Why not take a day trip from Ho Chi Minh City when you have finished seeing the sites? There are a couple of great places out of town that, I thought, were well worth a visit. You can check out the Cu Chi tunnels, where the Viet Cong lived and fought the American and South Vietnamese armies. Alternatively, take a day trip, or even better, an overnight trip out into the Mekong Delta and stay the night in a homestay.
Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi tunnels that can be visited near HCMC are what remains of an extensive tunnel system dug by the Viet Cong and used during the Vietnam War. They stretch for tens, if not hundreds of kilometres and were used to move and store men and equipment. The tunnels even went as far as the Cambodian border. From here troops who had followed the Ho Chi Minh Trail down from the North could cross back into Vietnam. The tunnels are dark and oppressive, in a jungle full of annoying insects but offer a fascinating insight into this area of the war.
There are two sets of tunnels to visit from HCMC. One at Ben Duoc and the other at Ben Dinh. Ben Duoc is apparently more authentic with original tunnels accessible rather than reconstructions and widened, lined tunnels at Ben Dinh. It is however further afield and most tourist trips take you to the closer tunnels. The information below is from my trip to
Before you go into the tunnels
Even with lights, that have been installed in the tunnels, they are incredibly hot, dark and claustrophobic. There is one tunnel about 100m long that gets smaller and windier as you progress. I’m not that tall and found myself having to squat walk to get through the lowest section and manoeuvre myself around very awkward corners. Not for the faint-hearted, but a thrilling experience. It doesn’t take much to imagine what it must have been like to live in these places. Add to that the knowledge they would have been filled with poisonous animals and insects, risked cave-ins and obviously attack and it becomes obvious it was a very unpleasant place to live.
AK-47 or M-16?
Ever fired an AK-47 or M-16? Now’s your chance. Although, the experience doesn’t come cheap. It costs about £2 a bullet, but they are sold in 10’s so £20 (US$30) per head, although you can share with someone else if you can find a willing partner. Just make sure you don’t have the gun on automatic or you’ll be buying the next pack of bullets. Still, if you’ve never fired one of these guns before, now’s your chance. One word of warning, the ear defenders are essential. Who knew guns could be so loud?! Despite my
A trip into the Mekong Delta gives you an insight into a slower, harder way of life than many of us are familiar with. The Delta covers an area of over 40,000 square kilometres and is criss crossed by canals and waterways, so any trip will just be a dip into its vastness. It is best known for the expansive floodplains, where over 50% of Vietnam’s rice is produced. This is more rice than the whole of Korea and Japan combined. In addition to this, it is also responsible for over half of the country’s fishery output. With all the rivers, canals and islands it is a beautifully scenic area with an abundance of wildlife.
The Delta isn’t particularly industrialised and many of the businesses are small scale. Traditional crafts can be found in many workshops amongst the islands. Whether it be making sweets and snake wine for locals and tourists alike or producing bricks and pottery to be exported around the world.
The snake wine is strong, tasting more like a whisky than a wine. I would say it is an acquired taste, and not one I acquired. I’m not too sure what customs would think if you were to bring a bottle home. I can just imagine what they’d say when they scan the suitcase and see a snake inside.
The locals make use of everything. For example, rather than discarding the husks from the rice produced it is used to fire the furnaces in pottery factories. Don’t be surprised to find this pottery in your local garden centre.
Sweets and Candies
If you get a chance, visit a workshop where they make sweets. You may get to see them making rice paper, coconut candies and best of all, rice popcorn. The video below doesn’t really do the process of making the latter justice so I’ll explain a little. Rice is heated in a huge wok with heated sand (the black stuff) that causes the water in the rice to expand and it pops, like a Rice Krispie. The sand and rice husks are then sieved off, the sand to be reused and the husks to heat future batches. This puffed rice is then mixed with natural flavourings and caramel, rolled out and cut into bars. They are delicious.
Life on the River
It is far easier to get around by boat than car in the Delta. Many islands have few roads and are only suitable for motorbikes so trade is done from the waterfront. Even the wholesale market traders work from their boats rather than on land.
It is also possible to get a ride in a traditional sampan, rowed by old ladies. They have to be pretty fit as not only is it an unusual standing rowing style they also take three or four people per boat. I’m pretty sure this is done mostly for tourists these days as the boats also have an outboard motor on them but it is, nevertheless, a cool way to see some of the mangroves.
If you do choose to stay the night, I stayed at the Ut Thuy Homestay near Vinh Long and felt it was a great experience. It is more like a B&B, having quite a number of rooms available. The building is lovely and well maintained and whilst they don’t have aircon all rooms have a fan and a mosquito net over the bed. We were able to take a bicycle ride around the island and even got involved in making our evening meal.
If you are looking for things to do in Ho Chi Minh City then click here.
If you’re heading of to Hanoi and Ha Long Bay click here.