No trip to HCMC is complete without a visit to Cu Chi tunnel. The heroic 250 km spider web tunnel underground has places for dining, living, fighting and meeting. Farmer by day and fighter by night, Cu Chi tunnels glorify the revolutionary spirit of Vietnamese people in their bitter war against the Americans.Squeezing through the narrow tunnels, a bigger realization dawned upon us. Freedom is the biggest gift one could have. Imagine living with near suffocation (air doesn’t flow in these tunnels, only small holes made on the ground keep the ventilation going)! Phew. How relieved we were to be breathing in fresh air and strolling freely on the same ground where a revolution occurred. I would like to believe we emerged with more empathy of the diversity around us.A gun shooting range at the Cu Chi is a much sought after activity by tourists. The loud shelling kept us away from it. After a heavily loaded day, we yearned for some light moments.
Make sure you bargain to less than half the price that they quote for anything. About an hour away from Ho Chi Minh city are the Cu Chi tunnels. This is also one of the Vietnamese war sites. It is a famed spot for the guerrilla warfare by the Viet Cong. Ho Chi Minh city has a vibrant nightlife. Be sure to check out some of the rooftop bars. The clubs in the backpacking district are a cheaper option
Exploring the Cu Chi Tunnels will take you back in time to when this underground transport and network system was used by the local resistance forces in the Vietnam War. One has to crawl through the narrow and dark tunnels and can actually fire a machine gun in there!
On our Second Day, we were referred by our hotel attendant to a tour operator for our Cu Chi Tunnel Tour. Tours offered are either in big groups (in a bus) or small groups (in a van). For this one, we chose the bus which costs only USD5 per head. The fee covered the two-way transportation, the English speaking tour guide, a quick drop by to a lacquer workshop along the way, and complementary bottled water.
The next day was packed with activities that would introduce us further to Vietnam’s people, culture and history. We woke up early to leave for the Cu Chi Tunnels tour. Together with other travelers of different nationalities, we journeyed for a couple of hours to the historical place of Cu Chi. Our guide toured us around the area, showing the strategic and well-built 'booboo' traps the Viet Cong used during the war. And then there's the tunnel which might send off a claustrophobic feel to some people. The tunnel is long and extends deep into the grounds, forming several branches of passageways that might get someone lost. I'm an Asian so it was a bit easy for me to crawl my way into the end of the tunnel without having to squeeze myself into nooks and curves. Exploring the place will leave one the impression of the Vietnamese’s tenacious spirit. I was really impressed with how resourceful and clever they are.We were asked by the very accommodating staff member of Phan Lan if we’d like to get any of their travel packages. There were several to choose from, and he enthusiastically explained the activities of each package. Giving in to his persistence, we decided to get the night life city package for around $32 per person. This includes a Vietnamese water puppet show, transportation to and from the hotel (car and cyclo ride), and a cruise dinner. We’re not the type to splurge on trips, but made an exemption this time. Going for something you don’t usually do can be a good thing, right? The trip began with a cultural water puppet show at the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre. The show is entirely in Vietnamese so we relied to the pamphlet handed earlier as guide. But then it can be hard to follow too, so all we did was to just enjoy the show. I’m the type of person who likes to see and appreciate simple things, so the show didn’t really come off as boring for me as what it did with other travelers (I read some reviews). After the puppet show, we boarded this unique ride they call ‘cyclo’ which will take us to the dock of Saigon River. It somehow resembles a bicycle with a side car, only the carriage is located in front and not by the side. I’m not sure if it’s just me but I had an amusing time riding the cyclo while traversing the busy streets of Ho Chi Minh. Take note that the drivers ask for a compulsory tip. A dollar will do.Last stop for the day (err, night) was the dinner cruise onboard a wooden ship. “Oh, fancy,” I thought. We were served a 7-course meal of Vietnamese cuisine while being entertained by local dancers and performers. I actually don’t picture myself in settings like this, but hey, trying something new once in a while adds to the totality of the travel experience. After a full dinner, we went to the ship’s deck to enjoy the cool breeze while watching the city lights depicting the varied lifestyles of the city. It was a good way to cap off a short yet fun stay in Ho Chi Minh. Those two days of exploring and experiencing what Saigon has to offer was really short. There are still lots of things to discover, experience and learn. But during those couple of days, my impression on Vietnam totally changed. I got to appreciate the locals more, especially after our wonderful experience with the people in our hostel. It was a bit hard to communicate considering the language barrier, but their efforts to reach out and help were incomparable. I started this trip with mixed emotions, and I left in the same state – only this time it’s not apprehension nor doubt, but a sense of fulfillment and yearning to come back soon.Phan Lan Hotel makes a traveler-friendly hostel located in the heart of the backpacker's area in Ho Chi Minh. It's a few minutes walk to Ben Thanh market, some convenience stores, banks and parks, thus making it an ideal place to stay at for budget-conscious travelers.