Southeast Asia with Peter – Page 06

Southeast Asia with Peter – Day 9

We flew to Vientiane, Laos to Phnom Phen, and then on to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (Saigon). All in all, it was a 5 hour trip.  In the Phnom Phen airport Pete and I had to pay $45.00 each  to get our Vietnam Visas that we applied for back in the US.IMG_4554Here is Ole’s sketch of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh city. Neato!

IMG_4547We arrived at the Asian Ruby 3 Hotel in downtown Ho Chi Minh City in early afternoon ready to spend 3 nights.

IMG_4555After checking in we went on a brief tour of the city ending at the History Museum.

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Here we saw a bust of Ho Chi Minh.  The “George Washington” of Vietnam.IMG_4569

We also saw a 3  foot tall  “Lingum”  In Hinduism it is a stylized phallus worshiped as a symbol of the god Shiva. If Shiva had one of these he should be worshiped!

IMG_4570 Here is Vishnu. He is regarded as a major god in Hinduism. He is thought as the preserver of the universe while two other major Hindu gods Brahma and Shiva, are regarded respectively, as the creator and destroyer of the universe.   

IMG_4556Here is the Cathedral that Ole sketched.  It is actually now designated as a Basilica. It was established by French colonists and  was constructed between 1863 and 1880. It has two bell towers, reaching a height of 190 feet. All building materials were imported from France. The outside wall of the cathedral was built with bricks from Marseille.

The statue of Our Lady of Peace in front made with granite from France. During October 2005, the statue was reported to have shed tears, attracting thousands of people and forcing authorities to stop traffic around the Cathedral. However, the top clergy in Vietnam confirmed that the statue did not shed tears, which nevertheless failed to disperse the crowd flocking to the statue days after the incident. Another miracle?

IMG_4584 IMG_4585Across the street from the Cathedral is the Central Post Office. The building was constructed when Vietnam was part of French Indochina in the early 20th century. It has a neoclassical architectural style. It was designed and constructed by the famous architect Gustave Eiffel. Today, as you can see, the building is a big tourist attraction.

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This lovely young lady was being photographed outside the Post Office. I took a picture, too.  I wanted to show the very typical Vietnamese dress called an ao dai. The ao dai is considered to be an elegant, yet demure, garment. Traditionally, long, wide- legged trousers are worn under a high-necked, long-sleeved, fitted tunic with slits along each side.  You see girls dressed in white pick their way through muddy streets going home from school on their bikes.

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These two pictures are both of the same building.  At the time that the US  evacuated (fled) Saigon on April 29, 1975, it was the main CIA building.  I don’t know what it is today, but it’s a safe bet it’s not CIA.  The event marked the end of the Vietnam War and the start of a transition period leading to the formal reunification of Vietnam into a Socialist Republic governed by the Communist Party.

In the evening, across the street from our hotel was a huge food festival.  Our group wandered over and were quickly split up by the mob. I took a few pics and retreated back to the hotel.  Pete was over there somewhere and came back minus his camera. Pick pocketed?IMG_4590 IMG_4595 IMG_4598 IMG_4601 IMG_4603 IMG_4604

IMG_4610 Here’s my room in the Asian Ruby 3 hotel before I unpacked and went to bed.

Southeast Asia with Peter – Day 10

IMG_4612 It’ a good thing that the people in Saigon don’t have a lot of cars.  Imagine the traffic jam if all these folks had cars!IMG_4631 We drove 42 miles to the Cu Chi District.  During the American War from 1967, it served as base for the 269th Aviation Battalion of the United States ArmyIt is famous for its Củ Chi tunnels, which were constructed during the Vietnam War, and served as headquarters for the Viet Cong.  

Notice that one quote calls the war “Americn War” the other quote call it the “Vietnam War”.  Difference in perspective?

The tunnels of Củ Chi are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Củ Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and were the Viet Cong‘s base of operations for the Tết Offensive in 1968.

The tunnels were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous North Vietnamese fighters. The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces, and helped to counter the growing American military effort.

IMG_4639 A  military relic in the war memorial park.

IMG_4645 Here is Henry, our Vietnam OAT Guide, showing us a termite mound that had a hollow bamboo tube sticking up in it.  It was used for ventilating the tunnels. During the war this ground would be a forest floor covered with leaves, roots, and vegatation, not beaten earth paths that we see here!

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Typical Viet Cong uniforms: Black “Pajamas” for night, Camouflage cloak for day. All I shared with them was my bucket hat.

IMG_4653 Henry described the general layout of the tunnels.  They had several level and lots of escape booby trapped routes.  It looks like a big ant farm!

IMG_4655 Today, visitors can access the tunnels through specially prepared entrances.

IMG_4658 The tunnels have been heightened and widened to accommodate the western visitors.  That’s a well pit on the rught.

IMG_4659 In spite of the modifications, I had to crawl through on my hands and knees.  It was dark in there.  The flash photo makes it seem lighted, but it wasn’t.  All I had was my little flashlight to illuminate the way.

IMG_4663 IMG_4664 IMG_4666 A park guide showed us how a real entrance could be covered up.  He went down and disappeared only to pop up in a few seconds about 50 feet away.

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Gloria is standing by a bunker with a gun slit.  It was easy to see it now, but I bet it was well hidden then. There were gun slits on all four sides.IMG_4679 Here is an especially nasty trap.  Pungi stakes sticking up in a pit that would have been deadly to the US “Tunnel Rats” crawling around in the dark.

IMG_4684 More Viet Cong uniforms.  Notice the neck scarfs.  I think Ole had one.IMG_4687 These guys were showing how unexploded bombs could be made into mines.

IMG_4688 Another nasty trap. It would be placed in the hole behind it and covered with a lid and leaves. Ouch!!

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This young lady was a heroine of the tunnel warfare.  Note the US belt.

The text below was lifted from Wikipedia ( as was much other stuff).  It is a long discription of the Cu Chis story.  Skip it if you want and forward to the next picture.

The tunnels were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous North Vietnamese fighters. The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces, and helped to counter the growing American military effort.

American soldiers used the term “Black Echo” to describe the conditions within the tunnels. For the Viet Cong, life in the tunnels was difficult. Air, food and water were scarce and the tunnels were infested with ants, poisonous centipedes, scorpions, spiders and vermin. Most of the time, soldiers would spend the day in the tunnels working or resting and come out only at night to scavenge for supplies, tend their crops, or engage the enemy in battle. Sometimes, during periods of heavy bombing or American troop movement, they would be forced to remain underground for many days at a time. Sickness was rampant among the people living in the tunnels, especially malaria, which was the second largest cause of death next to battle wounds. A captured Viet Cong report suggests that at any given time half of the soldiers had malaria and that “one-hundred percent had intestinal parasites of significance”.

Operation against the tunnels did not bring about the desired success as for instance on the occasion when troops found a tunnel, they would often underestimate its size. Rarely would anyone be sent in to search the tunnels, as it was so hazardous. The tunnels were often rigged with explosive booby traps or punji stake pits. The two main responses in dealing with a tunnel opening were to flush the entrance with gas, water or hot tar to force the Viet Cong soldiers into the open, or to toss a few grenades down the hole and “crimp” off the opening. 

However, throughout the course of the war, the tunnels in and around Củ Chi proved to be a source of frustration for the U.S. military in Saigon. The Viet Cong had been so well entrenched in the area by 1965 that they were in the unique position of locally being able to control where and when battles would take place. By helping to covertly move supplies and house troops, the tunnels of Củ Chi allowed North Vietnamese fighters in their area of South Vietnam to survive, help prolong the war and increase American costs and casualties until their eventual withdrawal in 1972, and the final defeat of the Republic of Vietnam in 1975.

We left the Cu Chi Tunnels and drove back to Saigon

IMG_4698 On our way back to town we passed several  latex plantations. Latex was collected (like maple sap) and processed into rubber. The French companies like  Michelin made  fortunes when this place was French Indochina.

IMG_4701 IMG_4707 IMG_4712 A few scenes along the way back to Saigon:  Water buffaloes wallowing, a biker carrying gasoline, and a biker carrying glass with riders on top

IMG_4713 We had lunch at the Pho Hung restaurant.  We had a huge delicious bowl of  hot  Pho,  What else?

IMG_4719 After lunch some of us went to Ben Thanh Market.  Peter bought some  Luwak, or weasel/civet shit coffee.  Luwak refers to the beans of coffee berries once they have been eaten and excreted by the Asian palm civet. The name is also used for marketing brewed coffee made from the beans.

Producers of the coffee beans argue that the process may improve coffee through two mechanisms, selection and digestion. Selection occurs if the civets choose to eat coffee berries containing better beans. Digestive mechanisms may improve the flavor profile of the coffee beans that have been eaten. The civet eats the berries for the beans’ fleshy pulp, then in the digestive tract, fermentation occurs. The civet’s proteolytic enzymes seep into the beans, making shorter peptides and more free amino acids. Passing through a civet’s intestines the beans are then defecated with other fecal matter and collected.

I’ll let you decide if it’s a good thing!

IMG_4720 I’ll stick with durians. Regarded by many people in southeast Asia as the “king of fruits”, the durian is distinctive for its large size, strong odour, and formidable thorn-covered husk. The fruit can grow as large as 12 inches long and  6 inches in diameter, and it typically weighs 2 to 7 lbs. Its shape ranges from oblong to round, the color of its husk green to brown, and its flesh pale yellow to red, depending on the species.

The edible flesh emits a distinctive odor that is strong and penetrating even when the husk is intact. Some people regard the durian as having a pleasantly sweet fragrance; others find the aroma overpowering and revolting. The smell evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust, and has been described variously as rotten onions, turpentine, and raw sewage. The persistence of its odour has led to the fruit’s banishment from certain hotels and public transportation in Southeast Asia.

I was hoping to get a tate of a durian on this trip, but it didn’t happen. Perhaps this is a good thing, too…

IMG_4728 The group went to the Rong Vang Water Puppet theater for the show. 

The tradition of Vietnamese water puppet shows dates all the way back to the 11th century.  Puppet shows in Vietnam take place over a waist-deep murky pool of water. The puppets are controlled from below via a connection to people behind the curtain. The secret of how puppeteers control the puppets from beneath the water has been closely guarded for centuries – see if you can figure it out!

Musicians on either side of the pool provide the music and sound effects for the water puppet show with traditional instruments while also doing the voices. Water puppet shows haven’t changed much over the years; typical themes are deeply rooted in rural traditions such as planting rice, fishing, and village folklore.IMG_4729The Musicians

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IMG_4746 IMG_4751 The puppets

IMG_4722The Puppeteers

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The top picture shows what a Vietnamese Rickshaw looks like.  The bottom shows me in one.  They are powered by a guy pedaling in the rear.  Each one of the 15 of us had a separate rickshaw.  It was dark and the streets were busy with all kinds of traffic.  My driver, the smallest, skinniest one drove through the traffic like a maniac.  Guess what? The memory card in my camera was full at that moment.  Alas, no shots of close calls and white knuckles.

IMG_4761We arrived at the Mai Home Culinary Arts Center.  We had a demo of Vietnamese cooking techniques.  Pete volunteered to do some chopping. They gave him a knife, then added another, then added another, then a fourth.  He used them all at the same time to the amazement of all.  Atta Boy, Pete.  You showed ’em!!

PS The dinner was excellent and there were no little bits of fingers in the chicken dish!

After that, we  went back to the hotel and hit the hay,  So ended a busy Day 10 Day 

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