Friday, 15 March 2013

Cu Chi Tunnels and Cao Dai Temple

So we awoke early as we were told to be ready for 7.30am...turns out the tour lady actually meant 8.30 and had told us the wrong time, sigh...

So we had bought Frosties the night before for breakfast, so we went and got ourselves a sweet coffee and sat in the park eating our dry Frosties from the box and sipping our coffee whilst watching all the Vietnamese exercising in the park - wheelchair lady was there again (she was there yesterday morning too), doing her arm exercises along with the aerobics class, bless!

We then set off on our tour. It was a 3 hour drive through Tay Ninh to the Cau Dai temple, so we set up our camera's as we'd be going through some local territory so was sure there would be many picture opportunities - especially our Vietnam game of 'how many weird and wonderful things can you fit on the back of a motorcycle'. A highway was a pretty good spotting place! Our tour leader started off well, he was quite informative about Vietnamese facts, here's a few for you;

- There's no Mac Donalds in Vietnam (this is a highly useful fact for those junk-food fanatics heading to Vietnam), the first Starbucks in Vietnam opened in HCMC in February this year, Burger King opened last year and there is a KFC at every street corner practically. However, apparently Vietnamese people don't like it, which makes total sense why it's so wide-spread!

- The Vietnamese language has 11 vowels, as they say the vowels in different ways/sounds. The Thai language has an average 5 different sounds to one word, which will mean 5 different things. However the Vietnamese language has 6 different sounds per word, and 6 different meanings to one word (he demonstrated how Chao has 6 different sounds and meanings, but they all just sounded the same to me, therefore I would not be good at learning Vietnamese!) There is also no Z in their alphabet but 'D' can be said in a way that sounds like a Z - very useful thing to know(?!)

- The signature Vietnamese Coffee, Robusta, is now the best coffee in the world - FACT. It actually overtook the Brazilian coffee Arabica last year.

- There are over 5 million motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City alone. No bike, no girlfriend. Big bike, big girlfriend.

- If you are a pale skinned Vietnamese and also fat, it means you are well off. So if you are a fat westerner - you're a prime target for being labelled rich!

Facts aside the journey was long, we passed the village where 'The Girl in the Picture' (Google/read it) lived and where the Americans destroyed during the war - a very famous place. We arrived at the Cao Dai temple for midday prayers. I've taken this from Wiki as I couldn't remember the exact facts; Caodaiism is a religion officially established in the city of Tây Ninh, southern Vietnam in 1926. Cao means "high" and Đài means "dais". Figuratively, it means that highest spiritual place where God reigns. Adherents engage in ethical practices such as prayer, veneration of ancestors, nonviolence, and vegetarianism with the minimum goal of rejoining God in Heaven and the ultimate goal of freedom from the cycle of birth and death. The three teachings within Caodaiism are Buddha, Sage and Saint and each priest for each teaching wears a different coloured robe - yellow represents Buddhism, blue Taoism and red Confucianism. Worshippers wear white robes. So we went inside to watch the midday prayers from the balcony and were allowed to walk around and take some pictures of the temple. After we returned to the bus to head back to Cu Chi for the tunnels, stopping for lunch along the way, which is where the tour went downhill lol.

This one restaurant took in all the tour groups from HCMC which it obviously couldn't cope with, as peoples orders took forever, some were mixed up, the tour leader failed to help us order, or help when things got messed up. Maura's noodle dish was basically some uncooked noodles, deep fried - so inedible and she ended up having to go without food, as when the tour leader tried to sort it out, they just bought out another dish...that was exactly the same! Sigh...

After the lunch fiasco, we took a long drive to Cu Chi village. When we arrived we had to watch a short 'documentary' that told you about the Cu Chi village and the tunnels. This film was blatant propaganda! It started off all 'This is the village of Cu Chi, all quant and beautiful and friendly...' and then 'the evil Americans came and bombed it, destroying the village and forcing the remaining residents underground, which allowed them to kill and win against the American offensive.' There was even a local guy and girl who got medals for being 'the best at killing and capturing Americans' and who won awards for 'killing the most Americans'. All to the sound of propaganda style music.

But for those who don't know, the Cu Chi tunnels are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Củ Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Củ Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and were the Viet Cong's base of operations for the Tết Offensive in 1968. The tunnels were used by Viet Cong guerrillas as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous guerrilla fighters. The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces, and helped achieve ultimate military success. Some tunnels have been made larger to accommodate the larger size of Western tourists.

We were shown the horrific traps they made and put around the area for unsuspecting Americans, things like trap doors that when stepped on, shoved American troops into holes full of bamboo spikes, impaling them. We were also led around and shown how the tunnels were camouflaged, had a go at trying to get into an original one the way the Viet Cong would have, were shown some huge craters where bombs had fallen, various places where weapons would be made, kitchens etc, there was also a shooting range but our group didn't have time to try it out - so we'd do it in Cambodia then! Then the final part of the tour was a walk through one of the widened tunnels - which were still tiny - you had to double over to fit through them - not one for claustrophobics!

After that we headed back to HCMC, and we were told to write a review of the tour leader, which Maura obviously had a few bits of constructive criticism to write down. He then read through them and confronted Maura in front of everyone on the bus about what she meant 'Why you write bad review, I don't bull-shit people, I'm good at my job, my manager knows I am, I've been doing it for 10yrs, if you have questions, ask me I'm not a mind reader etc' he was really rude and was shouting, so a few other people had something to say about it too and we went straight to the hostel tour desk to complain when we got back and they said they wouldn't use that tour company again - good! Another trip advisor review to write!

We then freshened up and packed as we were hoping to go to Chau Doc tomorrow which we were told was a 4hr bus ride away, to cross the border into Cambodia via boat. We then went for food at Subway, went and bought a few bits we needed at the night market, had another awesome iced street coffee, and chilled in the room until we were sleepy. Another rock'n'roll night hehe.

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