The day after Christmas again, Nate and I took another big trip to take advantage of the Holidays and living in Asia :) #iwanttoseeeverycountry #travel After our layover in Taipei (read more about that here), we found ourselves in Vietnam - a country we've always wanted to visit. #musteatallthepho
Nate and I were super excited to visit the beautiful country of Vietnam. Influenced by the many wars fought in the country, France, China, Japan, and America have all left a unique mark. This Communist nation is filled with motorbikes, gorgeous views (from beaches, to limestone mountains, and ricefields), history, and delicious food (including some of the best baguettes I've had!). #mmmmmfood #eatingourwayacrosstheworld
We began our journey in the bustling, exciting city of Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as some still call it. The city is a mix of commerce and culture, wealthy and budget travelers alike, yummy street food, and a ton of motorbikes! #neverendingbikes #iwanttoeatallthefood
After arriving after 12am, the next morning, on our first day in Ho Chi Minh, we took a tour over to the Cu Chi Tunnels. Along the way, we stopped by a craft store where pictures and crafts were made by victims of Agent Orange that the US dropped over Vietnam during the war. #guilttrip #yesiwillbuysomething #sorryfrommerica For those who don't know, Agent Orange is a chemical and herbicidal warfare program that the US used during the Vietnam War. Over a period of 9 years, it was sprayed at least once over 12% of South Vietnam, and over 20% of Vietnam's forests. The effects of this stuff was so bad that it not only destroyed all the crops and vegetation, but also caused a lot of health issues and physical disabilities for the civilians. It destroyed crops for civilians, leading to many starving to death during the war, and damaged genes, which meant it's affected generations (up to 4 generations later!). The Vietnamese government claims over 4 million people were exposed to Agent Orange during the war, with 3 million of them affected by illness or disease in some way. #sad
The pictures and crafts they were decorating were actually quite beautiful and involved a mix of lacquered paintings and creating pictures by lots of little broken egg shells being glued on. All the workers seemed pretty normal but upon closer inspection, we saw physical deformities such as enlarged fingers, misshapen toes, and permanently bent legs. Despite all this, they did not let these affect them and found a way to work through them. #respect We ended up getting a nice picture - at least a small way to say sorry from 'Merica...
The Cu Chi Tunnels are located about 70 km nw of Ho Chi Minh City. These tunnels served as a military base for the Viet Cong for the Tet Offensive. They used these tunnels for not only their communication and supply routes, but also living quarters - yes they lived underground, in teeny tiny little tunnels that Nate and I could barely fit in! #crazy #cantimaginelivingthere
There are more than 250 km of tunnels in the Cu Chi area, making it the longest tunnel people lived in, in the world. During it's heyday, the tunnels stretched from South Vietnamese capital to the Cambodian border. The tunnels were built over a period of 25 years, beginning sometime in the late 1940s during the war against the French. There are 3 levels to the tunnels. The top level was where people lived, the 2nd level down was a triangle made for sleeping so it wouldn't be crushed/caved in, and the bottom level was used as protection from the bombs. The network and levels of tunnels included countless trapdoors, living areas, storage facilities, weapon factories, field hospitals, command centers, and kitchens. The many trapdoors built throughout the tunnel network helped prevent tear gas, smoke, and water from moving from one part of the system to another. Life in the tunnels wasn't easy. The tunnels were infested with ants, poisonous centipedes, scorpions, spiders, and vermin #gross #nothanks, and on top of the that, air, food, and water were scarce. During the day soldiers and their families would work or rest in the tunnels, and at night they'd come out to scavenge for supplies, tend to their crops, or fight with the enemy. If there was heavy bombing, or American troop movement in the area, sometimes they would be forced to remain underground for many days at a time. Because living in the tunnels put people in close quarters and limited air, sickness ran rampant among them, especially malaria (the 2nd largest cause of death next to battle wounds). Also, almost everyone had intestinal parasites of significance. Due to all these illnesses and fighting the war, only about 6,000 of the 16,000 people who fought in the tunnels survived the war.
Part way through our tour through the jungle, we got to see an example of trap doors used during the war. There was another wooden trap door covered in leaves that we were able to crawl into. It was a small tiny space that only one person could fit into but provided an easy option for the Viet Cong to hide. #claustrophobic #toosmall #nothanks #easytoseewhyyoudmissit #clamouflagedwell
Due to the complexity, size, and booby-traps of the tunnels, it made it very difficult for the Americans to fight against. When they would find a tunnel, they would often underestimate its size. Since their efforts to flush the tunnels with gas, water, or hot tar, as well as throw grenades in proved ineffective due to the design and air filtration of the tunnels, they tried other methods such as using German Shepherds to detect tunnels and men being sent down into the tunnels known as "tunnel rats". There were appalling high casualty rates for the "tunnel rats" and the dogs didn't prove too successful either since the Viet Cong began washing themselves with American soap and captured US uniforms to confuse the dogs. By 1965, the Viet Cong were so entrenched in the area, they had the unique position of being able to control where and when the battles took place. Because these tunnels helped the Vietnamese survive and confuse the American troops, they helped prolong the war and increase American costs and casualties until their eventual withdrawal in 1972 and the final defeat of South Vietnam in 1975.
See pics below of dummies set up throughout the tour to show what life was like for the Viet Cong (green uniform for official Viet Cong of the north and black uniform for guerrilla in the south - including women fighting for revenge for the family being killed) Also had a tank or two left that were destroyed by delay mines (over 5,000 tanks were destroyed during the war from these).
We got to see more replicas and actual relics of booby traps buried in the ground - each looking pretty gruesome. Some of the traps included a clipping armpit trap, sticky trap, rolling trap, window trap, folding chair trap, swinging up trap, fish trap, and seesaw trap. The point of these traps was not to kill the soldier but to injury him (hopefully badly) because they knew the US soldiers would not leave one of their own behind. #loyalty The injured soldier would then slow down (and possibly distract) the whole group and make it easier for the Viet Cong to attack. #nomanleftbehind
What I thought would be one of Nate's favorite parts of the tour - the option to shoot an M16 rifle, M60 machine gun, carbine, K59, AK 47s and so on. To be honest the gunfire in the background from the shooting range left an eerie (and very realistic!) feeling when walking through the jungle and checking out the tunnels. #wasthiswhatitwaslikeduringthewar #authentictours After shelling out (#seewhatididthere?) about $15 for 10 bullets to shoot, we headed down to the shooting range to shoot an AK47. I shot maybe 2-3 bullets and wasn't a fan (but I'm not a huge fan of guns in general but hey at least I tried shooting one of these crazy guns). #kickbackisabetch Nate was more than happy to take the rest of my bullets and shoot some rounds off. #alwaysamarine #boysandguns #whatareyougonnado
After shooting some hard core guns (#thiswouldneverbeallowedinAmerica), we got to experience actually walking through one of the tiny tunnels. Granted, they've had to make them a little bigger and widen them for big ol' foreigners to get in... You can walk anywhere from 20 meters to 100 meters in the tunnel. Let me tell you, 20 meters was more than enough! The ceiling is so slow, you can really only get through by hunching your shoulders and bending your knees, or kind of like a duck waddle/squat that big old Nate had to do, or crawl. The path is narrow, so only one person at a time. It was stuffy, hot and dark. I wasn't a huge fan and was ready to get out after about 5 meters! Trying not to get lost (there were various side tunnels connected), we followed voices and finally saw, yes, the light at the end of the tunnel! We climbed out already a little cramped, and our shirts drenched with sweat. I can't imagine living down there, let along being stuck down there for days at a time, and we were only on level 2!
Picture of a kitchen below. They used "Dien Bien Phu kitchens", which exhausted the smoke through vents many meters away from the cooking site, and helped dissipate it to help be undetected. It also stayed low to the ground and small, so it would blen in with the mist in the morning.
Afterward, we snacked on cassava (aka yuca - great source of carbs) with crushed peanut and brown sugar for a dip, which is what the Viet Cong ate most of the time. Actually tasted pretty good but not to eat everyday all day.
We ended the tour watching an outdated propaganda video basically talking about how bad the US was and target civilians and so forth - a bit entertaining watching it and hearing the commentary but still makes you think...
After our cool tour to the Cu Chi tunnels, we rested in our hotel for a bit before heading out for a street food tour to sample some of the deliciousness of Vietnam. Our tour began at the Opera House, one of the most recognizable buildings in the city and built in 1897. It was beautiful and definitely shows the French influence on the city. Only Nate and I and one other couple was on the food tour, a friendly, nice Australian couple, Jodi, and Kelvin. We got along great the whole night and they got our sarcastic sense of humor #win
Our culinary tour began with broken rice., Cơm tấm, is a Vietnamese dish made from rice with fractured rice grains. Tấm refers to the broken rice grains, while cơm refers to cooked rice. This dish began as a poor mans dish, the broken grains of rice was basically what was left after the rice was taken from the fields for the upper class citizens. It has now become very popular with people believing they're able to digest it easier than full grain rice and it's now even more expensive than regular rice! It's usually served with ribs or pork, egg, and some veggies.
The next dishes were some dim sum, and papaya salad.
I was the only one out of group to try the next dish, crab soup with a quail egg, and a century egg or pidan (aka preserved egg, hundred-year egg, thousand-year egg, thousand-year-old egg, and millennium egg) It is a Chinese preserved food product and delicacy made by preserving duck, chicken or quail eggs in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quicklime, and rice hulls for several weeks to several months, depending on the method of processing. This process leaves the yolk dark green/gray, with a creamy consistency and strong flavor and the white part becomes a dark brown, translucent jelly with a salty flavor. It looked a bit crazy but actually was quite tasty, as well as the crab soup around it. #surprised #tryingnewfoods #eventhotheylookweird
Another crazy dish we tried was a partially fertilized egg (aka balut) #yolo I was willing to try a small bite because #wheninrome Unfortunately, the small bite I pulled out had it's little chicken foot hanging off - almost psyched me out but I powered through! It tasted like chicken @#bigsurprise with tiny little crunches for the small bone. Don't know if I'll be eating this on a regular basis but at least I tried it!
For dessert, we grabbed a bag of rice type gummies with coconut cream sauce and coconut flakes. I'm a huge coconut fan so anything coconut - count me in! They even gave us a little banana leaf to eat it on. At this point I was pretty stuffed but I'll always make a little room for dessert!
Walking past a fruit stand, Jodi and Kelvin (the Australian couple) pointed out a custard apple. I had never seen one of these, let alone taste one. So we bought two to eat. you break it open and basically eat the white flesh inside (not the outside rough green skin). It was soft, sweet, and delicious! I need to find out where I can find these when we're back in the states #newfruits #asianfruits #yum!
We ended the night trying some authentic Vietnamese coffee, grabbed a banh mi, and had a beer at a local bar. Over beers and coffee, we chatted with our tour guide about the daily life in Vietnam and he also asked how the heck Trump became president #noclue #notdefendable #embarrassed - I couldn't defend it but it cracked me up that a guy in a communist country was appalled that drumpf was voted into office. #metoo
Overall, it was a fantastic tour with so much weird (to us Americans) and yummy, unique food! We couldn't even eat the banh mi, we had to take it to go and finish it later/next morning. How does Vietnamese coffee compare with American? The preparation process, as well as the blend of beans, helps give Vietnamese coffee its particular style. Coarsely ground beans go into a French drip filter (called a phin), which sits on top of the cup. The beans are weighted down with a thin lid, hot water is added to the phin, and then the water slowly trickles through into the cup. Most people drink the resulting dark, strong brew with sweetened condensed milk. I had an iced coffee with condensed milk and Nate went au natural and chose to drink it black. In the north of Vietnam, this mixture is referred to as ca phe nau(brown coffee), while in the south it’s called ca phe sua (milk coffee). I normally don't like sweet coffee but I think I'm acquiring a taste for this whole condensed milk and coffee thing :)
On our 2nd full day in Ho Chi Minh, we headed out on another tour to the Mekong Delta. We learned that there are about 9 million people living in the city but there are 10 million bikes :) Our tour guide said it's because people own 2 bikes, one that's more casual/cheap to get to and from work/errands, and another to go out on and impress their dates! We definitely did see A LOT of motor bikes in the city. On the drive out to the Mekong Delta, we stopped for a quick break at a pretty garden area and rest stop (see pics below).
We also stopped at the Vĩnh Tràng Temple. It is surrounded by gorgeous gardens and there's a huge Budai, a Chinese folkloric deity, whose name means "Cloth Sack", and comes from the bag that he is conventionally depicted as carrying. He is the an image of the future Buddha (Maitreya), and is almost always shown smiling or laughing, hence his nickname in Chinese, the "Laughing Buddha". :)
In the main hall of the temple, there are multiple statues of various Buddhas including Amitabha Buddha, Gautama Buddha.
We finally made it to the Mekong Delta (or "9 Dragon Delta"), which is a huge mass of small and large islands surrounded by busy boats ferrying things like sand, rice, and veggies! Before we got on our boat, we spotted the traditional, straw, Vietnamese hats - for only $1! #yesplease Naturally, we both got one to stick out as tourists even more... And the best part is, us and this other guy convinced the rest of our tour group to get them as well! #toursthatmatchtogether #staytogether With all our matching hats, we headed out on the massive river. The brown delta freshwater coloring is from the soil, which is actually quite fertile - this helps the islands stay so green and tropical looking :) Many of the boats on the delta had eyes painted on the front underside of them - apparently to scare away the crocodiles #what?! #pleasedonteatme #keepyourhandsinsidetheboatatalltimes
Our first stop was Unicorn Island (Cồn Thới Sơn or Cồn Lân), one of four outstanding islands (Phoenix island, Dragon Island and Turtle island) of Mekong river. It is the largest island in the 4 of them on the river My Tho (A part of Tien River). It was definitely catering to the tourists, and I was hoping for something a bit more locals/culture, but hey we made the most of it! We first stopped at a little restaurant where we got to taste the local honey. The honey we tried was referred to as "royal jelly" and it is apparently what the queen bee eats in order to survive 40x longer than the worker bees. It has over 22 different vitamins and helps with a variety of things such as beautiful skin, improved longevity, menopause, decreased blood pressure, and better vision just to name a few. We got to try this by itself as well as in some tea - essentially hot water, honey, and lime juice - It was pretty tasty. #hangoverhelper? They also had us pose with the worker bees and a giant snake! #umsurewhynot
After some local honey and posing with the local animals, we headed over to try some yummy coconut candy and see how it was made. It was basically a taffy like texture, with either coconut, peanut butter, and ginger. We walked past a variety of tourist gift shops and then came to a little local restaurant where we got to eat a lot of tropical fruit and listen to traditional Vietnamese folk music (watch video below)
Once the performance was finished, we were shuffled down a dirt path to a little river within the island. Here we got to enjoy the scenery by boat and take some quintessential Vietnam/Mekong Delta photos. It was actually quite beautiful despite some parts of the river being clogged up by other boats and tourists #watertrafficjam
After we thoroughly explored Unicorn Island, we hopped on the boat and headed over to one of the other islands for lunch. The boat ride through the island stream reminded me of the jungle cruise at Disney world #isthisanamusementpark #orreallife
They finally decided to feed us (this was about 2pm or so) some local fried fish, prawns, fried rice, egg rolls, and spring rolls. This food was much needed and delicious! We then got to explore the area around the restaurant, which included a crocodile enclosure, porcupines, and some snakes #ofcourse #touristtrap
Our touristy day on the Mekong Delta ended with some fresh coconut water for our boat ride and then 2 hour van ride back to Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon. For dinner, we ended up just grabbing something easy and quick on the restaurant filled street near our hotel, After Tapas and Wine Bar. We enjoyed some tasty bites with a bottle of wine. #perfect A relaxing night after a long day and an early flight the next morning to northern Vietnam - Hanoi!
Until next time -
Follow in our Footsteps:
Basically, you need a letter vouching for you to get into Vietnam. There are many websites that do this for you - the one we used was here (no issues and quick!) You pay the fee, send your info, and they will send you a letter back with instructions. Once you arrive at the airport, you present the letter, 2 pictures, cash (US $ works, cash depends on what type of visa you want (1 month, 1 year, single entry, multiple entry, etc), and your passport. Depending on how busy it is, it takes anywhere from 10 mins to over an hour to get your passport back with your Vietnam Visa. Then proceed to the Immigration/Passport desk.
Bay Hotel Ho Chi Minh (budget hotel, but good location and decent breakfast. Rooftop pool and rooftop gym)
7 Ngô Văn Năm, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh 700000, Vietnam
+84 8 3829 6666
Tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels
Company used was A Travel Mate Tours (our tour guide was David Hung - he spoke great English and had a good sense of humor)
Booked on Viator here
Street Food Tour
Booked through Viator here
Company used was Urban Adventures - our guide Phuoc Ta was awesome!
Mekong Delta Tour
Booked through Viator here
Company used was Elegant Tours
After Tapas and Wine Bar
28b Ngô Văn Năm, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
+84 8 2266 2200
11am - 11pm
Megan Bond - AUTHOR
Just a girl raised in California and loved exploring Southeast Asia with my husband! We're back in the States but still exploring the world as much as we can!