Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ho Chi Minh City: Outskirts and Side Trip

Ho Chi Minh (HCM) City is formerly known as Saigon. It is located in the southeastern region of Vietnam, the largest city and the central business district of the country, a city rich in culture and history. It is the bagpackers haven and home of the hundreds motorbikes and busy streets.
Before I go through with my city tour, let me show you first what I've done on my first day. Although I arrived late in the evening and with lack of sleep, I was able to wake-up early as I am excited with my HCM outskirts tour. I decided to have this tour on my early stay as I plan to go to Da Lat the following day and back to Ho Chi Minh on my last day for the city tour. I was torn between Mekong Delta Tour and Cao Dai - Cu Chi Tunnels but chose the latter because I remember, my grandfather has been part of the Vietnam war history. He was then with the American troops who fought during the Second Indochina War and atleast to internalize how they lived during the war.

A week before my trip, I started sending emails to the tour operators in Ho Chi Minh and Da Lat, to compare and get a reasonable price for the tour. I ended up transacting with Delta Adventure Tour because they offer good price (without making any down payment) and it is strategically located near my hostel.
Prior to my tour, I had Banh Mi and Vietnamese Ice Coffee for my breakfast, just in front of Delta Adventure business office while waiting for the tour bus. The tour bus arrived at exactly 08:30 in the morning, with Binh as our tour guide, a half-Filipino, half-Vietnamese in late 50's.
First, we headed to Cao Dai Temple in the town of Tay Ninh. It is approximately 100 kilometers away from Ho Chi Minh City, about 3 hours drive. A colorful temple in pastel colors strike my eyes when we arrived.
Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh, Southern Vietnam
We were just on time for the daily worship wherein we were greeted by the devotees upon our arrival. According to Binh, the temple structures represent major religions such as Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism etc.

 During the ceremony, the worshipers line up according to their spiritual level and designation
Cao Dai Temple interior

It was past half noon when we left for Cu Chi district, second part of the tour. We arrived around 3 o'clock in the afternoon thus weather is still humid.
Cu Chi Tunnel is a connecting underground tunnel constructed by Viet Cong soldiers during the Vietnam war as hiding post. I was amazed how it was built, the idea from guerillas to build an underground city, complete with armory, hospital, kitchen and quarters and even traps.
Before the walkthrough, a video presentation in black and white was played about Vietnam War and how the tunnel was constructed by the Viet Cong soldiers.

Map and tunnel structure of Cu Chi tunnel


With the Viet Cong soldiers

Entrance of the tunnel
Underground traps

The underground tunnel
 Last part of the tour was a challenge, we were asked by Binh to walk and crawl inside the tunnel, about 500m and feel how the guerillas hardly fought with the American soldiers during the war. It was exhausting as the air is limited and you have to duck walk the entire stretch.

We left Cu Chi district around 5 o' clock and arrived Ho Chi Minh just on time for dinner.

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