07.10.2013 - 12.10.2013 28 °C
We were at Da Nang airport with plenty of time thanks to our private taxi transfer from Hoi An, but when we checked the Departure Board could not understand why our flight was missing?!? We asked at the JetStar counter who informed us that our flight had been delayed from 16.45 to 22.00 due to technical difficulties - wonderful! So we know had 8 hours to kill in a tiny airport. Nick had a mini-meltdown at this point - I think things had finally gotten to him as we were struggling to finalise our onward plans and this was the last straw for him. Surprisingly they gave us food vouchers, although we were only allowed to order one thing from the "restaurant" - noodles with Beef which were ok, but nothing special.
Somehow we managed to kill time thanks to some coffee, the laptop (until it died), hangman and a dirty Burger King (sssh!). After finally being able to board our flight, 1 hour later and were touching down at Ho Chi Minh. By the time we collected our luggage it was nearly midnight (joy!) so we had no choice but to get a taxi. There were English speaking porters keeping track of things and our taxi driver seemed decent enough, even phoning out hotel when he couldn't find it - it was down a side alley so you couldn't see it from the main road - although it cost us more than we think it should have. Our hotel hello http://www.booking.com/hotel/vn/hello-hotel.en.html were waiting for us, knowing we were delayed so swept us into our room to rest without any of the usual formalities. Our room was nice, although nowhere near as nice as our swanky hotels in Hue and Hoi An.
During our extended stay at Da Nang Airport we had booked a tour to the Cu Chi tunnels, unfortunately we had to be at their offices for 07.30 so it was a sleepy start to the morming with both of us falling asleep on the bus. It was worth it though. On arrival you watch a 20 minute film about the war and the Viet Cong before following our guide into the main complex. The first stop was at what appeared to be small clearing but when he brushed the leaves aside it revealed a tiny wooden hatch which a member of staff then jumped into to display how to get in and out. This hole is tiny, half full of muddy rain water (and god knows what else) and pitch black when the hatch is closed. Members of the Viet Cong would stay in there for hours at a time waiting to ambush passing US troops. We were then all invited to have a go, but neither Nick or I were brave enough.
We then walked through lots of exhibits of the different entrances into the tunnels, how they disguised air holes as termite mounds and all of the different traps they used - some of which are barbaric involving razor sharp bamboo. They also used pieces of American munitions they could find against them, so gunpowder, shards of metal for spikes etc.
The tour ended at a series of tunnels which have been constructed especially and believe it or not are 3 times larger than they actually would have been. Now as not all of you may know Nick suffers with claustraphobia and has had panic attacks when we have visited small caves in Monte Carlo and even in lifts. He is normally ok if he can see an exit or if he can feel movement (a lift or plane etc). The tunnels are between 4-6 meters underground for a 100 metre stretch with exit points every 20 metres just in case. He was determined to do it though so we followed the rest of our group into the hole and into a dimly lit, very hot narrow crawl space which slowly worked its way down twisting and turning. At 20 meters I broke off to the exit but Nick was adamant he wanted to keep going so we carried on for another 20 metres going deeper underground and getting narrower, darker and hotter. By this point Nick had had enough and wanted out so we headed for the 40 metre exit along with a couple of others I'm so proud of him for facing one of his biggest fears head on and I know he is very pleased with himself, although you can see from the photo how scared he was - that is the most forced smile!
Back in the fresh air we had a final few exhibits and obligatory gift shop before getting the bus back to Ho Chi Minh. Our bus dropped off us very close to the War Remnants Museum, so after a quick drink at a local cafe we went in to learn more about the War. Outside the museum are a number of tanks and aircraft (all of which. I'm sure Dad can name) and a reconstruction of a POW prison with the infamous tiger cages.
The highlight of the museum however was its photographic exhibits with documented the war and also the aftermath including a particularly moving exhibit of photographs of the victims of Agent Orange, the chemical agent used by the US for deforestation and which continues to have long term genetic side effects for children 4 generations later. What was so upsetting was that American soldiers who were also affected have been paid large amounts of compensation from the US Government and chemical companies yet the Vietnamese claims are still being refused by the US Supreme Court. We completely lost track of time in the museum and were surprised when at 17.00 on the dot they started locking doors, turning off lights and ushering people out while they were desperately trying to read display boards.
After our very early start it was a dinner at a local street side restaurant where we found it very amusing to watch an older "lady of night" try her charms on an unsuspecting older American tourist to no avail.
Next morning and we had a bit of lie in, but still managed to make breakfast! Today we decided we wanted to see more of the city so set off to the Central Market where we only lasted about 10 minutes before getting fed up of being grabbed and saying "no thank you" to everything they offered. From here we walked to Notre Dame Cathedral which looks like it has been teleported straight from Europe and the Central Post office which was designed by Gustave Eiffel who I think build some tower in Paris?!? Haha.
We then went on a bit of a hunt to find somewhere to change some money into US dollars as we knew we needed some to pay for our Cambodia border crossing in a few days time. This however was surprisingly difficult to do! Lots of places would change Dollars into Dong but not the other way around. The last place we tried gave us the card of somewhere nearby. We arrived to lots of people handing over wads of cash. We told them what we wanted and were surprised the price they offered us was a like for like swap with no commission. We said yes, handed over our Dongs and were given brand new Dollar Bills with no questions or receipts etc. We then spent the rest of the afternoon convinced we had been screwed and had been given fake Dollars (We even Googled how to tell if they were fake later that night when we got back) luckily they seemed genuine!
Anyway after a spot of potential money laundering we walked to the Reunification Palace, a very cool 60s building which was the seat of the President during the war and which is now preserved as a museum in the state it was when the tanks rolled in. We arrived just in time to take the free guided tour which was really interesting and gave us loads of information and helped us make sense of the huge building. Nick likened it to being in a James Bond set from the 1960s. Surprisingly this being the equivalent of the white house in South Vietnam building it was only bombed once in the war. A double agent who had a small window to bomb it, missing it on his first attempt but miraculously managed to fly round again before being shot down and hit the target on the second run destroying the helipad and the central stair case. The building was captured till near the end of the war when some 10 tanks invaded the grounds, two of which are on display at the main gate.
From here it was a stop for some local street food before another rock and roll early night ready for our tour to The Mekong Delta the next day...