Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sai Gon : The Tunnels and The City

This trip to Saigon almost didn't happen as I was not well since the weekend before, and at first I thought of just flying over to KL and forfeit the other ticket.

Later, after rethinking about it I decided to just go after making sure I got my antibiotics and stuff from the doc. Alas, the fever came and went and came back again over the few days of travel.

Anyhow, I arrived in the Ho Chi Minh City late afternoon, and after clearing Immigration and getting some dongs and exiting, realised that not everyone spoke English (very few actually). I had to ask quite a number of people to find the bus stop, in the end I spotted a fellow Malaysian from the same flight who showed me where it was.

Got onto the bus, which took over an hour to reach city centre due to the evening traffic. And I got my first taste of the infamous Saigon traffic. Lots and lots of motorbikes. Honking, beeping, buzzing, oh boy.

Anyway, a lot of asking later I found my way to Pham Ngu Lao. (Note to self : next time please get a city map). Walked over to Bui Vien Street, which runs almost parallel, and started my quest to find a room since I did not make any booking. Not finding one within my budget, a few blocks down I turned back and realised I missed the Yellow House. So promptly got myself a dorm bed there (why do they always tell you there is one last bed available?) and took a nap first before venturing out for dinner and a walk.

Because I'm cheap I stayed at Yellow House, too tired to go looking for another place that has dorms. I almost missed this place and only saw it the second time I walked down the street.

Okay, so-so place. The dorm room which sleeps 8.

What a happening street!

Day time view of Crazy Buffalo Bar, very near to Yellow House.

I decided then that I should fly out to Da Nang the next evening so I went online and booked myself a ticket on Jetstar Pacific. That leaves me one day to explore the Cu Chi tunnels, the rest of the other listed attractions didn't really interest me.

So early next morning, the bus came to pick us up from various hotels and although Cu Chi is only about 65km away, it took us 2.5 hours! In the words of our tour guide, Chister (with an 'i' instead of an 'e') : "In your country it will probably take an hour, in my country it takes two and a half hours! Welcome to Vietnam!" :)

Along the way he shared quite a lot of interesting information, on how different things were before 1995 when the embargo was lifted. No KFC ("every meal was either noodle soup or spring rolls, I don't want to eat them anymore"); no satellite TV ("only government programmes that's shut down at midnight, that's why we have a big family"); boring clothes ("the girls were dressed in ao dai, day and night, all the same, everyone look the same, now they can wear shorts and singlets, nice, I like!"); using coupons ("coupons for everything, you queue up every two weeks"); controlled education ("I didn't know anything about the world, nothing about Australia, New Zealand etc, where they are, we only learnt about 5 countries, Vietnam, Laos, Cuba, Russia and ?? I don't remember, maybe North Korea).

The standard route for the tour buses to Cu Chi is to stop for a toilet break at this Lacquer Factory. Nice things, too bad I thought they were really pricey and I don't fancy carrying stuff around.

The restroom was right at the very end.

Skilled craftsmen and women, working with very tiny bits of eggshells.

I like this series with the dragonflies - saw the exact same thing in Phuket and in Cambodia.

Nice, nice, nice.

So we reached Cu Chi sometime after 11 am, bought tickets and went into the compound through a wide underground tunnel.

First up, we sat through a video show - made in 1967 or something like that. Chister warned us not to get offended as it's very ... Commie. The audio wasn't so good from where I sat, or maybe I was just not paying attention.

Chister explaining the tunnels - four levels of them and where is what. There's over 200 kms of tunnels in Cu Chi area, and some are as deep as 6-8 metres! Imagine having to stay underground for 20 years in order to survive.

And they only used this 'technology' to dig the tunnels!

Models of booby traps.

This one looks really mean.

Happy Green Man demonstrating how to get in the foxhole.

In you go. Then we were invited to try it out.

Yes, no? In the end, no for me. I might get stuck. (Note : feet are not mine)

Because he has a 'Heineken baby', he could only fit halfway through. Thankfully he didn't get stuck.

One of the entrances to the tunnel network.

I think this is called a spider hole? Which means the tunnel runs like a spider web instead of just straight tunnels.

Chister did not want us to go down this - what he calls the Tourist Tunnel. "You all must go to the local tunnel, okay? Come on guys, you are on holiday!"

So we obliged and walked to the local tunnel and saw this and thought, okay this doesn't look too bad, eh? Only 50 metres long, a 5 minutes crawl. Piece of cake, we thought.

I was the fourth or fifth person to go in - and it was pitch black at first before my eyes adjusted themselves.

Ah, cleverly used the camera flash to light the way. Not bad they had some little lights here and there. But the crawl was excruciating to my knees! Oh my poor knees! Some parts were high enough some parts was just enough to pass through. It was kind of cool inside, wasn't hot at all. The stone walls were cool to the touch.

The guys in front gave us warnings - "turning to the right!" so we would know what to expect. Without the camera flash it was actually very dark in some parts. Halfway through there is an emergency exit if you can't stand it anymore.

A two feet drop - at least I get to stretch my legs here.

Sat there for a while to stretch out my leg muscles.

The guy in front resorted to crawling as he was kind of tall. By this time I was waddling - as in 'jalan itik'. (And you know what this does to your thigh muscles later)

I turned around to give some light to the girl behind me.

Needed some help to get out of the tunnel, the earlier guys were there to help out.

After exiting, we found out that the room below was the Communist Party's Secretary Room. Then the few guys went inside again for a second round. Crazy!

Some old rusted war ammunition.

I chose to take the boat trip back from Cu Chi to the city as it would be faster and there is no traffic jam :). Which was a good decision I thought (pricey though) since I got to sleep and it was a nice breezy day, and we docked near the harbour at Dong Khoi and got to see all the fancy buildings in that area. A shuttle bus dropped us off near Ben Thanh and at Bui Vien.

Here's some more sights around Saigon :

Cho Ben Thanh - the central market. A good landmark if you're exploring the city on foot.

The Notre Dame, which sadly was closed for lunchtime and later I didn't have the time to return.

The City Hall.

The General Post Office, which I liked very much! (why are our post offices so ugly?)

Very...Grand Central-like, no? On a much smaller scale.

Okay for old times' sake - Sheraton Saigon. I thought of dropping by.

Notre Dame seen from the GPO.

Cute candy-coloured Vespas :)

Statue of Uncle Ho in front of the City Hall. Those are cute Korean kids who took time to pose oh-so-happeningly.

The Opera House.

Hotel Continental Saigon - where The Quiet American was shot, starring Michael Caine.
Nearby was Park Hyatt Saigon (fabulous looking building, no pic sadly) where Brangelina stayed when they were in town.

Bill Clinton (yes, he of the Lewinsky fame) was said to have a bowl of pho here. Well, maybe not this actual outlet, but this chain. So that's their claim to fame. And shamelessly putting it on their signboard. Why not, eh?

The landmark for Bui Vien St, at least for me :) Can't miss it at night! And right opposite is the Go2 Bar. Yes, I assume it's for GoGo - packed to the gills on Saturday night. No I didn't drink a drop the whole trip as I was still taking my meds, yeay for that.

Next, onward to Da Nang!


  1. The airport bus stop is right outside the airport - can't miss it! I stayed at the same place too - single room.

  2. And we went to the same lacquer factory too! I suppose all tours to Cu Chi and temple stop there for washroom break lol

  3. So you went to Saigon! I remember the Crazy Buffalo very much, I spent like a few hours sitting in front of it. What a happening area in HCMC. hehe. But I think I like Hanoi more. :-)

  4. Adek Fab - yes I think all the tour buses stop there, otherwise I think not that many tourists will venture out that far from the city.

    JIPP - Crazy Buffalo is one landmark eh :)? For me Hanoi will have to wait for now.