Ho Chi Minh 2015 || Cu Chi Tunnels (and my lack of upper body strength)

The resolve to get all these posts out of my Drafts has strengthened over the weekend so I finally only have this and one more left for Vietnam. After that I can finally move on to writing about the days I spent in Cambodia! The past four months flew by, and the need to keep my mind away from being idle has helped me keep my sanity. Nothing else can drive an over thinker up the walls best than having the time to get the wheels inside your head rolling. Trying to write every day has helped me with that, though. The time I spend writing oils up my rusty machine that produces creativity, and I feel energized to do a lot more (I update my Instagram (@teeshue) more often though so feel free to follow me there!). It also helps reduce this massive backlog – yay for that!

I have read so many articles about the difference between being a traveler and a tourist. I can’t really say I fall into one category because I do like to check out all the tourist spots and eat all the touristy food. I can sleep in a hostel with strangers or stay somewhere with very basic amenities (using ‘very basic’ loosely here), but I’m also willing to shell out extra money for nice hotels. I do book tours but I don’t like the package tours because I like to be in charge of my schedule and itinerary. I want to see everything and I happen to enjoy sitting down in a local cafe to read. So, yeah. I did book a half day tour to Cu Chi Tunnels and had my breakfast while walking on the way there. One of the constants on what to eat in Vietnam lists, banh mi which I bought from a random stall (I just had the guy manning the stall to put in everything lol) for VND 12,000.

I passed by this woman selling tau hu fa (which is reminiscent of the local taho and with a similar name as well) for VND 7,000. It is soybean pudding with coconut milk and ginger. I was a bit flabbergasted when I tasted the ginger because I grew up buying this from street peddlers with caramel and sago.

I also bought iced coffee with LOTS of condensed milk for VND 20,000 after checking in and getting my boarding ticket. Even with that much sweet milk, the coffee was still too strong and did a great job of jolting me awake. I saw another tourist pour half the contents of her water bottle in her cup to tone down the taste.

To be completely honest, as much as I support helping a community’s livelihood, I got seriously bored with having to stay at the stopover for Handicapped Handicrafts for a while. My expectation was we will be going straight to the Cu Chi Tunnels.

They do show you how they make the portraits. They make an outline, and fill it in using egg shells. Yes, egg shells! It undergoes a long process after that and you can see the output in the next photo. 🙂

They encourage you to buy something.. by staying in the shop for a long time (it may have only been 30 minutes but it felt like a while).

The tour itself only cost VND 59,000 but you have to pay the entrance fee to the tunnels which cost VND 100,000. The guide collects it before you arrive, or you can pay for it yourself at the ticket booth if you happen not to trust the tour guide. Of course, I went the lazy route and just handed my money over.

This is one of the many camouflaged entrances to the underground tunnel maze. It is smaller when it was still in use during the war and they enlarged it to accommodate visitors. When the guide asked for volunteers to try it out, I immediately raised my hand and…. oh fudge what the hell did I sign up for? The initial drop was okay until I had to get out and my weak core needed the assistance of an American guy to pull me up and out. Damn. (A Filipina who was on tour with her niece volunteered to hold my bag as you can see in upper right of the photo).

Since this is during war time, the Vietnamese set up so many traps integrated with nature.

Here are the air ducts that provide oxygen inside the tunnels. The invading party used dogs to sniff this ducts out so they can barricade it while the Vietnamese put pepper to avoid canine detection.

Rice paper near the shooting range. I didn’t try the shooting range because the queue was super long!

The guide asked the entire tour group which of us wanted to crawl 150 meters and again, I raised my hand along with three other tourists and another guide. The rest of them were going together and crawl 20/40/60/80 meters and exit at different stages while the four of us entered a different tunnel. Fortunately for me, I was second to the last and the same American guy (who pulled me up) was behind me. There was a point in the tunnel where you had to raise yourself using your elbows and I had a really hard time climbing up, it was getting dark while the guide and couple before us are far ahead already. The guy asked me if I would mind if he touched me and of course, I said I wouldn’t, so he placed his hands on my bum to push me up. I cannot imagine how it would feel like if I had to crawl in that small tunnel while bombs are hitting the ground above – especially with my barely existent arm strength. I was sweating like a pig once we got out and it felt like I crawled for hours. How fun and exciting!

So that was the only fun part of the tour.. And the tour + entrance fee cost more than My Tho and Ben Tre. Honestly, though, I had much more fun with the Mekong Delta tour (crawling aside). During this tour, there were so many people so the waiting time sucked. I do hate waiting. I hope you guys don’t hate waiting as much as I do.. or else I’d lose blog followers. Hahaha!

Ho Chi Minh 2015 || Mekong Delta

For some people, time is an exact tool for measurement. But as with most things, there will always be various opinions about it and I am going with the rest who believe that time (or the perception of it) is relative. Getting stranded in Manila traffic for a few hours feels like forever. The entire moment of snogging with the person you like – fleeting. In my case, I had this idea that it’s only been a few days since I last wrote only to realize now that it’s been two weeks. Ooops!

Personally, I’m on polar sides of the spectrum when it comes to spending my time. I try to always use it wisely, but I have a tendency to waste it. I know time is limited for everyone but I tend to spend it the way I use loose change – on small irrelevant things. The departure time for the tour I booked was 8:30 in the morning but you had to be there at least 30 minutes prior. I arrived an hour before departure and got my boarding pass.

I killed time while waiting for boarding by having breakfast at the cafe next door, Sasa Cafe. I had the banana crepe and iced coffee for VND 51,000. A bit pricey for Vietnam, but not unexpected since it was adjacent to a tour company. I was dining with other tourists that were waiting for their buses as well.

I booked the My Tho and Ben Tre day tour because it was their cheapest tour to Mekong Delta (VND 149,000). The Sinh Tourist is also one of the more well-known tour companies, and I heard that you can book cheaper tours along Pham Ngu Lao street but I’d rather pay more for a reputable company. Before I left the PH, I actually printed out a map of where I could find their offices since I wanted to be sure that I was booking with the correct tour agency.

The bus ride may have taken more than an hour but time flew by since I was sitting beside a Taiwanese guy who just quit his job in an advertising company in Taipei. We both had a notebook to list all our expenses. Hahaha! Although there was an awkward moment when I didn’t know how to react when he told me that I do not look in any way like I work with computer systems. In my head I went “is that a good thing or a bad thing?”.

I initially thought that I booked the wrong tour when we got inside this boat. I only wanted to visit the Mekong Delta river because everyone seemed to have the tourist-y photo of sitting in a small canoe coursing through river mazes.

The Can Tho Bridge is the most expensive bridge in Vietnam. Construction of this bridge started 2004 and it was opened for use by 2010. Now that’s a long time.

We finally arrived at a pier where we will be getting into the canoes! Woohoo!

The downside of traveling solo is they will use you as a ‘filler’. The boat can accommodate up to four passengers, and I joined three Korean tourists during this trip. I asked them if they could take a photo of me and they told me that they didn’t know how to operate a camera. T_T Selfie it is.

What it’s all a-boat. Okay, I’ll let myself out now lol.

When we got off, we walked to a honey bee farm where they were serving honey kumquat tea. They served us calamansi instead of kumquat.. but they taste similar, so okay.

It was just a small cup and the tea is for exactly seven people only.

There was some honey produce in the table where you will drink the tea and coconut products in another. The Sinh Tourist partnered with the locals of the island and they are the only agency who can tour there. I guess, in return, they have to help the community make a living. I didn’t buy anything though because the prices were definitely for tourists.

The timeless beauty of nature.

Lunch was included in the tour and the restaurant seems to be a scene straight out of a period drama.

I took a photo of a Japanese couple, and in turn, they took nice shots of me. The lady actually took more shots than I did for them, and she had me pose differently in each. Brilliant!

I asked the tour guide if I can take a photo with the snake and he let me do it. For free (I asked if I had to pay)! The snake got a bit fussy after being passed around and I heard the guide tell the rest of the tourists that the snake’s mood has soured (not verbatim but you know what I mean haha).

Again, a lot of the products from the community were sold here.

The guide grouped six tourists in a table. I was with a Filipino family and another Singaporean who was traveling solo too. I never thought I’d miss having conversations in my native tongue but call it cheesy, it’s been a long time.

One of the differences of traveling alone and with family/friends/etc is that there are higher chances of having interesting conversations with a stranger. After lunch, we had some time to roam around where I spent it with the Singaporean guy. He was older than me, had a twin, and on his graduation trip before he serves his country to pay off his government scholarship. We had to transfer to another area to eat dessert (fruits), where we were serenaded by folk songs.

Dip all the fruits in the salt!

We then had a horse-drawn carriage ride around the island. Since I was now aboard with the Filipino family, the ride was short as the women my age tell me about their life in Vietnam (as an OFW and as a wife of a Vietnamese) and I told them about going off on my own in a foreign country.

Before I even knew it, we were on our last stop. This is where they make coconut candy but my most vivid memory about this place is buying VND 15,000 sugar cane juice and the interesting wine they sold.

Yes, they make it with their bare hands (lady in green even uses her phone occasionally). Not very hygienic but a lot of people bought a pack of candy for souvenirs from them. You can taste one for free but I opted not to because I’m not really a huge fan of coconut.

Yucky wine.. eh, gecko wine. What they do is take rice wine and put the gecko (and herbs) inside for three months. They only sell it once the gecko has been there for three months. I asked if this had any medicinal purpose at all, but I was informed that it was only for recreational purposes.

You can actually try the snake wine. It is made with basically the same process as with the gecko wine. Guide: Try it! Here! *tries to hand me a cup* Me: I don’t want to! Guide: Why? Me: It’s snake! Guide: You eat fish, you eat cow, you eat pig, you eat chicken. Why is a snake different? Me: ………….I just don’t want to. Hahaha!

We got back to District 1 approximately before 6 PM. Dusk is settling, and bars are starting to fill up by then. I went window shopping for clothes (no photos because I don’t make it a habit of whipping out my phone or camera at night) and had street food for dinner. I swear Vietnam could be in a different dimension altogether because the time I spent there seemed to have warped to become longer and yet it still feels insufficient. Days are brief but I fit 30 hours of sightseeing and activities in one. The sun is up by 5 in the morning, and the sun sets late. It was a time where everything was possible and I embraced the possibilities.

I am closing this post with high hopes that my blog time will soon match up with real life because my backlog is growing (!!). The writing instructor told everyone in her class that the best way to master something is to spend time doing it (ie write something every day).. so I’ll try and that’s the best I can promise right now because time is a huge investment for me. My vlogging promise is still there too –  let me know if you have any questions or vlog suggestions by sending me a message with #CupcakeGirlVlog in the first line. My inbox is open and thank you for your time! 🙂