All posts by akaakw

Avid traveller, horse rider, photographer, word-smith - well, just avid really.

Alone Again…

It’s our last day in Hanoi, and there’s no bus waiting for us, so we laze in our room until the last possible time for breakfast. We want to re-visit the Old Quarter, and I need to post some Cambodian postcards home before I leave – Yeah Yeah – should have done it in Cambodia… I don’t want them arriving with an Australian postal stamp, so this is my last chance.

We are lazy enough to take a taxi to the Dong Xuan covered market, the whole area teeming as usual. We twist our way through the over-stuffed stalls, trying to stay out of the way of local merchants laden to the eyeballs with merchandise. They must get so antsy about all these gawking photographing foreigners getting in the way of their work. The difference with this market compared with Ben Than in Saigon, is that no-one is hassling us: no exhortations to look, buy, or even a “What do you want”. We are studiously ignored by all the locals, which is mostly because it’s a wholesale trade. We pass everything from gaudy and garish baby toys, shoes, jumpers (it’s 25 degrees folks!) and food. It’s lunch, and many of the marketeers sit on their tiny plastic stools slurping on pho.20171110-IMG_7842-34

We exit stage left, and find ourselves in a food alley – akin to our food malls but far more interesting. An elderly woman is sitting by her cooking bowls, and I ask if I can photograph her – she beams, and seems happy with her portrait.20171110-IMG_7844-31

The Old Quarter is divided into streets that specialise in a particular type of goods – one street is full of shoes, the next jewellers. The buildings show glimpses of the glamour of past times, now draped in washing, awnings and air conditioning compressors. The streets are narrow and thronging with motorcycles in all directions, parked on every available square inch of pavement and weaving through and around the streets.

Oops, just spotted a divine dress and an even more divine top in one of the shops… Must have, so I dart in but they haven’t got my size, and can’t make it before we leave tonight. I leave, disheartened and then think – well why not post it to me? Can I trust him? Of course I can. Silk materials line the shop and beautifully designed clothes hand in all colours of the rainbow. Hubby thinks I’m mad again, but for US$55 (including postage) I have a one of a kind top to show off. The tailor measures me up and chooses an embroidered silk to go with the red I have chosen. His sister sits in the back embroidering the materials – everything is sewn by hand. I clutch my receipt as we exit the shop, and I can hardly wait the three weeks for it to get to me.

We make our way towards the Lake, stop for lunch, and then I stroll around a couple of blocks on my own while hubby goes back to the hotel for a rest.

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And then it’s Goodbye Vietnam, as we jet off to our mundane lives back home, the sounds, sights and smells of Indochina left behind. For now. Hubby is already talking about going back.20171109-IMG_7177-04

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Hanoi 

We arrive back from Halong Bay at our hotel in Hanoi around 4 pm, just in time to check in and freshen up for dinner. This time it’s western food. 

I decide to cut loose from the rest and skip dinner. As it happens, my niece and her partner are in Hanoi at the exact same time, having also just arrived from Halong Bay. So we (I) decide to see some of Hanoi by night. Besides, I have a 2kg tripod I’ve lugged all around the world, so now’s my chance to make it worth its weight. 

We mosey around the lake, and hubby is infinitely patient as I get out my rig and fiddle with exposure, ISO and shutter speed in an attempt to get the lights of the red bridge and the pagodas with their reflections. I hope I succeeded. 

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Finally exhausting hubby’s patience, we make our way to the hotel our niece is staying at, only 10 minutes away, where we regale each other with stories of the various places we’ve respectively been. A few cocktails on level 10 of their hotel and we’re again ready for bed.   

Our last day with the group, and we take in the key spots in Hanoi: no visit would be complete without a visit to Ho Chi Minh memorialised – the mausoleum, the quarter dedicated to his life and the stilt house in which he chose to live… It’s rather rainy, so paying attention to all that history is a challenge, especially as we’re coming to a close and I’m info’ed out.

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We also visit the Temple of Literature which is one of the oldest universities in the world. It’s not very big, and one of our companions comments that “they didn’t have much knowledge in those days.” I’m not quite sure what to make of that… Built in 1070, it comprises five courtyards one after the other demonstrating the Asian love for design and symmetry. In the third courtyard there is a pavilion containing tombstones on turtles and listing the names of doctors who passed exams between 1442 and 1779. The final pavilion is in honour of Confucius, with altars to him and his scholars.

Lunch is at a KOTO restaurant: which stands for Know One Teach One. It’s an endeavour by an Australian/Vietnamese man who went back to Vietnam to help the street kids by taking them in and training them in hospitality so they get a leg up on a career. Unfortunately, the electricity has been cut off by works, but we manage our meal, served by pleasant young people who are helpful and polite, all overseen by an eagle-eyed supervisor who is ever ready to direct if necessary.

Next stop: history and art at the Museum of Ethnography. It’s an interesting place to spend a rainy afternoon, but we quit the group because it’s rather difficult to hear anything with the echoes from four tour groups and their guides. The museum is a fantastic collection of the clothes, artifacts and culture of the various tribes that in habit Vietnam, demonstrating the diversity of this interesting country.

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In the evening we are treated to Annie Dang who tells us about her family’s journey to Australia and the enduring customs they still abide by. And we share a farewell meal at a special restaurant; Home, which is in an old French Colonial house. Best food so far!

 

How long in Halong? 

We have a grueling four hour transfer to Halong Bay from our hotel in Hanoi, so of course it’s an early wake up and off we go in the bus!

 Along the way, Quan amuses us with stories of life in Vietnam. I am now on the lookout for octogenarians with black teeth and a shaved head. Not decayed, but blackened. It transpires that when the Chinese moved in on Vietnam in 111AD, of course they preyed on the local people and dragged them off to be servants and in the case of the pretty girls, concubines.

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New beauty

I’ve said before that the Vietnamese are not stupid: in order to stop the Chinese practice of stealing young girls, their parents settled on a strategy of uglifying their girls. First off they shaved off their beautiful hair, and then they made the girls laquer their teeth black. So even if a Chinese man took a fancy to a pretty face, all she had to do was grin at him and he would soon scurry off in horror. Might even work in the sex trafficking trade today, but I fear that black teeth would become all the rage in sex predators.

After a couple of hours we stop off at a rest stop, a factory for stone sculptures of all shapes and sizes dotted around the entrance. Having satisfied our biological needs, we have to meet “on the other side”, still alive, but by wandering through what turns out to be a giant emporium. We’ve been given 20 minutes, but needless to say half the group becomes entranced by all the goodies on offer and need to be herded gently back to the crowd for the bus.

Halong Bay is the Vietnam centre for pearl culture, and there is an obligatory stop at a pearl factory where we are introduced to the somewhat gruesome process of impregnating mollusks with round balls so their immune system will lay down pearl deposits. I know they’re “just” mollusks  but it still seems to be cruel to take a living and possibly feeling creature and implant it with a foreign object just for our vanity…. I know, I know… I’m an animal lover, though I do eat some of them. Not mollusks though. Oh – the reject pearls get ground down and made into a paste for women to slather on their faces to whiten and rejuvenate. As if…. In my case it’s far too late for that – I needed to start when I was four and wear it like a mask for the rest of my life…

Having been exposed to pearls in China some years ago, and not being overly fond of perfect pearls, I am immune to the charms of the sales room. Pretty baubles, but not for me. I am perfectly happy with my very different bangle.

We finally arrive at our embarkation point and board the Emeraude, a three level floating hotel with  sun deck. Our itinerary for this afternoon and tomorrow morning is explained while we sip the (non-alcoholic) welcome drink. Our life jackets are under the seat, both here, in the dining room and our bedroom. I’m nervous now, but the bay is like a glass sheet, so I doubt we’ll be overturned any time soon. Our cabin is compact but pretty, and soon enough we are cruising out into the bay along with a gazillion other boats of all shapes and sizes. 20171108-IMG_7676-22

We have a jam packed itinerary, of course: first the Surprise Cave or Sung Sot on Bon Hong Island, thus named because you enter a small cave after a steep climb, and after another few meters – surprise!!! -another massive cave opens in front of you.

After that, a short cruise, and then we can get onto Titov Island and ascend 426 steps to the top for 360 degree views. In actual fact, it’s only 300 degrees because of the shrubs and trees that obstruct the rest – but let’s not be picky. I have to do the climb, not just because of FOMO, more because the last time I didn’t exert myself in a similar place, I have regretted it ever since. That was a more compelling destination, Wayag in West Papua, and there the water was turquoise, the sky brilliant blue, and the views just breathtaking – and we were pretty much the only boat in sight.

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Halong
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Halong
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West Papua by my friend Christine

Halong bay is quite spectacular; giant limestone carsts rising out of the sea, with sheer cliffs and sea eagles gliding on the air currents.

The only drawback is that between the gazillion ships burning fuel day and night to power their guests, and the wind blowing south east from China, the atmosphere here is hazy and grey. The islands any more than ½ kilometer away are already washed out by the haze and the water is more muddy green than turquoise. I’ll use my imagination more than my camera here, I think. None-the-less, Halong Bay is a pleasant and relatively peaceful sojourn away from the bustling chaos of the cities we have visited. The morning brings tai chi at 6, kayaking and visiting the pearl farm. I decline them all in favour of a few extra minutes in bed. Soon enough we are back on the bus for the 4 hours to Hanoi, and I am momentarily tempted by the prospect of a sea plane back – in only 45 minutes! My loyalty to our tour group stops me from jumping ship (bad puns abound).

So Many Wonders, so Little Time

Hoi An – Hue – Hanoi in two days; it’s a gruelling pace.

We leave Hoi An with streets awash and the rain still hammering down…

To reach Hue we need to cross a mountain range, and our choice is to go over or under: the tunnel has been built to speed transit across. Having checked with the traffic police and determined that the pass is safe to cross, the decision is to take the high ground. Only one of our group is interested in tunnels so the majority wins out. It might have been fun to see how the tunnel operates: we are told that there is a motorcycle “ferry”: presumably the tunnel is not adequately ventilated, so motorcycle drivers have their bikes hoisted onto a truck, and while they are bused through, their bikes follow and they are reunited on the other side for a small fee. Similarly, livestock takes the high road, which is a small blessing for the animals. Bad enough to be on a truck to be slaughtered, but to have to breathe toxic fumes as well? 

 

Anyway, our path is clear because the rest of the traffic opts for the through route. We wend our way up and round the bends, getting a misty, rainy view of the coast from our perch.

At the summit stands the six hundred year old fortress of the ancient king who kept watch on the traffic across the pass. 20171105-IMG_1634-51-2It’s blustery and wet and we stop for a short time at the cafe/tourist trinket shop (of course) as well as a bathroom. The view from up here is marred by the rain, though from under my new poncho it makes for atmospheric viewing: cascading waterfalls, mist-covered hillsides and a distant shore. 

We’re advised that we may have to stop to move the luggage from the hold up into the bus in case of severe flooding, and soon enough we have joined the rest of the traffic that used the tunnel to make the journey. Thus begins a slow crawl surrounded by trucks, cars and motor bikes, all converging on a low point where the rain waters have covered the roads. Sure enough, as we are idling in the queue, our bags make their way into the seats with us. It’s not obvious how deep the water will be, but no-one wants to chance all our goods and chattels becoming inundated. 

When we arrive at the lowest part of the road, we are faced with a sea of water, torrents gushing into what remains of drains. Houses stand forlornly surrounded by water, people on their shop front steps with water lapping at their toes. As the heavy vehicles make their way through the flood, they create a wash like a speedboat which sweeps away on both sides, the force strong enough to unbalance an unfortunate motor cyclist who falls off her bike.

The weight of the bus keeps the tires in traction and we make it to higher ground, but when we get to our hotel for lunch, the streets of Hue are underwater to our calves. The bus just manages to drive undercover enough for us to have a dry landing, but the locals are less fortunate. By car, cycle or on foot, they have to go through the water, which has risen to the point where the nature strips in the centre are completely under, and only the taller shrubs are still visible.

High and dry we consume our meal and I am torn between resting up in my dry room, or venturing out into the teeming rain to view the UNESCO listed wonders of Hue (pronounced Hwei). FOMO (fear of missing out) has me in its grips, so we return to the foyer to wade forth. Alas, alack – the bus is already 50 meters into its departure!!! Oh no – why didn’t they wait? I am tempted to splash out in a frenzied attempt to retrieve my position, but think better of it. So we return to the room for some R&R before dinner, gazing wistfully at the wonders of our itinerary in black and white on our papers…. Sigh. Never mind dear reader, here are some shamelessly googled photos of the wonders we didn’t see, in the sunlight that didn’t appear. 

On their return, our companions who made it onto the bus said they were wading in water knee deep in order to get to the various attractions, but they all proclaimed that it was wonderful. The bonus was that because of the elements, they were the only group there, and had the chance to see the sites unsullied by other tourists. (Grrrrrrrrrrr….) 

On my news feed I see photos of tourists being evacuated out of old Hoi An by boat. All the streets we wandered along earlier are now knee deep in water.

Hoi An Guardian
The Guardian Nov 5

Our own luck continues to hold; by the next morning the waters have receded to reveal the nature strips, and on our way to the airport, we squeeze in a stop at the Emperor’s tomb, the rain laden clouds providing the necessary mood for the tomb. Built on three levels with steep stairs leading up, the clever emperor designed it so: people have to watch their feet climbing and descending, a worshipful bowing fit for a king. 

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Hubby and I have scored a business class seat for our hour flight to Hanoi, we have a lounge to relax in, which is little more than space carved out between boarding gates, with more comfortable chairs. The free food selection includes of dried noodles, cold cans of 7up or coke, and stewed coffee, but not much more. The most appetising to me is tomato juice, so I have that with the croissant hoarded from breakfast. 

By the time we are in Hanoi our wonderful guide is hiding behind his seat as he announces rising and departure times.. His wonderful giggles manage to keep us all good tempered. We land in Hanoi to an itinerary that leaves us breathless. Bus, restaurant for lunch, cyclo around the old city (I fall asleep), bus to hotel, unload bags, get your room, get on the bus, go to a puppet show, get on the bus, go to restaurant, listen to a talk from Annie Dang (Aus/Viet travel writer), eat 4 course dinner, get on the bus to hotel, collapse into bed. Our guide is cringing when he tells us we have to get up a 6am for our transfer to Halong Bay… By now my introvert is freaking out: I feel like a cat that’s been confined to a room at night – frantically looking for any exit to escape. 

Cooking can be fun? 

Our dinner in Hoi An is held at the Red Bridge Restaurant – I can’t tell you where it is because it was dark and rainy when we went – use Google.

We’re shown into the open air restaurant area, all ready to be seated. Oh no, we are led down the garden path – to an open air kitchen, set up with a multiplicity of cooking stations. Looks like we are going to have to cook our own supper tonight…. Mind you after our lunch experience with Texan soup, I’m probably glad about that!

Our chef proceeds to instruct us in how to make Hoi An pancakes, complete with a large mirror above and behind him – “LCD screen” – so those of us in the peanut gallery can also see. He’s rather droll, “cook for one Vietnamese minute” and sprinkles his instructions with humorous asides. “That’s bloody hot” he proclaims when his pancake is ready! “Calm down, calm down” when we applaud or laugh too much.

Now it’s our turn: we are herded to the cooking stations, and proceed: 1 ½ tablespoons of oil, a ladle of rice batter into the cold oil, and over the flames. Add shrimp, spring onion and been sprouts, and shake the pan (“not your bootie”). When it starts to crisp, pour out the oil, and flip the pancake. The removal of the oil becomes important when we realise flipping consists of throwing and spinning it; he’s demonstrated how to do it right handed, left handed and two handed, but if you have no hands don’t try it. I don’t go there – it’s most likely to end up on the floor, or if I’m really vigorous on the ceiling. A spatula will be safer for me, I figure. Roars of excitement from some of my companions indicate they have tried flipping, with more or less success. I want a whole lot more practice before I make that much a fool of myself.

When we’ve crisped it, we are ushered to where the rice paper is, and with some mint, basil and lettuce to complement it, we roll it all up, tucking in the ends as we go. Slice in half, stand one half on it’s end and ‘voila’ – an entree worthy of gracing a table when we’ve added the peanut sauce. Well – almost. Certainly good enough to eat off our knees. My attempts at culinary decorations is a disaster: instead of beautiful cucumber garnishes, and tomato flowers, red-bridge-restaurantI end up with a flower that looks mutated and a cucumber I’ve chopped into pieces in frustration.

Once we’ve learned how to make our own rice paper circles, and a chicken hot pot a la Hoi An, we are led back to the restaurant where we can finally sit down with a glass of wine and eat our home cooked meal. Problem is, there has been so much rain over the time we’ve been slaving over hot stoves, that the garden path is now underwater to a depth of our calves. Not to worry: in the meantime, the staff have created duck boards for us so we don’t need to slosh. After all, snakes make their escape when it floods, don’t they? Maybe I should be looking up instead of down.

Mind you, there is a bit of confusion when we return to finish our hot pots; I am not entirely sure I am at the same pot I started with, so it’s quite possible I’m eating someone else’s, which causes a certain amount of heat with the protagonists.

We have an early start tomorrow, bags packed outside our rooms by 6.45, so we sleep somewhat fitfully. The rain hammering down all night rouses me to consciousness a number of times through the night.

Outpacing the Typhoon 

We left Cu Chi in a hurry to get on our next plane to Danang. We were lucky: as a result of some last-minute thinking on behalf of our nice Mr Quang, we are issued boarding passes before getting to the counter, get baggage loaded and dash to the gate where we are the last to board the plane for Hoi An.

After we took off, we learned that the other group, didn’t make it out of Ho Chi Minh City, and as the typhoon heads for landfall in southern Vietnam, the government shuts down flights between Saigon and Danang. So we just made it ahead of the storm, for which we are very grateful; I really didn’t need four more days in Saigon.

We arrive at our hotel in Hoi An after dark, so it’s hard to judge the environment. But joy of joys, we have a late start tomorrow: 9 am.

Humans are rather strange don’t you think? Some of our companions are in such a rush to get to their beds, they get their room keys and carry their own bags up the stairs. They promptly have to cart them back down again, having realised that room 101 is on the ground floor.

EMM Hoi An
No blue sky on November 3

We’re on the second floor, and no lift – so two flights of stairs for us and the poor little guy who lugs our bags upstairs: by the time he arrives at our door I think he’s going to pass out. I am grateful after I find out that some on the ground floor find water seeping into their rooms at 4 am. That’s a clue: apart from a brief period in transit between the airport and our hotel, the rest of the time it’s either drizzling or bucketing – we have not entirely missed the weather generated by Typhoon Damrey.

So our one day in this historic city is somewhat dampened (pardon the pun). First an obligatory (dry) visit to a factory where they make silk lanterns, silk cloth, enamel paintings and wood block creations. We see silk larvae feasting on mulberry leaves, silk cocoons, and silk thread being spun. And then we can have silk clothes made up for us by this evening!

Since I went down that path in Saigon for synthetic clothes, I show remarkable forbearance and decline invitations to have more clothes tailored. It sort of reminds me of my trip to China  where I lost my head in the silk factory and bought silk bedlinen…. Never again, my hubby will have a fit!

Before too long, the two of us need some caffeinated sustenance, so we break away from the group and wander off on our own, promising to meet up at our designated restaurant for lunch later. A ‘western’ cafe tempts us, and we sit for a cappuccino, watching the rain fall on the lanterns strung through the trees. 20171104-IMG_7401-07The staff are delightful, and we learn it only opened four days ago, and in fact they are just putting on the finishing touches with a wall mural. Of course I have to share my mural at home, and oohs and aahs ensue. I am curious to see what ends up on their wall… While we are sipping, a local accosts us with some ponchos: good idea, we think, they are certainly more robust than the cellophane ones we’ve brought with us/ We manage to get him down from 500,000 to 200,000 for two – though I suspect the local price is 100,000 for two. Never mind, we are now covered (more puns).

In search of a snack, we head over the bridge to the other side of the river and come across Vi’s; a delightful cafe/restaurant/market/cooking school, where we indulge in chocolate cheesecake and a coconut danish. Yum. And the cakes look like they can give our Adriano Zumbo a run for his money. 20171104-IMG_7411-04

More mooching about in the old city, wet and grey skies take some of the colour out of the streets, but it’s still interesting. Unfortunately our lunch experience is less than expected: Texan soup with garlic bread (I am sure the Texans have never heard of it) turns out to be chicken broth with mixed vegetables. Chicken Parmigiana with baked potato and vegetables is breaded chicken layered with okra and some indeterminate cheese. The only truly tasty thing is the chocolate mousse, though I make a better one at home.

More on the strangeness of strangers. One of our party barks at the young lady for clearing a plate before the whole table had finished their dinner. Her tone is unnecessarily harsh, and the poor woman clearly doesn’t speak English well enough to  understand the point. And what is the point anyway? “When in Rome”?

Hubby is wobbly, so I send him to the hotel on the bus with the others. In the meantime, I meander about old Hoi An, enjoying a short period of rain free skies for my photography. By this time, the river has over-flowed its banks, and is slowly encroaching on the town’s buildings. It’s only going to get worse: a dam needs to be relieved, and we have full moon and king tides… On my way back to the hotel I stop in again for a coffee and to see the mural…

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Tunnel Rats 

Apart from cricket farms, the name Cu Chi is also infamous as an area where the Viet Cong dug out tunnels in order to evade the American forces and defend their town against take-over.

Here they call it the American war. Having kicked out the French, of course the Americans were worried that Communism would sweep the world if it got supported by China and Russia. The cold war was in full swing, but they needed a hot war and so an excuse to invade. Apparently it started with a manufactured incident: the Viet Cong allegedly sinking of an American warship in international waters. The Vietnamese dispute this claim as fake news. Whatever the truth, it gave the Americans the excuse to invade with hostile forces, and the madness started.

The US forces knew they had superior fire-power, so they moved through the country making as much noise as possible in order to attract the Viet Cong, and then strafe them. The VC had different ideas – they might have lacked firepower, but they certainly weren’t stupid. They learned quickly not to take on the enemy directly. And thus started the guerrilla war that ultimately ground down even the might of the US.

The ironic thing about Ho Chi Minh was that he wasn’t a Marxist. He did a tour of the western nations trying to get support for emancipation from the French colonialists. They all ignored him, so he turned to the Russians after WW2, and they supported him in his quest. And today the country has a commercial socialism, without the social benefits of communism: no minimum wage, no taxation, no free healthcare or education. So I do wonder: what was it all about anyway?

But back to the Tunnels… Jimmy Thomson the co-author of “Tunnel Rats”, gave us presentations about the Australian engineers (sappers) who were sent ahead to build a base for their forces. They didn’t hear well it would seem? The US forces were given the directive under no circumstances to enter the tunnels. Well, being Aussie larrikins, they decided to check them out, and found out the extensiveness of the VC tunnels. When the US leaders found out, they asked what the team was called and Sandy MacGregor scratched his head – well, the Australian Army Engineers of 3 Field Troop, he thought of course. Quick as a flash he said “the ferrets”. “What’s a ferret?”

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“Well it’s a furry animal with a long tail that you send down burrows.” “Oh, you mean a rat?” “Yeah mate – tunnel rats.”

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Daily Mail c Alamy

We also learned about the illegal casino the rats started, fueled with beer commandeered from the US who discarded the whole case if there was one broken bottle. As a result, the rats became quite affluent and rigged up their own bathrooms, complete with porcelain and hot running water.

When the Aussie commanders arrived to take control, they tried to commandeer the bathrooms for themselves. The rats protested – we paid for this ourselves! No no, this is army property. The next morning the top brass walked in ready to shower in luxury, only to find the place booby-trapped with grenades. So, who did they call? No dummy – not ghost busters, mine busters, who happened to be the engineers…. Oh, the VC must have crept in last night and placed the grenades. Well get rid of them, then. Oh no – far too dangerous, what if we don’t get them all, I wouldn’t trust it. The engineers congregated on a nearby hill and laughed their heads off as their creation blew sky high. At one point, BHP sent miners’ helmets to aid the war effort. The tunnel rats took one look at them and decided using them would be like painting a bulls-eye on themselves: a VC only had to aim an inch below the light and BAM, dead soldier. Bad idea, thanks all the same BHP.

Well, as I said earlier, the VC weren’t stupid, and the Cu Chi tunnels proved it. While the US carpet bombed the area and turned it into the surface of the moon, the VC devised a series of tunnels on three levels 3, 6 and 9 meters deep.

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Model of tunnels

During the day they took cover, and at night they came out and fought. We watched a 1967 propaganda film and heard all about the heroes who killed Americans and blew up tanks – men and women fought in this battle. Some of them spent decades living like this, rarely seeing the sun, and emerging only at night for fresh air.

Where did all the soil go? They excavated tonnes of soil out of the ground with just hand-held mattocks and reed baskets. Even blind Freddie could have figured it out in a flash if he’d seen great mountains of earth appearing overnight. No, no – they gathered the soil, laid down sheeting to hide their tracks in the daylight, threw the soil into one of the existing bomb craters and just blew it up again at night. So it just looked like any old crater made by the US.

Their kitchens were exhausted through a series of delaying chambers so the smoke never appeared during the daylight to give them away. Instead it slowly moved through the chambers over hours, finally emerging from the last exhaust holes when the sun had set.

When the US (well, actually the Aussies) realised the extent of the VC underground (literally) forces , they brought in sniffer dogs.

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Poor puppies

The VC sprinkled chilies and pepper around the entrances and the dogs turned tail. When the US checked out their dogs, and found they didn’t have some nasal disease, they used the dog’s avoidance to identify the entrances. The VC then stole GI soap and deodorant, made a slurry and used that to fool the dogs; they didn’t react at all because the entrances smelled the same as the guys that led them….. The dogs went home.

The traps they built were simple but horrifically effective. From their experience with trapping animals, they dug holes and placed crude metal spikes in the bottom, invisible to the enemy soldiers, they ended many US lives. As if the spikes weren’t bad enough, the holes trapped snakes and scorpions as well, so in addition to the injuries sustained from the fall, the soldiers were bitten as well.

And under the feet of the enemy was a whole complex of hospitals, kitchens, weapon workshops re-purposing salvaged materials, and sleeping quarters. More than 20 kilometers networked under the ground, serviced by air vents dug and disguised in ant hills.

Thus they waged their fight for their homeland and after 20 bloody years, and with increasing public opposition to the war, the US finally gave up and went home.

We had the chance to go through a small segment underground – a mere 30 meters of hot, close tunnel that I crouch-walked through, the roof scraping against my back. I cannot imagine what resilience it took to spend decades like this.