lifetime experience were gone in a matter of seconds. We had locked all of our bags, separated and hid our cash, and had constantly been on alert for pick-pocketing. Unfortunately, we did not plan for something being stolen directly from our own hands. Needless to say, it was quite the reality check and we will not be making that mistake again. We had a few hours to sit and dwell on what happened and then we had to get on a train and be locked into a room with two strangers for 18 hours. We were so shaken up and nervous about our other belongings that neither of us slept until the other passengers got off the train about 5 hours into the ride. After they got off, we took a deep sigh of relief and finally fell asleep with the cabin door locked. The rest of the train ride was very boring and uneventful so we will just skip straight to Hue.