As far as I know, there are only two major airports in Vietnam – Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. We flew into Ho Chi Minh. We landed mid-morning, and the airport was crowded. I’m led to believe that the first part of the previous statement was irrelevant – the airport is always crowded.
Apparently, the number of people flying through Ho Chi Minh’s airport has doubled in the last ten years. There’s construction going on, as the government tries to expand the capacity. But to be honest, I don’t think I’ve seen many airports in the last ten years where there isn’t some construction going on. I just hope the expansion is big enough, or the crowding will continue to be an issue.
Anyway, we made it through the crowds, retrieved our bags, and cleared customs. We were out in the city. The first thing we noticed was the traffic. Motorbikes! Everyone uses motorbikes! They’re everywhere.
We quickly learned that there are special rules for pedestrians in Vietnam. Don’t presume the sidewalk is for pedestrians. It’s really an extra lane for bikes and motorbikes to use, or to park on. Either way, it’s best not to stand there to get your bearings. When you cross the road, the process is also unusual. Don’t wait for the traffic to stop. It won’t. Just walk out. Keep walking straight, at an even pace. The bikes will swerve around you.
What do you do in Ho Chi Minh City? Well the guides suggested visiting the tunnels. ‘Tunnels’? you ask…
The Vietnamese started building the Cu Chi Tunnels in the 1940s, back when they were fighting the French. When the Americans joined the battle in the 1960s, there was a structured approach to attacking them, but with relatively little effect. The tunnels were too deep to be damaged by the bombing raids. The Viet Cong continued to excavate them during the war. They used the tunnels for transportation, communication, and simply hiding. They even had hospitals in the tunnels. The tunnels are now a major tourist attraction.
What the Viet Cong did with the tunnels was simply amazing. There are over 70 miles of tunnels. We took a tour – I guess it was about 40 miles out of Ho Chi Minh City. On the tour you can now wander (or crawl) through parts. The Viet Cong lifestyle in the tunnels wasn’t fantastic, but they survived. As a tourist, I’ve always tried the local food. And yes, I’ve now tried Vietnamese tunnel food – you can try the rations that they Viet Cong ate. It would rate right up there with drinking the mineral water in Bath (UK) as being an experience that I don’t necessarily want to try again! You can also buy some rounds of M16 ammunition, and try firing in the rifle range! That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. While I’ve done my share of hunting, I’ve not fired an assault rifle before. Toys for the boys, but hey – it’s a vacation, so I thought I’d give it a go. It was about two bucks a round.
What else is there to do in Ho Chi Minh City? I don’t’ know. We didn’t spend a lot of time there. It was my first experience of authentic Vietnamese food. I’d had Vietnamese food at home – once. We found ourselves in the Royal Saigon Restaurant. It wasn’t far from the hotel. The flavors were amazing. The wait-staff were really helpful, even though we were clearly Westerners. And it wasn’t expensive! In fact, that’s a common theme for my trip… Nothing was expensive.