What’s that Robin Williams catchphrase again?

So we arrived in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City to you communists) after an absolutely exhausting 15 hour bus ride. The border crossing was less hassle for us, but for the poor French buggers that put the wrong date on their visa, their border crossing was less than successful. Ho Chi Min is huge. It took an hour to get into the city from the ‘suburbs’ and the amount of motorbikes is staggering. 6 million of ’em. All trying to dodge around you as you risk life and limb getting from pavementless A to B. This city has a much nicer vibe than any in Cambodia. Y’know, like religious iconography but with a Saved by the Bell vibe?

After taking a day out to sleep for 16 hours straight, we took the chance to walk around the main district of the city. We walked up past the cathedral to the War museum. Very anti-American, but to be honest, they weren’t cool were they. Photo evidence showed us. Obviously the Viet Cong didn’t play nice either, but still. Pretty horrific war. The photo journalist requiem room with photos by Capa among others lay next to the children’s play room? What? Anyway, the museum was full of artefacts from the war and was very interesting. A new instalment was put in the day before to show the effects of agent orange. Poor babies. Their remains were kept in formaldehyde for our enjoyment. We got a late dinner and retired early as our war theme continued the next day.

Today we set off at 8am to Cu Chi tunnels, the huge network of tunnels that the Viet Cong had built as a stronghold for Saigon. Our tour guide was called Pxi, “as in cofFEE, which is also like me, black but sweet”. As he sat in a plastic cup at the front of the tour bus we travelled for well over an hour to the tunnels. The tour included walking round over the tunnels and sitting in a hut to watch an overtly anti-American propaganda war video where the “crazed devils bombed these peaceful people”. Actually, that sounds about right. They have a point. Not that I’m easily influenced or anyfink.

There was an opportunity to go into the holes, but they were so small, a western tunnel was expanded to 50cm wide by 120cm high rather than the 22cm by 30cm of all the other 200km. There was a chance to get in a V.C. hole and noony prodded me forward in front of our group. Having lost a stone since being here my lesser protruding belly merely touched the sides. Noony’s and other women’s child bearing hips didn’t stand a chance. There was a display of all the ingenious floor traps that were laid out for the Americans. Much more than bamboo spikes covered gently with leaves. No, no. Intricate rollers that pierce you as you sink further in, and weight bearing contraptions that cut you the more you struggle. The SAW franchise has nothing on these mentalists.

After walking round and being very well informed by Pxi, when a spoon wasn’t in his mouth, we went to the shooting range. A buck a bang! There was a choice of weapon from AK-47, carbines, heavy machine guns, I went for the M16 and bought 10 rounds. I was expecting it to be a bare table with resting weaponry, an open field and a barrel of hay, but to Noony’s utter relief, there was a sense of refined order in how the shooting happened. We were led down a bunker path to a range where the rifles were all fixed facing down the range. All you had to do was hold on and fire. Bit of a shame really. I’d like to get back into shooting, but maybe not with a war relic.

Celebrating my blood thirst with an ice-cream we somehow lost our group but found them at the foot of the western hole. Noony and I were third and fourth down the hundred metre long black tunnel when 15 metres into it the woman in front, panicked and unsuccessfully tried to turn back. Every 20 metres or so there are exit points to climb up and Noony said at the next one that she was leaving through one. I carried on to the next exit point then left as my legs were giving up shuffling along on my squatted ankles with a full backpack. After finding Noony, both drenched in sweat, she said she, understandably, panicked when the woman in front started freaking out. But enough about that, how the Vietnamese did it in a space much less, with bombs, rats, army dogs, ticks, bullets and crazed devils.

So, after playing goodies and baddies for the day, we retreated to our hostel. Tomorrow we head for Dalat to look at nice scenery. Bye for now. Photos and videos of today to follow.

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