Cu Chi Coup!

Trip Start Jul 27, 2003
Trip End Jul 26, 2004

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Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Wednesday 5th May
We moved on to Saigon today. Now Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in 1975 but you wouldn't really know it as everyone still calls it Saigon. I will call it Saigon cause every one else does and writing Ho Chi Minh City all the time takes ages! The bus to Saigon was uneventful getting into this big city at 1.30pm. Although Hanoi is the capital Saigon is almost twce its size. We found our way to the main guest house area and got ourselves a room in one of a million guest ouses. We had a bit of a lazy afternoon just checking out the local area. It is really hot and humid here so we ate frozen yoghurts in our room and watched cable for a few hours before heading out for a wonderful curry on our street.

Thursday 6th May.
We were up early for a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels. They are 60km from Saigon so took a coupe of hours to get there in the mad traffic. We arrived in the village of Cu Chi and watched a short video about the Vietnam War and how the Cu Chi people survived by living underground in a vast network of tunnels that stretched to the Cambodian border. There is 200km of tunnels and this was Vietnams main weapon to stop American troops. We headed into the trees to an American tank that was destroyed by a mine. We found we were standing in the middle of a network of tunnels and hatches.

We got to go into one of the hidden hatches and hide in the cramped conditions underground. We saw where the Cu Chi people lived and cooked and how they disguised where they entered and exited and how they got rid of the smoke from the underground fires. We then got to see their traps. They were all made from bamboo and left pretty horrific results. Even if a tunnel was found the chances of getting in without being punctured by a sharpened shard of bamboo was slim. They used to find unexploded bombs that fell from planes and cut them open (sometimes they would explode while being cut open!) they would use the gunpowder inside to make small bombs. It was an amazing set up.

We then went to a firing range where you could buy bullets for AK47s and M16s at $1 a bullet. It looked fairly profitable. We then had the option of waking back to the bus overland or through the tunnels. It was a short hundred metres but quite claustrophobic as you couldn't stand up. We got back to the bus and had some green tea and semolina root before making our way back to Saigon.

We had lunch in a cafe and then caught a Pedalo ride to Dong Khoi which is the main shopping area. We had a wander round the shops and a pepsi by a fountain before making our way back to our guest house. We watched a bit of TV and then headed back to local Bia Hoi for some street food and a couple of Bias!

Friday 7th May
We decided to blitz the rest of Saigon today and then head off South to the Mekong Delta tomorrow. We decided to get a Pedalo and driver for four hours so we could get round town. Our first stop was the War Remnants Museum recently renamed from the Americans War Crimes Museum! It was quite an horrific display of weapons and pictures showing the results of chemical weapons such as Agent Orange and Napalm. There were pictures of children still being born today deformed because of their parents exposure to Agent Orange all those years ago. There are examples of nail bombs and frag bombs and again pictures of victims. We wandered round some of the planes, tank and helicopters left over from the war. 3 million Vietnamese were killed during the war and 4 million injured. We headed back to our Pedalos and were cycled round Saigon taking in a huge Pagoda and the Notre Dame cathedral which is a miniature of the French version.

By 1pm we were pretty much done so we got dropped back at our guest house and had a lazy lunch. We then went to our room with some frozen yoghurts to watch TV and escape the heat. We watched Wolf on the movie channel and then headed out to sort our trip out to the Mekong Delta further south tomorrow. You could enter Cambodia either by road from Saigon or by boat going up the Mekong River. We decided to go by boat as it meant we could do a trip round the islands of the Mekong Delta which is where the Mekong splits into nine rivers before it reaches the South China Sea and it also meant we would get to see this end of the Mekong 1,500 km from where we travelled down it for 2 days when we entered Laos.

We sorted out our travel for the next couple of days. We then headed to an amazing Italian restaurant. It is always a gamble ordering Western foods in these parts as you really dont know what you are going to get. This place was called Mimosa and had seafood lasagne on the menu and it was well worth the risk - it was delicious. We had an early start tomorrow so we got a couple more frozen yoghurts and went to bed.

Saturday 8th May
We gt to the tour office at 6.45am to catch our bus to Can Tho. We were with Emma an English girl, Amer, a Sudanese Egyptian from Canada and Agnes a Polish Canadian! When we arrived at Can Tho we boarded a boat to take us out to some of the islands. Our first stop was a coconut plantation. The whole island produced food and goods purely from coconuts. They were making cocnut candy and 3 women were wrapping and packaging them and making $2 a day for wrappng 5,000 sweets. We bought a packet of 60 gor $1. They also make washing detergent from the flakes. The wood from the trunks hey floated in the water for months to make it hard and then built houses or carved them up into kitchen utensils, musical instruments, bowls and chopsticks. We drank some rice wine which is horrid, and hot to taste the different types of sweets, which were lovely.

We reboarded the boat and made our way to the next island which was an orchard growing lots of fruits and making honey. We had a lovely lunch here and drank honey tea which was a vast improvement on the rice wine! We also got to taste all the fruits in the orchard liek dragon fruit, lychees, pineapple and pomellos. Fortunately for me there were no Durians in this Orchard as it is a fruit I have grown to hate more than anything else and can smell them a mile away.

We then set off and sailed passed some islands before making our way back to the mainland where we caught the bus to Chao Doc. The bus journey took 4 hours and it was early evening when we got to our guest house. We had dinner with Emma, Agnes and Amer and then took a walk out to see Chao Doc. As this is our last night in Vietnam we bought some frozen yoghurts from a little convenience store and ate them while walking around. There isn't much to see in Chao Doc and by 9pm we were back at the hotel ready for an early night after a long day.

Sunday 9th May
We had an early start today boarding our boat at 6.30 that would take us to Cambodia but first Cham village. The Cham village was an Islamic minority vilage that earned an income from weaving. We watched some of the women weaving silk which looked just beautiful. I got talking to a gorgeous little boy who showed me round his village. He couldn't have been more than 5 years old and he explained that he needed pens for school. I dug around in my day sack and found a pen to give him. He smiled a huge smile and ran off. We left the weaving village and when to visit the local mosque where the Cham people worship 5 times a day. You could climb onto the roof and got a good view of the Cham village life and the Mekong. We soon headed off and made our way back to the boat through the weaving village. When I got back on the boat Simon came upto me and gave me my pen. I asked him how he had got it and he explained that a gorgeous little boy had asked him if he could buy the pen as he couldn't write yet anyway! Fortunately he got a good price!

We reboarded our boat and made the two hour boat journey up the Mekong to Cambodia. We got to Vietnam immigration where we had an hour for lunch. Our passports were being stamped while we had beef noodle soup. We sat in the waiting area after lunch waiting for a new boat to take us to the Cambodia side. We had plenty of entertainment from the local children who are all selling something trying to get you to part with the last of your Dong. Although as one 7 year old pointed out to me they also accepted Cambodian Riel and US Dollars too! The children are gorgeous and work hard at selling their fruit, waffles and crisps but also are equally interested in white people. We played games with them until they completely fogot they were supposed to be selling us stuff. We bought some waffles from a little boy and gave him the rest of our Dong and a Staurburst Lollipop which he gave Simon a big hug for. Our boat soon arrived and we headed down the bank to get onboard. We sat on the roof so we could wave at the children. The little boy with the lollpop followed us waving practically as far as Cambodia!

We were no longer in Vietnam and still 2kms to Cambodia but it only took 5 mins to get there. We got off the boat and headed to the quaint little hut that was passport control. This was the first time in this trip or in fact on any trip where the man in charge of Customs smiled and welcomed us to his country while checking our Visas and paperwork and stamping our passports. He was lovely and a great introduction to Cambodia. We waited for Amer, who being born in Sudan with an Arabic name and the surname Mohammed, always takes twice as long getting through immigration even with a Canadian passport!

We eventually all got through and got back on the boat for another 2 hours towards Phnom Penh the capital of Cambodia. We did the last 45mins by road and arrived in the centre of bustling Phnom Penh just after 5pm. We found a guest ouse and arrange to meet Agnes and Amer in a couple of hours for dinner.

Phnom Penh has a numbering system for its streets which if it were the same as say New York or Washington DC would be a great way to get around excpet the numbers are pretty random and don't run in any order. Occasionally you will get to an intersection of two streets with the same number. What makes it worse are the house numbers are in no apparent order. The long years of the war destroyed the old system and as the city was repopulated it seems that people plucked numbers out of the air. We walked from our guest house to street number 111 we were looking for number 30 and the street ran from where we walked 16, 33, 2, 15A, 74, Its not possible to find the number you want without walking the whole street. We eventually found Mamas a nice little cafe where we all got a good feed and had a relaxing evening.
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