Thu, 11 Nov 2004
A day back in Ho Chi Minh City // at 23:59
An early start to the day, breakfast was at a little French café across the road from the hotel, of a tiny petite pain and café americain. Back across the road to Happy Tours for the 8 o'clock bus. Omar the tour guide quite a character — English translator in the war — once he found out we were “Aussies” he started spouting forth all his very aussie sayings, all tonally perfect, straight from the 1970s.
Three-quarters of an hour trip out to the tunnels, an interesting mix of history and tourism. Karl, a large German lad had a bit of trouble fitting in some of the places, as did Gemma. Karl was not impressed by Omar's continued use of “Heil Hitler” once he was found to be German.
One interesting aspect was the resident guide/guard at the tunnels. He never spoke a word of English, or smiled, just lead us around very seriously in his military uniform, or quietly gave Omar an instruction. Omar, for all his loud bluster and shiny teeth, quite quickly did precisely what he was told.
Our silent guide demonstrated how the real tunnel covers were concealed, how they were lifted, how the tunnels were entered. Volunteers were called for, one Australian guy just managed to squeeze in, then Jo had a go, the skinny girl fit easily, prompting laughter from the two Vietnamese — although finding the timber cover was heavy and hard to lift.
After the tunnels came the opportunity for some target practice, for $1 a round you can fire pretty much anything you want — a pistol to an M30 or M60 machine gun! Vietnamese “officers” gave quick firearm safety lessons, then stood alongside as tourists in earmuffs blasted away in the general direction of the targets. Of course the Vietnamese who stand there all day, do not wear any hearing protection.
Back in the bus and back to Ho Chi Minh City, some reading showed that the tunnels we were visiting were all built after the war as replicas, demonstrating what real tunnels were like for the tourists!
The afternoon was spent on a tour of Chinatown with “Mr Dalat” and “Mr Hue”, who we'd met this morning on our walk around the block and promised to take a tour with. All smiles and example notes from his “references book this morning — these guys must have enormous supplies of handwritten notes! A little under three hours, I think we were overcharged in the end, probably because we offered dong rather than dollars, still trying to get the hang of how the currencies work. An enjoyable trip though, very relaxing to sit in the cyclo and be ferried around, and to walk around in the temples.
Pre-dinner beers out on the street watching the day-time traffic subside and the evening trade come out. Red-faced ex-patriots sat and talked loudly at the table nearby, a half-drunk dutchman wanted to know what I was writing so I said I was writing that I'd just been asked by a half-drunk dutchman what I was writing.... A burnt-out looking Canadian sat and drank a glass of water, a sweaty fat Australian man sat with his unhappy-looking Viet wife. Cards on the tables warned us to beware of the shoe-shine boys as they would steal our bags and tear our shoes. Two or three came and offered shoe-shine, warnings true or not, we chose not to employ them — especially since we were both wearing sandals!
Dinner upstairs on the second floor of Café 333, up off the street, safe from the booksellers and shoe polishers! Yet again, great food, and yet again we ran into some of the other travellers from the tunnel trip.