Here’s what I learnt today: You can’t take a picture of a pitch-black tunnel.
But before we got to tunnels, there were other things. We’ve been having absolutely fabulous food on the trip, far better than we get at home. The quality and variety have just been amazing, and the kids have even been eating much more than just rice. But last night the boys really wanted pizza – so we went to a local, but Western influenced, cafe and had pizza and ice-cream for dinner. Smiles all round.
This morning we drove out of Ho Chi Minh City and into the surrounding countryside. The farms here are much larger than up North and the area we rode around was dominated by forest and rubber plantations. Our guide says the different size is because there are fewer people in this area and so when the Government, which retains ownership of all land, distributes the plots each person gets more. But it’s obvious that each person in that area is also richer with some very big houses with massive iron gates, so there appears to be another dynamic going on as well – dachas for the ruling class perhaps. Having come South the weather has jumped up ten degrees and riding through the shade of the rubber plantations was gloriously cool and calm.
Our destination was the Cu Chi Tunnels – an amazing tunnel complex used by the Viet Cong during the War. When I’d heard about this in the past I’d assumed it ran for a few thousand meters; in fact the complex runs for 200 kilometres and was filled with rooms, kitchens, hospitals and so on. The tunnels are narrow and claustrophobic even in their current incarnation, which has seen them marginally widened to allow for tourist traffic. Originally they were made very tight so Americans would have problems fitting through spaces that were accessible to the smaller, leaner Vietnamese. We crawled through a variety of pitch black spaces which were made even more exciting by the bats flitting about. There were a couple of points which were dark and tight and airless enough to give a real sense of what it must have been like down there during the War.
Lunch was on a pontoon by the river and, after the tunnels, the fresh air was invigorating. River boats passed us by. Like all the other boats we’ve seen, they are made entirely of wood and have eyes painted at the front to ward off evil spirits. Then after lunch we drove down still further South to the Mekong River which is where we’re spending the night in a small hotel.