Day 29: Cu Chi to Saigon
We wake with our legs still dangling over the edge of the bed frame. Our hands are itching – we get to ride motorcycles again!
Next door serves up some incredibly tasteless bread for breakfast. We choke it down and go pay our entrance fee at the Cu Chi Tunnels. Big tour groups are starting to arrive, and when we head in we’re forced to follow a mob led by a guide who’s English is as clear as a winter’s day in London.
The 250km long tunnel system was built during the Vietnam War. This underground tactic aided their victory over America in a huge way. The Viet Cong slept, cooked, ate, lived and attacked in these worm holes like a militant ant colony infested with giantism. The flabbergasting pain and suffering of an older Cu Chi echoes through the dank, sunken web like a dented tuba filled with dirt.
We descend a wooden staircase depressed into the hardened earth and crawl 30 metres through one of these tunnels. This one is much roomier than others to “accommodate the larger size of Western tourists”.
There is enough room to crouch and scuffle on your feet, while the other ‘unenhanced’ ones only allow sufficient space to crawl through by dirtied palms and scraped knee caps. Pitch black. Earth packed all around you. POW! A man from the other side is lurking around the corner. Can you imagine?
While forcing ourselves through this ferret hole perhaps twenty feet under, Flo discovers claustrophobia for the first time. Following in behind, I ask him to turn around so I can snap some pictures.
“Okay, I think I actually need to get out now,” he grimaces between clenched teeth as the flash lights up his face.
“Okay,” I chirp back. The flash goes off again. His face wasn’t so great in the last one.
“Like, now.” The tone in his voice makes me back the heck up. We get out and beads of sweat have formed on his head.
“Holy cow,” he says. “I’ve never had that feeling before.”
In some parts, the tunnel dips down and comes back up, which, in it’s heyday, would be be filled with water, much like the ‘trap’ in the plumbing of your bathroom sink that stops sewer gases from seeping into the room. There would be two of these water filled sections set a few metres apart, and a gas bomb would be set off in the space of tunnel between the two. On either side of the water traps, the smell and effect of the gas is imperceptible. So when a soldier crawled through the tunnel and came upon this dip into water, he swam through to the other side and was welcomed with a faceful of gas. The brutality of humanity!
Back on normal ground, we ogle the display of booby traps used in the war. The Tiger Trap features bamboo spikes four feet tall, set below ground and hidden by a swinging door disguised as grass. The other traps they used are similar manifestations of deadly insidious creativity.
When we’ve made it through this slap in the face of history, it’s back to the bikes. We stop at a village to mow some fruit. We get lost and pull U-turns on the highway. Yet, somehow, our bikes rev up to our hostel in record time. Air-conditioning greets us and invites us to relax in it’s cool clutches.
A little later we wander the Night Market. It takes fifteen minutes for us to lovingly dub it the Crap Market due to the quality and usefulness of it’s products.
“Seriously, who buys this stuff?” we ask.
Tourists buzz around us in swarms.
For dinner, there is a quaint spot in an alley with cheap seafood. The ‘fish in clay pot’ is one of the best meals I’ve tasted on my trip thus far.
Pulling the last fish bone from my teeth, a man comes over and starts kneading my back. I’d seen him massaging other customers in the restaurant, thinking, A complimentary masseuse! Even wine doesn’t pair that well with seafood. I let him continue, and quickly realize that nothing is ‘complimentary’ here. Silly me. A little monetary compensation encourages him to buzz off.
Earlier, we’d noticed an acoustic bar under the clever guise of Acoustic Bar. We walk in. It’s dark and hip and there is nothing to prove that we are not somewhere in Canada right now, maybe even Vancouver. It’s packed, half with locals and half with tourists. It must be starred in the Lonely Planet guide, and apart from the Western-priced drinks, it is clear why. The performances are top-notch.
A young butch girl belts out Tina Turner and a middle aged chubster has more funk than his scratchy voice can contain. Our moves are spilling out all over the dance floor but somehow we clean up compared to the foot tappers around us.
At the end, our calloused feet are too tired to walk us home and so we hop in a cab.
The alarm is set early for our date with the highway tomorrow. We fall back on our pillows, snores rising and falling to a faint, funky beat… ZZ zz zz ZZZZ zz ZZ zz ZZ zzzZZZzzzZZzzzzZZZzz…