Ho Chi Minh City: Our Last Stop in Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, is Vietnam’s largest city and the culture center of southern Vietnam. The city sports towering buildings, large markets, and many upscale bars and restaurants. It prides itself on being much more laid back than Hanoi in northern Vietnam. Chika and I both have friends living in Ho Chi Minh City, so we were excited to finally arrive to visit familiar people.
Both of our friends, Chika’s friend Seth and my friend Lindsay, teach English in Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam, along with South Korea, and Taiwan, is a very popular city for teaching English. Depending on the school, it requires anything from just being a native English speaker to having a bachelor degree in education. Both seem to be enjoying living in Vietnam. We stayed with Seth for two nights who lives on the outskirts of town in a large apartment building; we stayed with Lindsay for one night who lives in a house with several roommates in the center of the city. It was great to stay with someone familiar and to get a taste of their lives here. Chika knows Seth through Americorps, a large volunteer organization based in the US. I know Lindsay through my brother, Chad, and his wife Kendra, who met her in Monroe, Wisconsin. I met Lindsay at her going away part just after I had returned from South America; she was on her way to traveling in South and Central America. I then saw her again before I went to Nicaragua, and she gave me great advice on Central America. And this third time, we were both in the same place at the same time. Funny how things work out.
We spent just three days in Ho Chi Minh City, so we just had time to do the main touristy things.
Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi Tunnels are the main tourist attraction for anyone traveling through HCMC. The Cu Chi tunnels, located about 2 hours outside of HCMC, give a glimpse of the community that built their village underground during the Vietnam War. We signed up through Sinh Tours to do a half-day trip ($5 for the guide and $5 for the entrance to the tunnels). We left at about 8:30am and returned at 2pm. As you can imagine, the 2 hour transport time each way meant that we had limited time at the actual tunnels. Our guide was pretty good, but the amount of people at the site was crazy. It consisted of almost constantly dodging other people and tour groups and trying to keep in distance of the tour guide to actually be able to hear.
The tunnels themselves are pretty cool to see. We had the chance to crawl through a very of them. The point of the tunnels was to protect the townspeople from American air raids. Some of the tunnels we saw go underground as much as 30 feet (10 meters). As you’d expect, the tunnels just big enough for a person are very humid and hot. I had trouble crawling through some of the small tunnels. Others are very small. The tour guide showed us the entry-way for one tunnel and took 2 volunteers. Chika volunteered and went down into the smallest one. While down there, she squeezed her way through and saw plenty of bats in the small space.
What was a bit bothersome about the tour was how the tour guide was making plenty of jokes, especially when showing the traps that the locals made to injure American soldiers. They would set up traps where grass would give out and the soldier would fall into several spikes. These types of traps are set up next to each other just to show now; and the guide thought they were pretty funny and loved talking about what they would do to American soldiers. To me, and maybe because I’m American and because it wasn’t so long ago, it wasn’t too funny to be joking about. The end of the tour included a very anti-American movie that was all propaganda.
It was interesting to see the Cu Chi Tunnels, but it wasn’t the best thing to see. The idea of building an underground village so quickly is a brilliant idea to protect from the bombs, and that’s worth seeing. With so many people, the tour was overwhelming. But it was worth seeing once.
War Remnants Museum
The War Remnants Museum is another popular place to revisit the happenings of the war. This particular museum has a lot of information and brutal images taken during the war. Outside the building are several American Army machines, including a chinook, a tank, and a few fighter jets. Inside, there are three full floors of pictures, quotes, firearms, documents of the war. They include the protests of the war from all around the world, pictures of war victims, the effects of the chemical weapons, and documents of communication between countries. The pictures of the victims do not hold anything back. It’ll make even the most cold-hearted person cringe.
Ho Chi Minh City has a much different feel than its rival Hanoi. HCMC’s downtown is filled with upper class restaurants and bars, tall and modern buildings (including the tallest building called the Bitexo Financial Tower), and the people seem to be more into fashion. It’s not like what I had expected, but we still enjoyed what it has to offer and really liked seeing familiar faces.