At 1:30 PM the monsoon rains came for us and so did our peppy tour guide for the Cu Chi tunnels. The foreigner-filled bus took an hour and a half ride out of Ho Chi Minh and through farmlands, industrial parks, battered neighborhoods with a lot of stray dogs and roadside hammocks, and, of course, a ton of rubber trees, to the heart of Cu Chi, where the famous Vietnam War-time Cu Chi tunnels can be found (and toured, climbed-in-to, and explored). The whole thing was an experience, to say the least.
Stepping off the bus was like going back in time- at least once you look past the gift shop- to a place that no American should feel comfortable in, ever. We watched a video that showed how the tunnels were constructed and what they were used for during the Vietnam War. It gave us background information and taught us that history and truth don’t walk hand-in-hand most times. I couldn’t help but wonder what the Germans, Canadians, and Aussies sitting among us took from the Vietnamese history lesson.
We watched demonstrations of the many weapons and traps used to slice, pierce, puncture, and dice American soldiers. It was unnerving.
Next, our petite Vietnamese guide led us down into the tunnels where hundreds of Viet Cong guerrillas hid from American forces; they would only come out of the disease, vermin, and insect-ridden spaces during the night to collect supplies, bathe, or engage in battle. Forty suffocating, pitch-black, steaming-hot, extremely cramped meters later, our foreign-tourist string of heavily perspiring bodies and thumping hearts was ready to hit the road.
We did find a restaurant called Santa Cafe near our hostel with about 300 items on the menu, though. The boys got pizza and us girls stuck to the Vietnamese meat-vegetable-rice-and-something-funky variations we are beginning to get used to.
Today we found our place in Ho Chi Minh. After spending two nights in the upscale part of town, where large backpacks, dirty flip-flops, and newly purchased genie pants receive many sideways glances and a few cold shoulders, we wandered our way over to Pham Ngu Lao street. How could we have missed a place nick-named “backpacker’s town?” Five weary travelers drenched in salty sweat moved at a glacial pace past countless street vendors, chubby, shirtless kids playing and zigzagging among the swarm of motor bikes, and seven or eight Cirlce K’s. Hoards of exotic fruit and too much raw meat later, we turned down alley 373 toward backpacker home-sweet-hostel. Ceiling fans, complimentary bananas and green tea served by friendly women, fellow travelers from across the globe, dormitory-style rooms, six flights of stairs, and a book exchange- this was it.
Photo credit: Brian Horne
Annie and I took directly opposite routes around the world. Monday morning we both flew out of JFK airport. Annie headed east over the Atlantic, hopping on a connection in Dubai while my plane took a path to the west flying up over Alaska.
Maybe you could say we hugged the world, simultaneously flying in opposite directions.
My flights were easy. The thirteen hours passed by steadily with much credit given to Dramamine and the Haagan-Dazs ice cream served by United.
I sat next to two kind Japanese women, a mother and daughter. They didn’t speak any English but we exchanged multiple smiles and they offered me a banana.
Currently it is somewhere between 4am and 7 am on Tuesday morning. The hotel curtains are successfully holding back any light trying to sneak into the room. A small strip of purple light shines through where the curtains fail to touch. A moment ago I heard the playful beep of a horn below which seems like the start of Wednesday in Ho Chi Minh city rolling in.
– written this morning