Monday 10 December 2012

Cu Chi and Che

There will be pictures when I can upload them!

My second day in Saigon was spent with Felix and Tom, who made a brief stop here as part of their Gap Yah adventures (of which I am exceedingly jealous). We were up at the crack of dawn to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels, with the obligatory stop en-route at a craft workshop selling all manner of vases, cushion covers, coasters and every other nick-nack under the sun. We managed to resist the desire to buy a pair of 20-foot-tall vases (although I was convinced Mum would be thrilled with them for Christmas) and boarded the minibus again to take us to the tunnels. We were all just about able to squeeze ourselves into the holes in which soldiers hid themselves, although the actual tunnels, which have been made two to three times larger to accommodate tourists, were still a tight squeeze. Perhaps the endless rice and fried spring rolls are starting to show after all...

We were shown a variety of horrific traps that would shoot spears through unsuspecting soldiers in all different directions, before being told that many are still to be discovered. We remained firmly on the designated path...

The feeling of war still remaining in the background was reinforced by the constant background noise of guns being shot - for a mere 27,000 dong per bullet you could quite literally have a blast. We didn't try it, but the ear-splitting noise that formed an unending soundtrack to our trip suggested that many other people did.

We also got to try the tapioca that the guerillas ate. Once we got over the fact that it looked just like a parsnip, it was actually rather tasty!

We came back and continued the war theme by visiting the War Remnants Museum, which I had been warned would be a fairly harrowing experience. The images of war-time destruction were of course shocking, but what I found most upsetting were the portraits of Agent Orange victims, which are still being born with horrific deformities to this day - living reminders of a war which the people of Vietnam will never forget.

We sweetened the bitter taste left by these images with another visit to the Ben Thanh market stalls to try che, a sweet drink containing beans, corn, tapioca pearls, jelly and goodness knows what else, topped with coconut milk, condensed milk and ice, then mixed up to make a sweet soup-like concoction. It looked like frogspawn, but tasted surprisingly good. Looking back at the photos, however, it's hard to believe we actually enjoyed drinking what looked like dirty pond water!

In the evening I went for a massage at the Blind Institute. I'd heard very mixed reviews of people's experiences there - some raved about it, others hated it - and unfortunately my experience fell in the latter category. Bizarrely, my masseuse kept stopping to answer her phone, or shout across to her colleagues, so I wasn't able to relax as much as I'd hoped. However, there are endless spas here offering bargain treatments, so I suppose I'll just have to force myself to find better elsewhere. It's a tough life.

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