May 2nd 2019
The purpose of today’s adventure on our Intrepid tour was more serious than on previous days. Vietnam is incredibly populated (over 97 million people), for its geographical area. On Sunday, August 4, 2019, the United Nations estimated that Vietnamese population is equivalent to 1.26% of the total world population. https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/vietnam-population/
During our 9 days in Vietnam, we have witnessed hard working, serious people who adapt to their situations and environments and have diverse talents. Each day has been a new adventure on our Intrepid group tour.
Today’s agenda was to depart from Da Nang airport and fly to Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon). Our tour of the most populated city in Vietnam (over 8.6 million people according to most sources–although 13 million was also quoted?), was postponed due to plane delays and traffic jams. However, we would be expanding our knowledge about Vietnam/American war history at the War Remnants museum and during the Cu Chi Tunnels tour. This is not my favorite topic…but knowledge brings new understanding.
We departed from our hotel in lovely Hoi An at 5:30 a.m. to drive to Da Nang airport.
I was lucky to gain a window seat as the aerial views during the journey were fascinating and really told a story about the geography, land use, and importance of the mighty rivers between Da Nang (Han River) area
and the (Saigon River) metropolis of Ho Chi Minh city.
The people in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) seemed to have a more entrepreneurial outlook and dressed more western style than Vietnamese locals from the north and central regions. This was evident from the moment we exited the plane at the Ho Chi Minh airport.
Early in our tour we were informed by our tour guide that there are over 45 million scooters/motorcycles in a population of 97 million Vietnamese people. This was clearly evident here!
Foreigners are not permitted to drive in this country. Unlike Thailand and Cambodia, in Vietnam you drive on the right side of the road (like North America)–well at least that’s the plan!
Sidewalks and the opposing traffic lanes are also fair game here. Each day of travelling in the bus was a new experience in terms of eye opening limits. The record for a family transported on one scooter was 10 members! The loads and items we observed being transported, never ceased to entertain and shock me!
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) had a strong French influence in the past and is known for its French colonial landmarks, including Notre-Dame Cathedral, made entirely of materials imported from France, and the 19th-century Central Post Office. Photos of French architecture will be displayed on the next blog post as we saw these buildings on our city tour tomorrow.
Meanwhile… The next stop today was the War Remnants Museum (formerly called the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes). The brutality of war expressed in a new and different point of view with graphic photos and artifacts was deeply disturbing.
After viewing the effects of Agent Orange and meeting survivors, I was too horrified to see further displays. This museum was a strong reminder why we must communicate, compromise, respect one another and avoid war!
This short video mainly shows war vehicles and paraphernalia displayed around the exterior grounds of the museum … I did not wish to share visually disturbing images.
After checking into our new hotel –Hoang Phu Gia Hotel on Bui Thi Xuan St, 7 members of our group were off again to experience more Vietnamese war history and view the Cu Chi Tunnels. I enjoyed the scenery as we drove past rubber tree plantations and different rural landscapes 47 km north west of Ho Chi Minh City.
The Cu Chi Tunnels, are located about 1 and one-half hours away. They are part of a 250 km maze of connecting tunnels and chambers below the city.
These famous tunnels took over 25 years to construct and were started in the late 1940’s. We were informed the tunnel network was utilized successfully by Viet Cong (VC) to control a large rural area during the “American” war.
There are 2 main areas of Cu Chi Tunnels which are open to public viewing–Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc. Our tour guide took us to the Ben Dinh site.
Here is a video of this frightening historical reality.
Introductory maps showing the locations and the layers of tunnels. Some were several stories deep and included living quarters and field hospitals in addition to multiple traps. It’s truly unbelievable to fathom this scary existence forced necessary to survival during these extreme war circumstances.
The Ben Dinh site included: a section which illustrated types of death traps for people; tiny underground hiding holes; an actual 50 m long section of original tunnel; as well as outdoor displays; a gift shop and an area where a man sold sandals made from recycled tires; and an optional activity where you could pay to operate and fire machine guns!
The bursts of fire exploding from this “activity” resonated throughout the wooded trails making this experience feel even more real and unsettling! None of our group chose to partake in this option!
Out of the 7 of us on this tour, no women selected to try fitting into the tiny underground hiding holes or crawling along the actual underground tunnel passages. These tunnels are the original size. The other location at Ben Duoc has enlarged their tunnels for tourist access.
Although the GIF showing the underground hiding area might seem amusing, one man on our tour closed the camouflaged cover over his head longer than others were comfortable with, and required assistance to be pulled out of the tiny opening. What horrifying conditions must have existed to precipitate humans to hide in these holes!
All three men on our tour also selected to crawl through the entire 50m section of actual Chu Chi tunnels. They all entered the tunnel with smiles and waves, but re-emerged moving a bit more slowly!
Imagine living and moving underground this way for extended periods of time!
Today was a day of pushing my comfort zone levels and learning about the atrocities of war. Tomorrow I’m so thrilled to be touring Ho Chi Minh city and exploring the lush Mekong Delta!