(From Part 1)
As I wait at the hotel entrance for our next tour, I reviewed yesterday’s events in my mind. I did not know how, probably a mix-up during the money exchange. Dong currency amounts are quite confusing especially when you are used to the scale of hundreds or tens and then suddenly bills are amounting to 50,000s and 100,000s. I may have also lost it during my purchase of a sweet, roadside food, costing me 50,000 Dong (VND), making me bring out all my bills, confused and surprised to be paying such amount for a simple sugar craving.
Nonetheless, it’s my second breakfast in HCM, eating Banh Mi (bread). While my companions are reassuring me that they can lend me some cash, I reassured them back that what was lost was meant for pasalubong (a Philippine practice of bringing something home usually after a travel, or after a day’s work). So maybe it’s better for me now that I won’t be buying some extra stuff, which would mean extra luggage weight and volume (hoho!).
Our itinerary for the day is a visit to the Cu Chi tunnels, a very intricate system of tunnels, air holes, trap doors, and everything else related, used by the local inhabitants to protect their democracy during the Viet Nam War. Guerrilla members used the extensive network of tunnels as routes for communication and transferring supplies, booby traps, launching surprise attacks, producing and recycling ordnance and other needs for war, and resting areas. For more information, just Google Cu Chi, or read Seth Mydans or this Missouri University of Science and Technology presentation (by R.W. Almodovar and J.D. Rogers) or this artcile by T. Krausz.
Our guide, Mr. Binh (I don’t the tour company’s name, but the logo is a lotus flower in bloom), a thin man around 5’4″ and probably in his late 60s, claimed to have participated in the war as part of the government of South Vietnam, which was then supported by the United States, Philippines and other anti-communist allies. While it’s hard to differentiate between his sarcasm, humor, and real life experiences, he proved to be an entertaining guide for the various wonders of Cu Chi. One cannot help but be amazed at the ingenuity, grit and awesomeness of the local people in building, using and preserving the tunnel system during the war.
Aside from visiting the tunnels, you can also purchase some souvenirs, local delicacies, or try shooting war-time guns at the firing range. I’m not a gun user, and I had not enough to purchase some bullets (to try shooting an AK-47 out of curiosity) so I shot pictures instead.
The tour lasts around 3 hours but going to Ben Duoc in Cu Chi district from district 1 in HCM takes around 1 hour or so. By 3 pm, we were back at the hotel to meet our friend’s Vietnamese friend (and now our friend, hehe) for a motorbike tour around the city.
Motorbike is the main transport vehicle in HCM, and if you’re a tourist you can rent one with a half-filled gas tank, for half a day. It costs around 150,000 VND (around 7 USD or 300 PHP) and your passport as collateral. I have no driver’s license, Philippine or International for that matter, but driving a motorcycle (we rented an automatic) around HCM was so much fun and economical (compared to taxi and bus). The four of us only had to rent one motorbike since our Vietnamese friend had one, and can have one passenger; while I drove the other.
Having a local on our side made the trip very much enjoyable. We first visited a temple, a market, ate at food joints recommended by our Vietnamese friend, and Vĩnh Nghiêm Pagoda.
As I have mentioned earlier, the customary law of leaving your footwear behind before entering indoors was personally followed obediently. As I came out the temple however, all I could find were my socks unceremoniously tossed aside, but with no shoe in sight! We asked for the monks (through gestures), the utility workers, the other visitors, and searched everywhere, but no shoe was found. Only the ugly thief’s uglier shoe was left behind, as all the visitors of the temple have left. We had no choice but to buy some slippers for the remainder of the trip, as I did not bring an extra shoe (I pack light). Oh well, I’ll just enjoy the city lights and some beer. It still was a great and fulfilling day!