April 10, 2012

Rumors of War: Cu Chi tunnels and Mekong Delta, Vietnam Part 2

We started our morning going to the Mekong Delta for a tour. It was about a two hour drive south of Ho Chi Minh. As you get out of the city into the provinces, the scenery begins to look similar to other South East Asian countries we have seen: a hodgepodge of little houses made of various materials , dirt roads, small shops lining the streets, and people of all ages going about their daily activities.

On our way we stopped at a Pagoda of a Happy Buddha. We learned that a temple is where you go worship/pray to your ancestors and a pagoda is where you pray to Buddha. This complex was brightly colored and had plenty of gardens to enjoy. Lady Hiva and several others in the group bought traditional rice patty hats…great for the hot day ahead.

Note to self: no shorts and no cleavage...

Once at the Mekong Delta we boarded a small boat that took us to Turtle island—one of the four large islands inhabited in the Delta. Turtle Island is open to tourists to come and see how Coconut Candy is produced as well has other Vietnamese products like Coconut crackers. (it is fun to see those in the stores now and know how it all works. The part that amazed me the most is how FAST the women fold the candy. It only took a matter of seconds to wrap each piece. I stood there for a few minutes mesmerized by the process.

Collecting Coconut juice to make candy

She was SO Fast

The Finished Product

Coconut crackers. Now we know where the design comes from

Drying the crackers in the sun
 After the candy shop we walked through the jungle to the dirt road that runs through the village. They put us in carts pulled by thin and frail looking horses and we were taken through the village on a quick “tour” then stopped to walk through another part of the jungle to a traditional tea house. At the tea house we were able to eat fresh fruit and they had a boa that you could hold. I offered to take all the photos because holding snakes is NOT high on my priority list!

From there we joined small canal boats propelled by local women. As we paddled down the finger canals of the Mekong I could not help but think how scary it must have been to have a war here. Both side of the canal are flanked by tall bamboo and thick palms. We were out in the open with no cover—no wonder the guerrilla warfare was so successful. A very chilling thought. Thankfully we were traveling down the area in mid day so there was plenty to see.

The boat dropped us off at the mouth of the Delta to meet our boat that dropped us off. Our boat was not there yet, but the women were in a hurry to get us off their canal boats so they could go back and pick up more guests (more money) we were herded onto a 5x5 wooden raft floating alone in the water. As more and more people were squished onto it, the raft started to sink into the brown murky water…YIKES!!  HURRY UP BOAT!! MAYDAY MAYDAY…the raft is going down! Luckily when the boat finally arrived, the driver had prepared fresh coconuts for us all to drink—he had redeemed himself!

All of us crowded on the raft waiting for our boat to come

Lunch anyone?? I am glad I was eating vegetarian the whole trip
This is what I ate--carrots and tofu
Lady Hiva and a few of the group went to the Cu Chi Tunnels (pronounced Choo Chee). These are located just north of Ho Chi Minh and were another place Americans fought with the Vietnamese during the Vietnam war (Or American war as they call it in Ho Chi Minh). For years the local guerrillas used the thick jungle and familiarity with the land to their advantage. Over 250 kilometers of tunnels were built and local people lived in them for the years of the war. We watched a video that had been produced in 1970s and it was interesting to see the “other side of the story.” History is truly in the hands of the author’s perspective. In typical good guy versus bad guy fashion the video we watched how Americans were presented as evil and how people that killed them were heroes. As we toured the tunnels and saw examples of how the guerrilla warfare used simple but brutal tactics in warfare again the realities of what people—on both sides—went through in that war and why it was such a horrifying experience. All the tactics used were designed for surprise of the victim, one minute you are walking, another you are dead. It would make even the most calm people a nervous wreck with suspicion and apprehension. I do not think that I will hear about the Vietnam war without having some of the heavy feelings come back from these two visits. It is one thing to hear stories, it is quite another to go and visit the places these stories took place.

Maps of the tunnels and the video

Crater left from a bomb

Entrance to the tunnels. made small so foreigners could not fit

He fit!

He didn't

I fit!

So did she...so at least some of us could have!
Trap in the woods

What you meet when you fall in--they said they would also coat it with cobra venom

Tunnel air hole disguised as a termite hill

More traps to fall into

Opening un-exploded American bombs to make guerrilla weapons

Entering the tunnels

Claustrophobia! I had to get out as soon as I had the chance

Once back to Ho Chi Minh we arranged for “Cyclos” to pick us up at the hotel to take us to the water puppet show. Every country in Asia seems to have a version of the cyclo—Bangkok they were tuktuks with a covered bench attached to the back of the driver, Philippines has tricycles with a small cab welded to the side of the bicycle, Cambodia the bicycle had a small wagon attached at the back, and here in Vietnam the seat is in the front with the peddler in the back. We had to have one for each person in the group because, as the tour guide politely told us, “little Vietnamese can fit too, but for foreigners you maybe need only one person to fit.” Did he just call us FAT?? Haha

The water puppet show. The puppeteers are behind the green screen

The puppeteers at the finale

I wanted a photo but the thing was hollow and I almost tipped it over! YIKES

The water puppet show was so unique. There were 15 short stories told in Vietnamese, but the puppeteers played the parts so well you could see the different personalities of the puppets come to life. It was such a cute show. One we were glad we experienced.

Of course the nights in Ho Chi Minh were taken up with shopping. There were several more night markets to experience. Ranging from indoor and outdoor…from the street to a sterile looking white walled mall…from fruit to clothes, you could find it ALL! Including Vietnamese lacquerware  that they sold everywhere. We had gone to a factory to see how it is made and again we were amazed at how artistic they are.
The Rex Hotel where the Americans used to go to the bar and drink during the war time

The tacky Asian souvenir shop that we finally found plates from Vietnam

Inlaying oyster shells to make the design on lacquer plates

Look at the details...

PHEW!! What a great trip! So much fun, many laughs, delicious food, way too many photos…and great company.


  1. I'm a little disturbed by the warfare part. Yikes. And even if I could fit in the tunnel... claustrophobia!
    The water looks disgusting...
    The puppet show was really unique.
    I'm enjoying your touring posts.

  2. How fun, I just love your blog! Part of me is jealous of everywhere you've been & everything you've done, but the other part knows I'm not nearly adventurous enough for it! Especially when it comes to food. I'd probably starve, lol.