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  • Writer's pictureKristin

Vietnam | Cu Chi Tunnels & Mekong Delta

Updated: Mar 24, 2021

Cu Chi Tunnels

January 14, 2010

During our second day in Ho Chi Minh City, we took a tour out to the Cu Chi tunnels. This was the area used during the Vietnam war by the Viet Cong fighters (who were locals and allies with the North) to hide from the US and Southern Vietnam forces. The trip was a real eye-opener and made us realize how difficult the fighting must have been in this area for foreign forces. The village people would know every hidden area of the forest and they built an extensive tunnel system (about 140 miles long) in order to hide. By the end of the war, there were three levels of the tunnels so that if one level was flooded or invaded they could escape to a lower level. The lowest level actually led to the Saigon River, so they could swim out if needed.

At the Cu Chi tunnels there were several displays of the different guerilla war tactics that the Viet Cong used. They showed us several of the different traps that if an enemy soldier stepped on them, they would fall through and often get protruded with the spikes that were on the other side. The spikes would also be covered with venom or sometimes even feces so that the soldiers would get poisoned or gangrene and die a slow death. They were really brutal tactics.

They also had tunnels for tourists to walk through. The entrances to the tunnels were basically just holes in the ground that could be disguised by plants covering them. However, the tunnels that we were able to walk through where tunnels that were 'Americanized' for tourists and made bigger -- however, even with them being bigger it is hard to imagine that people would just be living in these small spaces for days. Once inside it was very sticky and hot and we were only able to go the 20 meter distance before having to exit. During these times though the Viet Cong would create air holes disguised as ant hills and would have the smoke pipes from the stoves be 3000 meters away so that the US forces wouldn't be able able to find their forces.

Transportation by Local Bus

After returning from the tunnels we took the city bus from the Ben Trang station to the Ben Mien Bus station on the other side of town. It was basically just us and all locals on the bus and they probably thought we were crazy for taking this transportation, but we love doing it because it gives you the "real experience." We arrived at the bus station in good time as we only had 45 minutes until the bus left for Ben Tre and we bought our ticket for the 2 hour bus ride for 35,000 VD or about $2!! We grabbed a couple of spring rolls and bread loaves for the journey and boarded our non-air conditioned "chicken bus", as Alex calls it and headed off.

The bus ride was interesting and we saw some unique things along the way including a family of four all on one motor bike and rest areas along the highway that have hammocks hanging up for tourists to stop and rest. One interesting observation was that all the adults wear bike helmets, but most of the children do not....??

Ben Tre - Hotel Search

We arrived in Ben Tre and started walking to the street where the three hotels in our book were located. However, we didn't have a map so we had to stop and ask several people along the way to see where the street was located. However, you could tell that this area doesn't see many tourists as we were constantly greeted with shouts of "hello" from children and other Vietnamese. We stopped to ask one lady who spoke good English for directions and she invited us into her shop and gave us some tea while she asked her husband for directions. All the people seemed really friendly. However, when we got to the three hotels they were all full for the night so we had to continue walking to find a place.

We stopped at two other places, in which you could tell they didn't get many tourists because they couldn't speak much English, and finally stumbled into a place where there were keys hanging up on the wall behind the entrance. We had a little trouble communicating with the guy, but eventually he took us upstairs to show us a room and we were able to figure out that the cost would be 140,000 VD (about $8) for the room, so we took it! However, during our walk to the hotel we could tell that there was not much to do in the area, so we decided to take the bus to Can Tho the next day, which is a bigger hub within the Mekong Delta.

Friday, Jan. 15 - Making Our Way to the Mekong Delta

We woke up and went to the market that was near our hotel. There was everything on this street, including people selling live chickens for people to be able to prepare for their dinner that evening. We stopped and picked up some mini-bananas and the sticky rice wrapped within a bamboo leave for our breakfast and then headed to the bus station to catch the bus to Can Tho.

We arrived at the bus station around 9:45 and found out that there are only three buses to Can Tho - 8:30, 1:30 and 2:30 - so we'd have to sit around and wait for the 1:30 bus. However, as we were waiting we ran into a couple of other backpackers who were also headed to the same area of the Mekong Delta as us. Two of the people we met were from Colorado - Sara and Michal - so we spent the time waiting for the bus by chatting with them and having a couple of beers at the little food shop near the bus station. We boarded our second "chicken bus" within two days and headed out. Sara and Michal were headed to a different area of the Mekong Delta - Vinh Long - and invited us to come along because we had similar plans of what we wanted to do there. We agreed and were able to shorten our bus trip by 2 hours -- getting off with them there turned out to be the best decision so far in our trip.

Vinh Long

We were able to find a hostel relatively quickly once we got off the bus in Vinh Long, and it was located right next to the riverfront so we had a great view from our rooms of the activity going on below.

We headed out for dinner and stopped at a cafe on the river, but found out that they only served drinks. The girls ordered coffee and the guys got some beers. However, the coffee was the most unique coffee, but it was super good. In Vietnam they actually bring the coffee out to you with a filter at the top of the glass so that it filters freshly right before your eyes. Also, instead of milk, they used condensed milk, which actually makes the coffee taste quite good! (Although, it's probably not that healthy for you...ha ha!)

Cheap Draft Beer

After our drinks we continued to look for dinner and ended up finding a street vendor selling spring rolls and a salad-like dish, which we all got for super cheap. Michal had advised us that we could get super cheap draft beer, so we had our hostel lady if she knew of any places and she wrote down one for us and we went out searching for it. We finally found it after an extensive search and showing several people our paper and them pointing to us, but it was worth the search because we got a stein of beer for 10,000 VD (about $.60), which is cheaper than some water bottles we find!

Mekong Delta

Saturday & Sunday, Jan. 16 & 17

We started out early on Saturday morning at 7 a.m. on our Mekong Delta tour. We had hired an individual boat guide, Nam, to take the four of us around the Mekong Delta and to do a homestay that evening.

Cai Be Floating Market

We first took an hour boat ride through the Delta to the Cai Be market, which is a floating market. Once we arrived at the markets we saw all sorts of boats sitting in the harbor area just waiting for buyers to come to their boat. Each boat would advertise what product it was selling by attaching their produce item, etc. at the top of a pole. We ended up stopping at one of the boats selling pineapple and ordered a couple from them. We found out that the family had traveled from 10 hours down the river in order to bring their produce to this market. Most people would buy the product in bulk and then go to the town markets to re-sell it.

As we were purchasing the pineapple, another lady in a small boat pulled up with the drinks. So we ordered iced coffee from her to complement our pineapple treat. It was really a cool experience to complete a transaction from boat-to-boat!

Local Businesses & Bike Ride Along the Mekong

Next we stopped at a family-ran operation that made rice paper, candy and coconut candy. The processes they used to mass produce their product were so simple and old, but they were still super efficient at making and selling their product. Before lunch we docked our boat and went for a bike ride around the island. The bike ride was rough across the dirt roads and the bikes were a little worn and not mechanically sound, but the bike ride was amazing nonetheless. We would ride past people's houses and see them engaging in their everyday activities. Most of the houses were pretty bare and you could see inside them because they were not closed from all angles. The houses were bare and you could tell that these people didn't have much, but they seemed happy and the children would yell out "hello" as we passed by on our bikes and go about happily playing. For lunch we had a traditional Mekong Delta meal, including elephant ear fish, spring rolls, soup and a few other things that tasted great.

In the afternoon, we stopped at bonsai garden and brick factory to see them making the bricks by hand, which some are exported to Europe, and it was all interesting to see. We were also able to try some of the fruit that is from the area that we don't see much of back at home. However, one of the highlights of the afternoon was taking a row boat ride down the delta with our traditional Vietnamese rice hats to keep the sun off of us!

Family Homestay

Late in the afternoon, Nam took us to his home and introduced us to his family and showed us where we'd be spending the night. Nam had two sisters, his mother and father, as well as his own wife and 2-year old son living with him. In order to get to his house we had to get off the larger boat at the end of the canal and take a row boat in further.

His house was located right on the edge of the canal and it was simple. Out on the porch they had a couple of hammocks and his sister, who is a tailor, kept her foot-pumping Singer sewing machine out there. Immediately inside there was a sitting room where the chairs and TV were along with space so that the sister could pull out her bed to sleep at night. Through the next doorway was another room where there were two beds for guests and behind that area was another sleeping area for his son to sleep. Through the next door was the kitchen and then attached to that was a lean-to where there was space for another bed, sinks and the bathroom. The bathroom was a normal toilet, but they didn't have typical plumbing. In order to flush, you had to take the bucket of water and pour it down so that it would purge the toilet. However, the bathroom was located right next to the water, so we had to wonder how much actually leaks into the water source. Although Nam's family did have a shower head in their bathroom we saw many of his neighbors taking baths in the river and washing their dishes in the river water as well. (Unfortunately, our camera battery died right before the homestay, and of course, there was no way to plug in the battery.)

After we arrived we had some time before dinner, so we went on a walk around the area nearby. Not far from Nam's house we ran into a lady that was selling some drinks and Michal and Alex were looking for beer, so we stopped there. She just had a little shack as a shop, that also looked like it served as her home because there was a wooden bed frame in the corner. She kept showing us the various items that she sells and while the guys were having a beer she talked me into trying a new drink by bringing out a can of condensed milk, ice, peanuts and a fruit preserve and motioning that the ingredients would all be mixed together. Although I was a little hesitant to try, it actually tasted really good and was almost like a peanut sundae in melted ice cream. Her and some of the other locals that were hanging around the area tried to communicate with us despite not knowing each other's languages. She eventually got out a piece of paper to write how old she was and we went around the table doing the same. We continue to be amazed with how open and friendly the Vietnamese are, despite all the bad aspects of the war.

For dinner they pulled out a table for us and we ate right next to the canal. The food was great, but we were a little disappointed that his family was not eating with us. Plus, we're sure the extravagant food they served us was not a typical dinner meal for them either. After dinner, as there was not much else to do, we sat outside just enjoying the weather and talked to Nam, trying to learn more about Vietnamese culture and then we headed to bed early - around 9 p.m.

We slept well despite the roosters and dogs starting to bark around 3 a.m. and didn't even need an alarm clock to wake up the next morning because we awoke to the roosters' crows. They served us bread, egg and papaya for breakfast before we loaded our things back in the boat to return to town. The entire homestay was an awesome experience! It was such an eye-opener to see so many people living this way that is about 70+ years behind where we are at home. It makes us appreciate what we have and cool to see that materialistic possessions are not the most important things in their life.

Headed to Muine - Beach Town

For the rest of the day, we boarded the bus to head to our next bus to Muine, a beach town located further north up the coast. We arrived on Sunday night and found a great little hostel located right on the ocean for only $20 per night for one room! Here are just a few photos from early this morning and we're planning on spending the rest of the day enjoying the nice weather and "beach front property."

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