Apocalypse Then: Visiting Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)

By the time our bus arrived to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) from Mui Ne we were 2 hours late and rain was pouring. We were surprised at how big the city is, and had no clue about where to get off or where to sleep.

We were lucky. The last stop was about 50m away from the Pham Ngu Lao area where a narrow alley was supposed to have plenty of cheap places where to sleep according to our LP guide. And it was true. A lady spotted us about a block away, asked if we were looking for a place to sleep-afirmative-and walked us to her simple yet clean hotel where we would spend the next two nights. Once more vietnamese cuisine made up for an excellent dinner and we went to sleep early because the following day would be busy.

saigon street

By 8:30 am we had finished breakfast and were on a van that would take us to the Cu Chi war tunnels dug by the Viet Cong over 49 years ago. Over 200 km of tunnels were dug by the North Vietnamese army during the war in Vietnam, and turned out to be a strategic decision in the war turnout.

The tunnels per say are nothing spectacular, but there are a few things that make the visit very much worth the time and entry fee. For starters our obviously pro-communism anti-USA guide did a good job during the pre-visit briefing, explaining many things with quite some detail. Secondly, you will also see traps prepared by the VC during resistance- just remembering them makes me shiver. Third, although the tunnels were not interesting visually, experiencing the claustrophoby and unbearable heat and imagining living in those conditions for months on end makes the thought quite disturbing, something that has to be experienced to fully understand it. And finally, eventhough war movies are quite good at portraying the loud noise weapons make, you cannot really grasp this factg unless you hear them being fired. At the end of the day trip you have the opportunity to fire real bullets (10 USD/ magazine) of several weaponns, beginning with a simple pistol and all the way to an M60, with an AK47 in between. I didn’t shoot, but was right by them when a few tourists did, and was shocked by how loud they are.

vietnam vietcong tunnel

Incredible I'd say.

After the visit to the tunnels we asked to be dropped at the Vietnam War Museum. The gardens have a few tanks, canons, airplanes and similar items on display, but it is the gallery’s inside that is most disturbing. Although it might be true that you do learn from the exhibition, it is also true (and most visitors agree on this) that the photographs shown are cruel and disturbing, many times unnecesarily so, and information given is too anti-US with too much communist propaganda. It is true that wars are never nice, but it is also true that war museums can be much better. So, is it woth a visit? It depends on the visitor, but I would say it is only if used as a reminder of how horrible any war can be; if what you want is accurate and thought provoking information about the war then look elsewhere.

vietnam vietcong war tunnel

Looking back into our almost 3 week trip through Vietnam I can certainly say I am glad I ignored other traveler’s opinions and decided to visit this country. Halong Bay and Sapa are amonth the most beautiful places I have visited in the world, and Vietnamese cuisine is a very fine one that must be enjoyed. And regarding Vietnamese people that so many travellers complain about, nonsense. There are very nice people and unfriendly Vietnamese as well, just like in any other country, but a smile and just a bit of patience will take you very far here, making your trip that much better. So if you have a chance to visit Vietnam don’t miss it, and don’t let the pesty customs agents at the airport put you off right from the beginning: Vietnamese people will make you smile, want it or not.

Have you visited Ho Chi Minh City? Did you like it? Did you go inside any of the war tunnels? What do you think about the Vietnam War Museum? Share your thoughts and please share this post!

[Note: the tunnels tour offered above is not the same one described in this article]

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