The Cu Chi Tunnels are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels that were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War; they were the Viet Cong’s base of operations for the Tet Offensive in 1968. To visit the tunnels, we’ll transfer out of Ho Chi Minh City to Tan Phu Trung village. We’ll ride through rubber plantations, and see locals making rice paper and wine. You’ll have some time to watch a movie about the war in 1967 before walking around the historical battle site. We’ll even go down to the original tunnel, which is 3m underground. As a plus, you’ll have a chance to get some target practice with real guns and bullets (if you would like by your own expense). For lunch, we’ll enjoy Viet Cong tapioca food and panda tea on site before heading back to the van for a transfer to Ho Chi Minh City.
Even though I was very tired last night it took me a little while to drift off to sleep. I was looking forward to a really good night and woke up at what I thought was a reasonable time only to find out it was 3:30 am! So that was about five hours sleep which isn’t really enough but given I couldn’t get back to sleep it was going to have to do.
After trying to get back to sleep and failing I decided to have a bath. The whirlpool/spa bath option seemed a nice relaxing alternative to sleeping so I set the bath filling. Over 20 minutes later it was about ready to get in so I turned off the bathroom lights for a relaxing time and got in. I then spent the next several minutes giggling due to the bath being so very small and only my legs fitting in. I spent the next 5 minutes getting in and out of the bath trying to get the whirlpool function working by flicking all of the switches I could find, but to no avail. The hilarity of the situation will probably get completely lost in translation – but at least I thought it was funny.
We met at 6:45 for a nice breakfast including a couple of glasses of strong iced coffee which seemed to do the trick for me, along with copious amounts of various breakfast foods.
Our coach was on time at 7:30 and it took an hour and a half of driving to get to our starting point. I think it was only 15 miles away but the traffic is heavy and it being Monday we were obviously in the rush hour. The roads are crammed full of motorbikes, lorries and a few cars. The motorbikes are like a never ending swarming river which is truly a sight to be seen. I’m pleased we were going out of Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City) because the traffic looks so much worse going in. The crazy thing was that the motorbikes were going the wrong way along some roads and at junctions everyone seemed to be wanting to do their own thing. But somehow it all seems to work and it makes the traffic in Paris or London look very tame.
I managed to catch up with a few minutes sleep on the way and eventually we arrived at our starting point. Our bikes are transported in a different van to us as apparently the bike van is not allowed through rush hour traffic and so has to leave the city before 5:30 am. It didn’t take us long to sort ourselves out as the bikes had been prepared yesterday and after a few good luck hugs and photographs we were on our way.
We immediately turned away from the main road and that set the tone for our days cycling. It was only going to be a short 20 mile day which I think was a good idea to get us used to the bikes and back roads. I say roads, but for quite a bit of time we were cycling on very muddy paths through big puddles and getting splattered in the process. At one stage we had to turn back because the path ran through a field that was not possible to cycle through because of the amount of rainfall – it was more of a mud bath than some of the other paths we had been cycling down.
Later, the road became tarmac. Most of the first part was on single tracks through villages. We passed a lots of barking dogs (I am pleased I had my rabies booster!), all different types of houses and shops, some agricultural, some industrial. Everything was built almost right up to the road. The pattern of houses and businesses being built right on the road was something I have seen in a similar way in other developing countries but each one is different. Most people we have seen seem to be busy doing something, either travelling on the road or working by the side of it, building, or working in the shops or the fields. As there is no government help, if you don’t have a job it’s a matter of survival – everyone needs to work to earn some money to live.
It was hot and getting hotter. The temperature must have been in the mid to high 20’s and was very, very humid. There was some cloud cover but when the sun shone it was hot. We made good progress although it was slow due to the types of paths we were going down and we would stop every 20 minutes or half an hour for a drink of water. About halfway, after an hour we had a longer stop for some snacks and an explanation about the rubber plantation that we had stopped at.
Thai seemed to notice that we liked to eat quite a few of his snacks and remarked that he wondered if we had all had breakfast! I think he is getting to understand a little bit about us as we explained the food is almost as important as the cycling!!!
We turned onto some major roads simply because they had two lanes. Sometimes the roads were empty with just us and the occasional other cyclist or motorcyclist laden down with goods. Occasionally large trucks would come thundering by hooting their horns, as if we didn’t know they were there! At a set of traffic lights as we were due to turn right, all of a sudden I hear “man down”! Alan had not been able to unclip his shoes from the pedals in time before he stopped and as a result toppled over. It is never a good thing and once we had untangled him from his bike he made a quick recovery. Fortunately he only had a slightly grazed knee and hand but was otherwise okay. We cleaned him up and all took the opportunity to have a rest in the shade. Well, apart from a bruised ego and getting absolutely no sympathy from the rest of us, he will be fine.
The pedals I am using were some spares I had knocking around at home and not used before. I knew they were quite a tight fit and had been asking Thai to loosen them a few times before Alan’s little fall. Surprise surprise, he immediately went round all of the pedals loosening them off a little. I mustn’t criticise because on the whole he is an excellent guide.
After 20 miles we arrived at the Cu Chi Tunnels. This area is famous for the tunnels dug underground and used by the Viet Kong during the war. In fact the tunnels were started around the Second World War and extended later on. We toured around the area for an hour or so looking in various bunkers and Thai started to explain about the war. I found the whole thing quite horrendous and it seemed to be such a huge loss of life on both sides. The conditions we have all seen in the films came to life with the heat, humidity and mud. Some of the traps simply made out of wood and short spikes were primitive but so effective they made my stomach turn over just thinking about getting caught in one of them.
The whole area and in fact most of the places we have been so far about the war are really very one-sided and anti-American. Mind you, we are in a communist country and the sentiments of the time still linger. I did find the experience somewhat unsettling and when we got to the area where we could fire live ammunition from the guns that were used during the war I really didn’t fancy doing it, even though it was something I was looking forward to before we started. Perhaps it was because I was tired, but I think having seen some of the conditions beforehand, it seemed an offence to those who lost their lives to almost mock them by firing the guns just for recreation.
We then went back in the van for a half an hour transfer to lunch followed by another hour transfer back to the hotel.
Stats for Day 1
- 22.47 miles.
- 10.7 mph av
(*) Added extracts taken from Alan’s blog:
The mystery for us is that Thai was wearing predominantly white Lycra bike shorts and matching top. No this is not the Gok Wan couture column. The point is that when we arrived at Cu Chi, he still looked the something out of a Persil advert whilst we looked like we’d competed in a mud wrestling contest. There was not a speck of mud on him!
The meals weren’t great but thankfully Keith was on hand to liven things up by showing us a picture he took of the rain on the journey back from the Cu Chi tunnels!!!! Very interesting. A video of paint drying will follow shortly no doubt. Love you Keith xxx