Monday, April 4, 2016

Port Report - Ho Chi Minh City (Phu My), Vietnam

Port ship actually docks at: Phu My,Vietnam
Attraction/Town you are aiming to visit: Ho Chi Min City (Củ Chi Tunnels)
Distance from Port: 40 miles - 1.5 hrs by car (60 miles - 2.5 hrs by bus)
Mode of transport we used: Bus via ship's tour to Củ Chi Tunnels
English spoken by locals: Our tour guide was fluent and very easy to understand.
Ships tour necessary? Yes. The ship docks at the Phu My port and taxis are not allowed in. You would have a long, hot, unpleasant walk (2-3 miles) to the entrance of the port, and we were told there would not be taxis waiting there. You can arrange a tour privately, (e.g. before you leave home) but the tour needs details of your passport to gain access to the port to collect you. It seemed easier, in this case, to get a tour, and they had one which really interested us too.
Hassle from merchants and taxi drivers: None, as were on a ships tour and didn't really come in contact with any.

It wasn't until we were on the ship and underway that we realized that the ship wouldn't be pulling up at the dock in Ho Chi Min City. We only had our own ignorance to blame. Ho Chi Min City is in-land - the ship couldn't sail that far upriver. It did however sail quite far upriver to a port called Phu My, a working port, with lots of security. This was one occasion when taking a ship's cruise was practically unavoidable and made a lot of sense.

Because we were on a ship's cruise, we had a much earlier start to our day than if we'd been under our own steam. I'm usually happy about this because I can rise early and get to it - it's My Husband who is the slug in the morning.

This particular morning Robin William's voice saying, "Good morning, Vietnam!" haunted my thoughts as I watched the sunrise in a molten orb over the river while we ate breakfast. Photo quality is diminished by the reflection on the glass, but we don't have many sunrise photos, as compared to sunset photos, because of the whole being asleep thing!
We chose to take the trip to the Củ Chi Tunnels. People might be surprised to learn that one of my favorite movies of all time is Platoon. Not that I'm a Vietnam War buff, or a war monger of any sort, but there was something, besides Charlie Sheen, that captured my attention in that movie. In fact, Charlie's character is quite abhorred by the war, as am I.

When I saw the tour to the tunnels in the brochure, I decided to explore that side of history despite the viscerally unpleasant nature of it.

The Củ Chi Tunnels were dug by the Viet Cong and interconnect with networks that extend for tens of thousands of miles, covering huge swaths of the country. To read more about the Vietnam-American War and the integral role these tunnels played click here.

To get to the tunnels, we had to take a 2.5 hr bus trip which drove through the verdant Vietnamese countryside. It was great to just sit back and have the driver do all the work while I absorbed all the sights with my eyes and my camera.

Some of the dwellings, though primitive, provided great photo opportunities.
This looked like it was straight out of a movie.

The lush green fields and tranquil setting contrasted with the chaos of Ho Chi Min City, which we hit during the morning rush hour!
So many things in this one photo - the hedge shaped to spell out a place name (I presume!) The speed limit - Not sure if it's 80 miles per hour, which seems very fast, or  80 kilometers per hour which seems rather slow for a motorway. Mopeds are only allowed in two of the five lanes (thank goodness). Then there's the unfinished construction in the right of the photo that stretches in line with the road - a public transport rail link? More motorway? Either way - can you imagine this with road works!

There are six million mopeds in Ho Chi Min City, and all of them were on the road that morning!

It's totally fine to be loaded down with pineapples and chat on your phone as you try to cross the stream of traffic! And pineapples are heavy...
 And if the road is too slow, just scoot up onto the sidewalk!
 Just be careful - the pedestrians are working hard.
 This shot gives a great juxtaposition of the old and the new in the city.
 The French colonial influence was still apparent.
The French taxed the width of a building and so the buildings are very narrow, even today. Below you can see five neighboring buildings.
Temples popped up everywhere.
 I think this one was taken in a nearby town, but while we are looking at temples...

I highly recommend this ship's tour if you are ever on this cruise. If you are visiting Vietnam independently, do consider visiting the Củ Chi Tunnels yourself.

What struck me most was how ingenious the tunnels were, and how they enabled so many people to survive when they would have otherwise been napalmed out of existence (though many were.) The tunnels, practically impossible to see from the outside, had ventilation holes that were cleverly disguised on the surface - in this case as a termite hill.

They were dug with very basic tools and the earth scattered, sometimes in newly blasted craters from recent bombs, or incorporated into the soil during farming.
The entry points could be in the floors of the homes. Here it has been excavated out for us to see more clearly and for us to access easily.
The tunnels were about 3 feet high.
At this field entry point it was impossible to imagine how you would fit into it - the foot in the top right corner might help provide scale.
The guide explained that the trick was in bending your knees!
He demonstrated how you could disappear in a matter of seconds... Here is a series of picture I took of him as he entered the tunnels.






You wouldn't even know he was there!

Even if you were the enemy and you found the tunnels, well the fun only starts there ...

The tunnels were protected by a host of different traps all designed to mangle and kill you horribly! They were all on display here.
These charred bamboo spears were super sharp and coated with feces. Even if you managed to hoist your punctured body off them, the bacterial infection was sure to finish you off. Remember - all this while underground in 3 foot high tunnels - the stuff of nightmares!
Yet, I couldn't help but admire these fearsome soldiers.

The Tunnels were not just for the soldiers fighting against the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies. In many of the villages, these tunnels were the only bolthole for the villagers when the bombs dropped, in much the same way as the people of the London Blitz had their cellars and shelters and the Mid Western Americans have their basements during tornado season.

It must have been terrifying cowering down there and wondering what, if anything, would be left of you village when it was all over. The guide's stories were hard to listen too and a part of me wished I'd not gone, but thus is the reality of war - it is never pretty! It hurts humanity whether they have a face, a name, a creed, a side or not. Without exception...
Back at the ship we watched a sand-mining operation vacuum silt from the river bed and pile it on barges.
The barge looked like it would sink at any minute!
But something makes me think it won't - after seeing those tunnels earlier I kind of think that many things are possible if you have the will to make it so...

If only we could just be as inventive and ingenious about creating peace on our planet - wouldn't that be wonderful?

Byddi Lee






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