Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), formally Saigon, is the largest city in Vietnam, home to nine million people and five million motorbikes which can make crossing the street quite a challenge. There is a huge coffee culture in HCMC with coffee shops on almost every street, the locals congregate at the coffee shops drinking one of the many blends often on ice given even in winter the city can swelter. HCMC is a modern metropolis where you can find anything you want, it has high end shopping for the ultra rich and all the high end fakes for all the “classy” tourists. The food sold on the streets, in the restaurants and the Ban Thang markets was all fantastic, so to were the fruit smoothies and the range of fruit generally available. Staying in District 1 gives you walking access to a number of sights, restaurants and markets.
Given our limited time we did a speed boat trip out to the Cu Chi tunnels rather than battle the traffic on the highway, saving us around two hours. Our guide picked us up from our hotel in a taxi and after picking up another couple we headed down to the river from where we would power up the Saigon River to the Cu Chi Tunnels. It was a scenic ride out of the city, only a few other boats were on the river during our hour long ride but our driver still had to keep a close eye on the water as the surface was almost entirely covered with floating reeds that constantly threatened, and at times did, envelop the prop and stall the engine.
The Cu Chi Tunnels are a 200km network of tunnels located north of HCMC that were used by Viet Kong soldiers against the US forces during the war. The tunnels were used to conceal soldiers, store food and weapons, as living quarters for the soldiers and for communication and supply routes. There were two types of tunnels as named by the US forces, Rabbit Holes and Spider Holes. The Rabbit holes were just small holes that were used to conceal Viet Kong soldiers for stealth attacks, they were not connected to any other holes/tunnels, while the Spider Holes were entrances to the expansive tunnel networks. In addition to these two types there were also many different types of booby traps that were constructed, designed to maim the unsuspecting victims. The tunnels that were used by the soldiers were tiny, they have widened a few tunnels so that tourist can shimmy through them and even they are exceptionally small, living and fighting in the tunnels would have been very difficult to say the least.
The tour guide we had was very informative and had very good English. The tour only takes small groups and included a great lunch. Saigon River tours were a good company to visit the Cu Chi tunnels with and you can find them here although we just booked through our hotel and it was much cheaper than the price advertised on the website.
At the end of the tour we were dropped at the War Remnants museum which largely exhibits the atrocities committed by the US during the Vietnam war. Although it is not reflected in this museum there is plenty of evidence of the horrible things that the Viet Kong and communist government did to its own people, but nothing can justify the terrible things that the US did during their influence and involvement in the war. The US laid thousands of land mines which to this day continue to maim and kill, in an attempt to disrupt supply routes the bordering countries of Laos and especially Cambodia were heavily bombed (more bombs by tonnage were dropped in Cambodia than the US dropped in Japan during WWII), there is evidence of US soldiers killing countless innocent civilians including women and children and a number of different chemical agents were used including Agent Orange which is believed to have directly killed and injured hundreds of thousands of people and lead to birth defects affecting hundreds of thousands of children. Some of the images within the museum are very confronting and it is a very sombre place however a visit here should be included for any visit to HCMC so that you can witness the affects of this US lead war.
From HCMC we then headed north to Hoi An.