23rd December – Ho Chi Minh

So, on my first day I got to see the War Remnants museum where it was mostly about the Americans actions towards the Vietnamese.  Today I get to see the Cu Chi Tunnels, where guerillas held off the Americans through an incredible network of underground tunnels.
imageCu Chi is a good hour or so outside of Saigon, and was appealing during the war due to it being between Saigon and the Cambodian border.  Originally a small farming village with a large number or orchards, when the armies moved in, they began digging into the clay underneath them, creating a vast network of tunnels 3 layers and up to 15 metres deep, connecting villages and boltholes in the nearby jungle.  The tunnels themselves are almost a work of art – its almost impossible to imagine someone making them again just due to the sheer scope and intelligence behind the creation, it’s often said no architect could ever intentionally design them.

In the area we were taken, quite a few of the tunnels are still in working order, although most of them you’re not allowed to enter – if for no other reason than only a handful of people can actually enter them – the Cu Chi guerillas were naturally smaller than the Americans, and had little food, so their main defence was the fact that they could create truly tiny entrances.  Much like this one:
imageIt was completely hidden by the leaves – took us a few minutes to actually hunt it down, and when you see it in the ground you’d never believe a person can actually fit down it.imageBut one of the staff demonstrated how it worked, and gave us a chance to try.  Its actually deceptively big (so long as you don’t have long legs and arms) and so long as you can maneuver your hips and shoulders you can slip in.  The strangest part is staring into the dark tunnel it leads down, and how small the tunnel actually is.  Reminds me of when I was a little girl, and we’d all crawl through the tiny circular tunnel under the bridge by the park – you could only crawl, and if you didn’t want to get wet from the water you’d better be under a certain size or get stuck midway.

This area has also excavated quite a few of the first layer ‘rooms’, which were where the non-combatants would often live and guerillas would plan.  Kitchens, sleeping quarters, weapons rooms, all dug up and protected with roofs so people could see what they were like.  The second layer was for getting around (smaller tunnels but so deep they were protected from bombshells) and the third was even smaller tunnels, but so deep non-combatants and guerillas could go here to be safe, and also keep food or get water from the river.  The village basically moved underground, and only came out to fight in the day – while doing ploughing, fishing and other essentials at night.
imageThe next stop was a display of various traps built by the Cu Chi guerillas to kill and maim the enemy soldiers – and boy were they ruthless.  The originally started using traps designed for wild animals – tigers and such – where they’d build a pit, fill it with sharpened bamboo then create a hinged trapdoor to hide it.  From this they ended up developing a variety of different pits – all created to sever arteries and trap whoever got caught.  If they weren’t found before nightfall, anyone inside had little to no chance of getting out.

After this was the shooting range, where you can try out an assortment of weapons the Chu Chi used, including AK-47’s and machine guns.  However, you had to buy at least 10 bullets, and they were between 20,000-40,000 per bullet.  Way out of my price range.  Instead I had lunch, and waited for those who could afford it to finish firing at targets.

Finally, we hit what we’d come for.  Actually going down into one of the the tunnels.  In this area they’ve maintained about 100 metres of tunnel that people can go down, with exits along the way so you can leave if it gets too much.  Since this is also a tourist attraction, this segment has also been widened so people larger than nutrient starved Vietnamese can actually fit.
imageSince we were such a large group, we were warned it could take up to an hour to do the full tunnel, so instead we’d only do about 30 metres.  You might want a torch since it was dark, and if it was too much, there were exits every ten or so metres you could use.  Some people chose not to go, but I merely flicked on my camcorder with its dinky light, and set off.

God only knows what these tunnels were like originally, because I can barely wrap my head around the concept of them being smaller.  I’m an overweight girl, have no shame admitting it, but I’m not particularly tall.  Widthways I had no problem, but I was one of the few people not having trouble with the height of the tunnel (just short enough that I could walk in a crouch relatively easily).  Everyone else, was struggling, having to stop to readjust or figure out where they were going – not made easier by the dark lighting or the head collecting in the tunnels.  And the guerillas pretty much lived in these tunnels – had huge rooms in here too, how on earth did they move around at any speed?  I could have probably made the 100 metres if I’d been on my own quite easily, but after being trapped behind people who were struggling, I was happy to get out.
imageThe last stop before we left was the kitchen – or at least the excavated kitchen next to a working one.  Here we were given a chance to try tapioca.  The guerillas could get very little foot, so they basically survived on this plant – which when cooked tastes very much like a bland, dry potato.  On the plus side, it made them small enough to enter the tunnels, but can’t imagine it was a very enjoyable diet.

It was well worth seeing, and a good counter balance to the American-crime-heavy Remnants Museum.  Also didn’t take all day to see, so got back in the afternoon, and headed up to the first floor for my pushed back foot-massage, performed by Seeing Hands.

This type of foot massage seems very popular in Vietnam.  Its done by men and woman who are vision impaired, if not outright blind.  Been seeing it advertised just about everywhere I go, and pretty interested in how it differs from a normal foot massage.

As it turns out, not all that different.  With the exception of the gentleman not actually looking at my foot, the process was pretty much the same as any other massage.  It certainly wasn’t any better – although that said just being allowed to soak my feet for a few minutes then have them be pampered for half an hour was certainly no chore.

Just afterwards, as I was heading up to the top floor to have a late lunch, who should already be inside but 2 of the Hoi An group.  Also heading upwards.  We reconnect for a bit – discover they did get in yesterday and I must have missed them since I was out most of the night, and say they’ll all be heading out for dinner later, so feel free to join.  Something I’m happy to do, but I have something that needs doing beforehand.

Specifically, my hair.  In Nha Trang the girls at the desk talked me out of it.  Then I washed it, and it became a nightmare.  Again.  Its at that awkward stage where its both too short and too long, and with Cambodia and Thailand still to go, I just don’t have the patience to spend time trying to smooth it down with wax or figure out how to make it look decent with just a comb.  Still have a good month of travelling, so it needs a trim.

Getting that however, takes some doing.  I don’t want to spend a lot of money on it, and a lot of the cheaper places are full.  I’m starting to wonder if I should be looking at barbers instead of hairdressers when I find a joint place who urge me in.  Say the price for a hair cut will be 30,000 – which is a fantastic price and go for it.  I even have photos of what my hair ‘used’ to look like as reference, and seem to convey ‘shorter’ relatively well through bad Vietnamese

…Or at least, thought I did.  Turns out even the Vietnamese hairdressers don’t want to cut my hair.  Every time he said ‘done’ it was still part rug.  Even when I took hair in my hands and showed him what to cut off he would only take about half of it.  After five attempts, and a queue growing behind me, my hair was down to a comfortable-if-not-perfect length, and I agreed he was done.

Here I made my first mistake – although given where I was and that I’d asked the price beforehand I thought I was in the clear, one of his assistants gestured to a bench next to a sink and told me to “sit here please.” I (stupidly) assumed she wanted to wash my hair after the cut so it could be blow dried or something, and since it had been more an order than a question, I didn’t think anything of it.  When she started washing my hair, continued not to have reservations…and then she started washing my face.  She spent about 5 minutes lathering both my hair and face in a weird smelling soap, and I get a heavy feeling in my heart that I’m supposed to pay extra for this.

I’m proven right when she finally lets me up, and I go to pay, only to be told “80,000.”

Hell no.  When I question it, he says 40,000 for haircut, and 40,000 for facial.  To which I argue he’d said 30,000 for the haircut (I’d even repeated it to confirm), and I’d never asked for the facial.  I sure as hell wouldn’t have sat down if they’d said that was what it was.  I’m guessing the extra 10,000 is for all the times he had to go back in – which is bull considering it was his own fault.  Admittedly, were talking about an extra $2 here, but its the principle of the thing.  If I wanted to pay 80,000 for a haircut, I’d have gone to one of the much nicer upmarket joints in the street.

We argue this back and forth for a good few minutes, but the guy can’t hold it up.  The place is full (with mostly English customers), and one person arguing over unwanted services is not something he wants.  Eventually, he says 40,000, which I’m still annoyed about paying, but realise I’m not going to get out of.  And 10,000 really isn’t much in the grand scheme of things.  Once the money’s in his hands, he all but shoves me out the door.

I’m assuming that ‘facial’ thing is something they do to a lot of their tourist customers, assuming they’ll pay rather than make a scene.  Ironically they shot themselves in the foot, since had they actually kept to the price, I’d had every intention of ‘averaging up’ (which is common practice in Vietnam) and leaving them 50,000.  Second they tried to grab more, any chance of that flew out the window.  I admit I was also stupid for lying down before asking why though – should have been more cautious.

Hairdressers getting his revenge though.  The facial had kept my hair in very cold water for quite some time, and even at its short length, keeping cold hair in an air conditioned room for quite some time hashing out a bill doesn’t help your head any.  By the time I get back to the hotel, my head is in agony – a pretty awful headache starting to bloom.  I take a hot shower in an attempt to help, but it becomes clear early on that its too late to stop.  End up napping for half an hour trying to calm my head down, but I end up sleeping in, and as such, missing the Hoi An group before they go to dinner.  Find out from the few who were staying in, and decide to go back to bed for an hour or 2 so I can get rid of the damn thing for good.

Needless to say, sleeping in the evening with every intention of getting up again is one of the hardest things to do.  When I did wake (blissfully headache free), I felt woozy and all over the place.  Had to grit my teeth and focus packing my bag to try and wake up.  Unfortunately only worked a little – and when I met the Hoi An group on the roof, could only stay about an hour.  Thankfully they were heading out again, so I made my excuses and crawled back to bed.  Have to be up for my bus tomorrow.

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About Batale

I am an aspiring writer - though since I haven't written anything original in about 2 years, so calling me a writer is like calling a man who makes dinner every night a 5 star chef. I started this blog to force me to write. From the 1st January 2013, I intend to update this blog every day. If nothing interesting happens, I'll write about something that does interest me, whether that is a movie, a book, something I've heard about, or even some of my stories growing up.
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