After spending five days in and around Hanoi, we flew to Ho Chi Minh City, or as the locals prefer to call it, Saigon. This city is much more modern than Hanoi. From Saigon, we made two trips to some of its very interesting surrounding areas. The first was the Mekong Delta, a huge river landscape characterized by beautiful nature and a lively industry. By boat, we took two days to explore this unique landscape with its endless lines of pile dwellings.
Our trip took us through the rivers of the Delta, and sometimes we stopped to take a break at some of the houses on the riversides. At this point in our holiday I was struck by a bad case of food poisoning by the way (was it the snails in Hanoi??), so these breaks were very welcome :-p The colorful and lively society in the Mekong Delta is very interesting, we saw how they make rice paper and visited little restaurants in backyards in between the chickens, surrounded by water and rice fields. The atmosphere was amazing!
As we passed through the rivers we encountered all these glimpses in the lives of the people from the Mekong Delta. Some were just washing their hair or making dinner, there were shipyards, and all kinds of industry going on. Every half hour or so we passed a floating gasstation, where the boats were lining up to get their gas. It was kind of surreal, this bustling world on the water!
A floating gasstation:The people were really sweet, waving as we passed by, though it felt a bit weird to be taking looks in their lives from our comfortable boat and rich lives… However, the people seemed really happy and that was heartwarming.
The next day, we got up as early as 5:30 to go to the ” floating market”! You guessed it, everything in the Mekong Delta takes place right on top of the water, and so does the market. We really didn’t know where to look, there was so much going on there. Boats filled with pineapples exchanging goods with the melon boat, sand, rice, baskets, anything you can think of. Wow, what an experience to be there while watching the sunrise!!
The girl on our boat cut us some fresh pineapples as breakfast!
After our amazing experience in the Mekong Delta, we did one more daytrip, to Cu Chi. This is where a great deal of the Vietnam War took place since the immense network of underground tunnels in Cu Chi functioned as the base of the Viet Cong. The area is now accessible for tourists though you should not stray from the paths since there are still landmines lying around everywhere. The tunnelnetwork of the Viet Cong was incredible, complete villages were built under the ground. In Cu Chi you can actually go inside these tunnels…
Posing with my new Viet Cong friends…Here Ward is standing in one of the entrances of the tunnels, really small, and completely unnoticeable in the thick jungle when closed.
Yes, we actually entered one of the tunnels and walked, no crawled there for about 150 meters. It was extremely scary because the tunnels are so small you cannot turn around and you cannot stand up. There was an American guy who started to panic but since you cannot turn around he had to go on! To make matters worse, the tunnels sometimes went straight down, deeper and deeper in the ground and getting so small you had to crawl on hand and feet to pass through. Thinking back I’m amazed I didn’t panic. Can you imagine the Viet Cong living there? Or the American soldiers exploring these tunnels? Add to that that the tunnels were riddled with very nasty traps with trapdoors and rusty spikes. A complete nightmare.
After our horrific experience we could blow off some steam by shooting some of the guns used in the Vietnam War! We both shot some real bullets with an M16. I was really astounded by the force you feel when shooting a gun (my first time :p), and the extreme loud bang it produces! We brought extra earplugs but it was still intense.
All the tourist attractions aside, it was extremely impressive to see this place, and to realize that the horrors of the Vietnam War happened not even that long ago, right there.
Next and final post: Saigon’s Secrets!