Attraction/Town you are aiming to visit: Ho Chi Min City (Củ Chi Tunnels)
Distance from Port: 40 miles - 1.5 hrs by car (60 miles - 2.5 hrs by bus)
Mode of transport we used: Bus via ship's tour to Củ Chi Tunnels
English spoken by locals: Our tour guide was fluent and very easy to understand.
Ships tour necessary? Yes. The ship docks at the Phu My port and taxis are not allowed in. You would have a long, hot, unpleasant walk (2-3 miles) to the entrance of the port, and we were told there would not be taxis waiting there. You can arrange a tour privately, (e.g. before you leave home) but the tour needs details of your passport to gain access to the port to collect you. It seemed easier, in this case, to get a tour, and they had one which really interested us too.
Hassle from merchants and taxi drivers: None, as were on a ships tour and didn't really come in contact with any.
It wasn't until we were on the ship and underway that we realized that the ship wouldn't be pulling up at the dock in Ho Chi Min City. We only had our own ignorance to blame. Ho Chi Min City is in-land - the ship couldn't sail that far upriver. It did however sail quite far upriver to a port called Phu My, a working port, with lots of security. This was one occasion when taking a ship's cruise was practically unavoidable and made a lot of sense.
Because we were on a ship's cruise, we had a much earlier start to our day than if we'd been under our own steam. I'm usually happy about this because I can rise early and get to it - it's My Husband who is the slug in the morning.
This particular morning Robin William's voice saying, "Good morning, Vietnam!" haunted my thoughts as I watched the sunrise in a molten orb over the river while we ate breakfast. Photo quality is diminished by the reflection on the glass, but we don't have many sunrise photos, as compared to sunset photos, because of the whole being asleep thing!
When I saw the tour to the tunnels in the brochure, I decided to explore that side of history despite the viscerally unpleasant nature of it.
The Củ Chi Tunnels were dug by the Viet Cong and interconnect with networks that extend for tens of thousands of miles, covering huge swaths of the country. To read more about the Vietnam-American War and the integral role these tunnels played click here.
To get to the tunnels, we had to take a 2.5 hr bus trip which drove through the verdant Vietnamese countryside. It was great to just sit back and have the driver do all the work while I absorbed all the sights with my eyes and my camera.
The lush green fields and tranquil setting contrasted with the chaos of Ho Chi Min City, which we hit during the morning rush hour!
There are six million mopeds in Ho Chi Min City, and all of them were on the road that morning!
I highly recommend this ship's tour if you are ever on this cruise. If you are visiting Vietnam independently, do consider visiting the Củ Chi Tunnels yourself.
What struck me most was how ingenious the tunnels were, and how they enabled so many people to survive when they would have otherwise been napalmed out of existence (though many were.) The tunnels, practically impossible to see from the outside, had ventilation holes that were cleverly disguised on the surface - in this case as a termite hill.
They were dug with very basic tools and the earth scattered, sometimes in newly blasted craters from recent bombs, or incorporated into the soil during farming.
You wouldn't even know he was there!
The tunnels were protected by a host of different traps all designed to mangle and kill you horribly! They were all on display here.
The Tunnels were not just for the soldiers fighting against the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies. In many of the villages, these tunnels were the only bolthole for the villagers when the bombs dropped, in much the same way as the people of the London Blitz had their cellars and shelters and the Mid Western Americans have their basements during tornado season.
It must have been terrifying cowering down there and wondering what, if anything, would be left of you village when it was all over. The guide's stories were hard to listen too and a part of me wished I'd not gone, but thus is the reality of war - it is never pretty! It hurts humanity whether they have a face, a name, a creed, a side or not. Without exception...
If only we could just be as inventive and ingenious about creating peace on our planet - wouldn't that be wonderful?