There are several travel agencies around Saigon’s District 1 that you don’t even need a guide-book to plan where to go. I was impressed with how every bus, train, boat or plane ride to anywhere within and outside Vietnam can be booked at very competitive prices. As usual, bargaining is the norm. During our first week in Vietnam last year, we booked a day tour to see the Cao Dai Temple and the Cu Chi Tunnels for USD $7 per person. The tour bus left at around 9 in the morning with 15 other tourists.
First stop was a lacquer factory. The step by step procedure in making lacquer ware were demonstrated by mostly physically disabled workers. The artwork on the bowls and the ornament boxes were beautiful.
Next on the itinerary is the extraordinary Cao Dai Temple. According to our Vietnamese tour guide with the funny nickname ‘Slim Jim’, what made Cao Dai
interesting is that it joined the major religions of the world: Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, Islam and Judaism.
Mass are held four times a day; at 6 in the morning, 12 noon, 6 in the evening and lastly at 12 midnight.
After a hearty and healthy lunch consisting of boiled fish in sour soup and rice, one of my favorite Asian dish, we spent the afternoon at the Cu Chi tunnels. These maze of underground tunnels played a crucial role in driving out the American forces which resulted to the North gaining advantage over South Vietnam. Some of the tunnels were restored to accommodate larger-built tourists but if you’re claustrophobic, this attraction is not for you. Before entering the tunnels, the tour guide showed torture traps around the area. Can’t help to feel sorry for the victims of those contraptions.
I was amazed at how good the trap doors leading to the tunnels were camouflaged. Once it was covered with dried leaves, one can barely see it. I made the mistake of copying the western girls take a picture inside the trap door holding the camouflaged cover. They were almost 4 inches taller than me so the girls easily pulled themselves up to get out. When it was my turn, I had a hard time. It was a funny scene when Ming had to pull me out.
While inside the tunnel, we all have to walk in a crouched way. Some corners are very dark and uncomfortable. The ventilation was also very poor that I cannot wait to get out. I am sure if I stay another 5 minutes, I would have a panic attack. Complimentary tea and tapioca were served to all, a sample of what the Viet Congs were eating during the war.
Lastly, we checked the shooting range where visitors can buy rounds of bullet to try on the different assault rifles. Here’s a Russian made AK-47. I didn’t try to fire it though.
All around the Cu Chi tunnel area were huge moon-like craters caused by B-52s dropped by the American military. I felt goosebumps imagining how big the explosions were to leave craters like that. Although all the craters were mostly covered with grass now, it’s an eerie feeling to stand near a place where a B-52 once fell. The USD $7 fee for the one day trip was indeed worth it since the things I saw that day weren’t things I see everyday.