Monday, May 20, 2013

Day Sau

Today was the best day on this trip thus far!  We woke up nice and early to travel about an hour or so up north to the Cu Chi tunnels.  It was beyond incredible, but before I talk about the tunnels themselves, let me say something about the drive up there.  

I fell asleep for a small portion of the ride, but was awake long enough to notice the drastic changes in scenery as we moved from the densely populated, downtown Ho Chi Minh to the rural areas of Vietnam.  We've been here a week now and up to the moment we left city territories it was hard for me to imagine a war being fought here only 30 years ago.  However, the moment we entered rural Vietnam, I was overwhelmed by the similarities to the pictures I've seen from the the Vietnam War.  Essentially we were surrounded by rice paddies and dense forests.  Basically this picture plus color and minus the troops.

When I chose to come on this trip I expected to see these landscapes, but I didn't expect to see gaps in trees where bombs exploded and stuff like that.  Basically I didn't expect it to feel this real.

When we finallly arrived at the Cu Chi tunnels we watched a video that informed us a little about the history of the site.  The film was littered with anti-American propaganda.  Again, I expected to see and hear some of this, but I wasn't prepared for phrases like "traps we once used to hunt animals were now used to hunt Americans."  I cant remember exactly what any of the other especially shocking things were, but it certainly was a little weird to hear these things; the film was kind of informative, but mostly shocking.  

Following the movie, we met our tour guide who showed us a diagram of the tunnels and explained what was done in each area of the tunnel system.  The engineering of these tunnels is truly indredible; it seems like they thought of evey possible scenario and created a solution for the potential problem.  

We started the tour and not even 30 seconds in it was time to enter the first tunnel.  They eased us in to the experience by first showing us a short tunnel with an expanded entrance.  We all went down and were shocked by the tiny spaces.  The tunnels were only a meter high so you literally had to bend in half to travel through the system.  Not only that but it was super hot and very hard to breath (not complaining, just saying).  The second tunnel we went in had the original entrance.  It was so small that when i entered the tunnel my hips and shoulders just fit meaning I'm just about the maximum sized person.  I had read that the tunnels were meant to be just big enough for the Vietnamese shoulders to guarantee few Americans could enter if they found the tunnels but I really didn't think it would be barely side enough for me.  This tunnel was relatively short in length too, as well as the next few tunnels we explored.  Then we came to a tunnel where a disclaimer had to be made before we chose to enter.  We were warned that there would be no chance to exit and that if we don't have the strength to make it through we should sit this one out.  Worried I would miss out on something incredible (which I would have),  I quckly followed the guide into this monstrosity.  It started off like the other tunnels, and of course it was tiny, but we soon started descending deeper and deeper into the ground and slight panic began to strike as my legs were burning from constantly squating and it became increasingly more difficult to breath.  Long story short, I cannot imagine 1. being one of the Vietnamese who lived in the tunnels or 2. being one of the American soldiers who had to enter the tunnels during the war.  After a few more tunnels our tour was over, and we were all filthy and drenched in sweat.

Despite our awful appearance we then visited a Buddhist temple that was near the Cu Chi tunnels.  As we neared the temple you could see inside where a huge bronze statue stood front and center.  I expected this statue to be a Buddha, but when I got inside I realized it was Ho Chi Minh.  It was strange to see a political figure in a religious establishment but I realize that most countries do not have separation of church and state.

Following the temple visit we sat down for lunch at a restaurant right on the Saigon river.  The food was good, but the scenery was incredible.

We headed back to the hotel to rest and relax until dinner time.  That night for dinner a few of us decided we wanted to fend for ourselves and choose a restaurant on our own.  We ended up at a place that served food from Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand so we ordered one dish from 3 of the 5 countries.  Dinner was great.

P.S.  It's so humid right now that there is condensation on the screen of my iPad.

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