Hanoi Cooking School

Hanoi: 29.10.08
Kandis and Kate’s cooking adventure: We are delivered an envelope to our hotel and find our itinerary. We are to meet our guide at 6.30pm at our hotel where he will then escort us by taxi to one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in Hanoi for dinner. Mr Tuan speaks English quite well and he has learnt a few slang pieces which makes conversation a little amusing. He is however taken aback (or offended) when we inform him that I don’t eat seafood and that Kate does not eat red meat. We manage to have only one unliked dish between us and we change the pork to veggies for our set meal. We are served small plates (enough for two) of prawns, beef, chicken, rice and a great vegetable soup for starters. They are all very tasty. I know that we have paid for our tour up front but as we pay no physical money here it feels like we are being taken out to dinner. We don’t spend long at the restaurant and we are dropped back to our hotel to meet again tomorrow. Initiation over; weird but interesting.

30.10.08
We meet early at 7.45am and head to the Old Quarter to meet the man who will take us to the market. He is not a chef but a cook and we are told this is quite a discernable difference. In actual fact he is just the guide and our translator. Even though I have walked through this market before it is good to stop with a local and be shown a few things without being screamed at to what I assume equates to: move on. The turtle is the most eye-opening or disheartening thing for me as he tries his hardest to get out of his cage – I am sure he will be tasty for some local. The guide buys some things for our class and we truck off to restaurant Highway 4 to meet the chef. Chef is a middle aged man who does not speak very good English but we manage to get through our dishes without too much trouble and enjoy the fresh tastes and flavours. We have tapioca coated chicken and cashews, banana flower salad and spring rolls. Yum! Cutting is shown by short demonstration as is cooking’ they are all very easy dishes; simple and flavoursome. We cook each dish then eat itAfter our class we are taken back to the hotel for three hours of free time. We decide to head out to a shopping centre to see what is there… summary of nothing much.

We are taken to the Old Quarter again and given a xiclo (cyclo) tour of town – however there is no instruction or guidance and it is more like a ride. Before we board we are informed that our guide will pay then men after our trip and that we should tip. After speaking with a local ex-pat the other day he had informed me that it is not actually custom to tip in Vietnam and if asked by a guide to tip someone then they are usually getting a cut. So we get off and walk into another water puppet show (this is not a bad thing as I did fall asleep for some of the last one); as we step off we are chased inside by the guide and asked why we didn’t tip, we tell him it wasn’t our custom and he walks away to explain. Besides that we are not given our full hour and if don’t know how much a tour is then how much am I suppose to tip?

You could cut the air with a knife after the show with the guide; I think he is angry not to receive his commission from our non-existent tip. We go to a restaurant and he tells us that he is not eating with us but will wait until he goes home to eat with his family. I note the uncomfortable feeling and offer him to go home as long as he sends back his driver. I am not accustomed to having people watching me eat. Agreeably he accepts ad leaves us to our own devices. So far my opinion of local guides is fading to be non-favourble. Mr Liu, our driver picks us up at our agreed time and he takes us to our hotel.

31.10.08

Breakfast today is at Koto. Kate and I have eaten here on two previous occasions and we know the food is fresh and tasty. Our guide leaves us a message and says he will not be joining us due to being flooded in and it is taking longer than expected to get to us so we enjoy a quiet buffet on our own. I have a freshly made omelete, banana bread and a croissant – all great.

The guide arrives and t is still pouring rain but we head out to So Village anyway. The village is run by the Gian people – reknowned for their vermicelli noodles but our trip is cut short due to the roads being cut so we spend our time taking photos of the flood and the people in it. Cars and bikes are stopped in the middle of roads, people are fishing in the street and wading through to who knows where. It is almost nice to be in the car and sightseeing as it were but I do feel for the unfortunate folk who have to sand bag their houses and shops.

We make our way back to the cooking school and arrange to cook two hours earlier than expected. We are even earlier and have a quick drink and I try a mulberry shot. It is more like a port which was unexpected but I love the glass it is served in and buy some of them too. I don’t have port glasses – well I do now.

My dishes today are ginger rolled beef, fried rice and tofu summer rolls – I think that I will have to try this at home. At the end of the class chef teaches us how to make decorative vegie art and as I try my hand at it think that this is best left to the experts. We are given the recipe cards and a take home gift of cooking utensils (made from coconut of course). I think that our tour was hindered by the weather but I also think that our guide has been doing this far too long and has a no-care factor now. I enjoyed my time cooking – being in the kitchen itself with chef – but the rest of it, well, take it or leave it. I recommend a full day cooking class over a multi day tour anyday.

Cat Ba

Halong Bay & Cat Ba: We have one short afternoon in Hanoi and then head off to an overnight location on Cat Ba Island from the port of Halong Bay. It is a four hour bus ride to the harbour from Hanoi where we board a very large private boat (they are all large) and head to the islands. This part of the world is known as the Gulf of Tonkin and is home to hundreds of islands; some inhabitable and some likely tourist destinations for private resorts. They are an amazing sight and though similar to Thailand the expanse of these islands is incredible.

We anchor a few kilometres from a rocky outcrop of an island and are served a fabulous lunch after which we then move around to another island where we offload and tour Heaven Palace Caves. The caves are a natural formation unfortunately now turned into a tourist attraction with a lovely pathway built right through the guts of it they were once home to many fishermen in the monsoon seasons. Although the coloured lighting is almost disappointing because it steals away some of the natural beauty of the caves it does add effect – they are well looked after and have become a UNESCO World Heritage Site meaning they will continue to be looked after. I could have spent much more time here.

We head into a closer set bunch of islands for a relaxing afternoon swim. The water here is very deep and green in colour but as you can’t see the bottom you begin to wonder what is lurking out there and seeing you as a snack – I am relieved to hear there are no big sharks around here. This is a fine way to spend an afternoon – I really do feel like I am holidays.

We arrive at Cat Ba island to find it covered in pearl shops. Not surprising as this is the place well known for it. Our hotel is located half a block from the main shopping strip so we venture out (after an awful dinner) and I scout. I return the next day to purchase a new pair of sunglasses – yes baby I broke another pair – and a few necklaces.

Our final day on Cat Ba is spent in a sea kayak and lounging on our own private beach. I am not a fan of the cross wind but after 45 minutes we arrive at our little cove and spend the next 2 hours swimming and basking in the holiday moments that will stick my mind for a while. I like Cat Ba and if you wanted a romantic no drama holiday this is a very likely spot to have it – not very busy, not much to do but plenty of natural wonders to see and plenty of private beaches and spectacular scenery.

Hanoi – Old Quarter

Hanoi: I have arrived in the last city of my first tour, Hanoi. We get in at an unseenly hour where the locals aren’t even up and ready for tourist hasseling yet. We are expecting a walking tour by our guide but he says there is nothing to see and leaves us to fend for ourselves. We soon discover we are in fact in the Old Quarter – a fantastic shopping mecca. All the streets are lined with stalls of silk, scarves, bags, laquerware, books, DVDs – the list goes on. As not much is open we head out.

Instead of sleeping we decide to trudge one hour to breakfast, to a cafe which is run to benefit street kids and help educate them and give them a life worth living. I am not a morning person as we all know and without any direction and following people who also have no idea where to go my straws were breaking the camel. Luckily enough the breakfast is worth the walk. Poached eggs on toast with potato gems and a slice of banana bread with carrot juice on the side - yum!

We tour through the nearby Temple of Literature but without a guide it is just another temple with interesting interiors. I would love to know the story of the turtles.

We decide to have lunch at Highlands Coffee located on level three of a building (eye-sore) overlooking Hoan Kiem Lake - HC is a chain of coffee shop/cafes with American style menus. I do like this place, it is a good trusty back up that is clean and has things I recognise on the menu. It does make for a nice change every so often and I feel it is a treat more than anything. Besides, the Iced Lime Blended freezie is awesome!

After lunch we decide to go to the water puppet theatre so we pre-purchase our tickets and kill the next hour and a half hawking the vendors. We do good out of our bargaining and I help Jess buy a new North Face pack, help Sue purchase a new hat and myself a new sling bag. The puppet thetre is full of other back packers and Europeans but the whole show is in Vietnamese. Lucky I can read storylines. The art of water puppet theatre appeared in Vietnam under the Ly Dynasty. The surface of water serves as the stage while spectators sit at the edge of the water (tiered seating). The puppeteers both male and female stand waist-deep in the water to manipulate the puppets making them move about and dance on the surface of the water. They are very good and the short stories make for a funny afternoon. Very clever.

Heading back to our hotel the streets are unrecognisable as they are now filled with moto’s, street vendors and hawkers galore. I part with our group as they decide on a beer afternoon and I take a side journey into what I like to call the underwear street – a great discovery as I need a new bendeau – and I find one, Calvin Klein thanks you very much! :) I find a great mexican place along the way – dinner prospect, a great gallery where all the staff are painting their masterpieces, a book store and a scarf shop worth venturing into. Scouting is the best option when arriving into a new city. You get your bearings and then find the local markets where you get a base price for your wares and everything else after that is fair game.

We do go for dinner at the Havana Club and I must say the chicken burrito is a taste sensation. We are joined by another group of back packers that know some of our tour folk and we sit and drink cocktails and eat mexican food next to the pet iguanas – a great way to spend a night. I will definitely be coming back here.

I am trying not to buy anything here as I will be living here when I return from Laos. But I did make a friend today in a silk shop. Ngung – she wants me to teach her English and after a quick lesson on how to say ‘please try it on’ I think I might.

Hue

We arrive in Hue late in the afternoon and after being sick of transport but mostly the condition of the roads we decide that a quiet dinner might be in order. I don’t think they have machine road-rollers in Asia as the whole place feels like you are driving on corregated iron.

Our hotel is located in the middle of no and where so we walk the busy road and cross the bridge in to the tourist area which is full of restaurants. Indian is the fare of the day and as dubious as I am to feeling like I am going to regret this in the morning I get one of the tastiest butter chickens around. I am surprised and impressed and am still alive and kicking – awesome!

The next day our guide arranges a moto tour of the town and surrounds and in summary this is by far one of the best days spent to date. Our little family tour group of eight all have their designated driver and they are in a set order for the whole trip. I take the flank but this makes for great pics along the way; not only that my driver is in charge and speaks very good English so we discuss the countryside as we go and he points out things of interest. He is fifty four years old and has four children and seven grand children, he has owned a hotel previously and decided to give up the life for something more relaxing like tripping tourists around. Every time we stop and go again he asks me to yell ‘mot, hai, ba’ (one, two, three) to his drivers and they all respond with a YA! and off we go. We stop frequently and visit: 4th Century temples, pagodas, the Perfume River lookout which used to be an ARMY barracks, the nunnery where we eat an all vegetarian lunch and take a compulsory snooze on bamboo mats, the monastery to see monks in prayer, a place where they make bamboo hats and incense, and we take a short boat trip after which we are delivered bak to our hotel.

Also during our travels through the rice paddies we visit a local museum and a bridge; made by a woman who could not conceive children in order to bring children to her; and the bridge is manned by Yarni – an old fortune teller. Yarni is amazing, she reads my right palm and tells me I will conceive two children, possibly four, that I have a lot of respect, that I will have a fabulously happy marriage to my current husband but I will drive him to drink, but that is ok for me because I am happy. She is great and I want to package her up and take her home.

Some of us decide to visit one of the few attractions for tourists in this city; the markets. To our surprise it is not touristy at all so we walk through random alley ways and find the food section – OMG – not sure hygiene exists here – Kymmy you would have a heart attack. But it does make for interesting stories and postcards and you really can buy anything here.

We have a pre-birthday dinner in a local restaurant where I treat myself to a steak. I notice a sign pointing down an alley way to an art studio and visit there on the way home. The items here are made by a mute boy and his friends and they are such amazing pieces, so I buy three. The price of these items are also SO cheap in comparison to what I have seen in the markets. I am well impressed and have happy snaps which they are happy for me to take for free.

The next morning six of us decide to visit the Citadel. The layout is actually quite a stretch of land (10km2) but most is in restoration. In its day it was the empire of kings and the history here is great (Bree I will bring you here one day). Inside the complex there is a local painter (well his borther and his grand mother are the sellers) he has painted some things I have not yet seen on my travels so again I opt to purchase some pieces. The grandmother is obsessed with having her photo taken with me on my camera so whilst my payment goes through we manage to get a good one we both like. She doesn’t speak English at all but she gives me a free painting as I have brought her luck for the day. I love this place.

We pack up our stuff and head for the overnight train. It is my birthday today and the guys have gone out of their way to a bakery to find me a cake. We may be like a travelling circus to the locals but it feels like we are a family. It’s quite funny. We arrive at the train station just as it starts raining. Good timing on our part. We board our not so great carriage and set off again overnight to our next port of call… Ha Noi.

On the way to Ha Noi (Hanoi)

We take a four hour bus ride today from Ninh Binh to Hanoi after getting off the sleeper. Over the mountain pass. It is a spectacular part of scenery and I am thankful that we are out of yet another tourist place. Mind you, I did get a couple of things made. The nice thing about our travels is our intermitten (?) stops along the way.

ur first stop is China Beach named by the Americans in the war and reknowned for their ARMY hospital. It has long since been demolished and is now home to a quiet bunch of locals who takes fun in commenting on some of our tours dress sense. They hawk us for more water and beer – as does everyone in Vietnam, unless of course they have pineapple or copied lonely planet books to sell – I promise I will bring some home. :) The beach however is shoadowed by a cool looking temple built in the side of a mountain in the distance, it makes for a very authentic feeling locale.

We stop off at a marble shop and by gosh the size of some of these statues is incredible and the amount of detail is astounding. I am also in awe of the price tags – I am assuming the regular punter is not up for a six foot statue of buddha and trust that the hotel trade is well to do for this kind of thing. I could spend a lot more time here but unless you are buying something they don’t really care if you are there or not. I do purchase a couple of things for the mums though out of jade, smooth as glass and incredibly adorable. You have to wait and see ladies. Sorry honey I couldn’t afford the lions for the Rock-a-dale residence.

The road up the mountain is surprisingly good but very snake-like. We stop off on the side of the road to view the old leopar (?) colony below. The children of the previous colony have inherited the land and still live there I am assuming with the previous generation or what is left of them.

We stop at the top of the mountain pass at what I assume is the local village. My second assumption is that they haven’t seen a lot of tourists. Every person has their own hawker the second we step off the bus. We have arrived at a time (midday mind you) when the fog is still streaking in from the coast. It gives a VERY earie feeling. There are gun placements there from the 1960′s but they are locked up and I believe no one has a key so they will sit for eternity and add to this very surreal environ. With the locals sporting their Billy Bob Teef we decide to get back on quickly and be on our way. One of the girls was wearing a boob-toob dress and with well endowed assets she was harrassed enough to have her top pulled down by one of the older women who wanted to compare) – word of advice when they say dress appropriately, when you get off the bus, cover up.

Hoi An

Hoi An

We arrive in Hoi An at 5.30am and thankfully we have rooms to go to. My sleep on the train is sporadic but I am not as tired as I think I should be. The hotel is the best one we have had so far. I can only imagine that it also has a little bit more of a price tag but I am thinking that this is the town for it.

After a couple of hours kip our group heads in to town for a walking tour with our guide. We walk about 2kms up one very long street and stop off at a tailor he recommends. You can get anything made here: shoes, clothes, sleeping bags liners, hair pieces, lanterns and much more. The local saying for this place is: ‘Please you come see my shop!’. I decide to get some things made at Blue Sky – two jackets, some silk over shirts and an outdoor skirt. I am measured and asked to return at 7pm for first fitting. The rest of the afternoon is spent walking around Old Town and looking at the hundreds of galleries, souvenir shops and tailors. When I say hundreds I mean for tailors alone in this smallish sized town there are 400. I go back to my fitting and everything is wrong! They insist they will make is better and that I should come back again tomorrow – they will work on it until I am happy with it. I hope so.

Day Two

After jumping off the top of the boat into the water at Nha Trang my shoulder is starting to increase with pain so I opt to stay in the hotel today in the air-conditioning. I enquire about a doctor in case I might need one but I feel I have only torn the muscle – something that time will heal. This is a painful process as our guide is no help to me which makes me think that in a state of emergency I am certain he would abandon us. I visit the pharmacy next door to the hotel (convenient) and buy some Voltaren, immediate relief, and spend the next few hours dozing. I rise for my fitting and to my surprise it goes well, only a few minor adjustments to the length of the sleeves although my skirt needs redoing again! We go out for a local meal and I have a beef hot pot. Huge meal and a little bland but just what I need.

Day Three – 21 October

I get out of bed at 6.30am to join our group in a private car to the local temple, My Son. As we arrive we feel like the only ones there as it is raining. We are taken to the main start point and book a temple guide. He walks us through each of the ruins all connected by stone paths. The temples are in what I like to call the valley of the kings really, they stretch as far back as the 2nd Century and after being mostly destroyed during the Vietnam/American war some parts are in heavy restoration. My Son is the major site in Vietnam from the ancient Champa Kingdom which flourished between the 2nd and 15th centuries. It served aas a religious and intellectual centre where Champa kings were crowned and buried. In 1999 it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. (Bree you would love it here).

After our tour we head in to the tailor for collection of our things and an afternoon tea from a French patisserie that makes your mouth water. It has the most amazing chocolate milkshakes and chocolate mousse. WE finish the afternoon with more shopping after scouting it out previously. I have learnt this is the best way to stop impulse buying and spending huge amounts of money. Getting the price range sorted for the same item is worth the leg work. And don’t be convinced by the ‘you my first customer of the day you bring my baby good luck if you buy from me’ story, it’s a sham. Our group dines together at a restaurant 2kms from our hotel and I finish the day feeling happy and accomplished. Word of warning though, if you want tailoring make sure you know you want to get made or bring your things for copying because these women are THE best salesmen around.

Day Four

I have a little sleep in and then head back to another tailor for a final adjustment; they will drop my short off to the hotel in an hour. I then moto to the post office and post my wares back to Oz – 2.6kgs = approximately 650,000 dong. As I sit typing my blog in the hotel restaurant the staff work around me with the laundry – I think I am the only guest indoors today. I order the best fried eggs with a warm baguette and a lemon juice. The juices here are always fresh and can be made into a shake with the addition of condensed milk. The lemon and lime juice on the other hand has some sort of sugar syrup added making it a very refreshing but tasty treat. This is becoming a favourite of mine. We will book out of our hotel at 1.3pm and catch a private bus up north to Hue. Hopefully the rains have stopped long enough fo a sunny afternoon swim…

Nha Trang

Local school excursion to the Buddha

Local school excursion to the Buddha

Nha Trang – Day One

As you can imagine in a seaside town you cannot sit quietly on the beach and relax. You are frequently visited by hawkers trying to flog whatever they have on their person and you have to keep a fairly watchful eye on the occasional shifty looking kids planning to rob you. So after an very early morning stroll at 7.30am after a quick rest Kate and I take a short walk to see the water. Azure blue, warm and at this time of the morning the beach is almost empty. Keep this in mind if you want to take a dip any time.

Our day is spent in a group on the back of eight motorbikes. My driver Kim was a 60 year old man who has ten children and many grand children, his eldest child being 38. He used to own a hotel but now likes a more quiet life trafficking tourists around the city and living in a small village with his extended family. He spoke very good English having only studied for six months many years ago. He is in command of our little posse and the only driver to speak English – bonus.

Our tour takes us to the big white Buddha on top of a hill outside of town. This shrine to Buddha is not your average gordy looking monster, it is a masterpiece. Standing 14 metres high, Buddha is made of complete white marble and overlooks the towns folk below. Here I speak to some school kids on an excursion and take photos of them which they absolutely love.

We then visit the Ponagar Temple. Adorned with miniature animals and guardians the temple area is reserved for worshipping of reproductive organs known as Linga and Yoni. It has many places for worship and is visited by a pilgrimage of thousands at certain times of the year.

Our final activity for the day – mud baths. Picture dozens of spa baths all paced out on a hillside, nicely paved with rocks and cement and you will have the setting of this fascinating piece of tourist heaven. To get the complete package experience you pay 80,000 dong for the mud bath which includes standing hydrotherapy and 45 minutes in a hot tub and 100,000 dong for a 45 minute massage. If you ask me $11.25 is not a bad way to spend your day being pampered. And I must add this is THE best massage I have ever had – feet and all.

Our day using the same group of drivers costs each of us 110,000 dong ($6.85). A great day out but I am also hoping for some more adventure.

Day Two

I get up early to see if one of the girls has booked the boat trip we all wanted to go on. She can’t be found; as in, she did not get back to her room that night. Her and two of the other girls went out – late. Kate was delivered back to our room at God knows what hour and in a state unrecognizable to the human form. That’s a story for another day. So, I walk around the corner to the tour lady who remembered me from the night before and I throw caution to the wind and book for us. Luckily enough our ever so useless tour guide didn’t end up booking anything at all for us so if I hadn’t went around to the agent this morning we would have been doing nothing. Some people really are just useless.

We board the boat with 30 other Europeans, mostly Australians funnily enough and are welcomed by a local man called Loc, a.k.a. The Funky Monkey! Our trip takes us to three islands off Nha Trang where we spent an awesome water filled day snorkeling, swimming and drinking at the floating bar tied to the boat. All the boat crew then grace us with an awesome session of music after lunch. The driver looks strangely like the old from the Karate Kid but plays the drums with perfection.

The weather is fine and sunny and I start the tanning process (not the crispy version, I was very sensible). The water on the other hand is a superb late 20-something degrees. Not quite as warm as the bath but close to it. This is an amazing day cruising the islands and wasting the day with chit-chat and laughter. People watching must be my favourite past time. There really are some loonies out there – I think they were all on our boat; but it does make for an ever present thought that I really am sane.

I go to dinner with the NZ couple in our group, Chris and Sue. Chris reminds me of my dad and I have had a lot of fun with them so far. We eat some great Italian food and then hop the next sleeper to Hoi An – Tailor capital of the world – apparently.

$20 US Challenge

Ho Chi Minh City: It is very easy to get carried away shopping in Saigon. The guidebooks and local recommendations say that you can expect to live off a minimum of 20 US dollars per person per day. So Kate and I begin the challenge of spending an entire day of sight seeing and food on a budget of $20… Game on!

My first cost of the day is a ride on a moto to the History museum $2.
Breakfast Pho at a random street stall where only one member of the family speaks (very little) English but the beef pho is the BEST I have EVER had – $0.90
Ticket to the Saigon’s zoo where the enclosures are very clean but the animals have psycho personalities from being stuck in a zoo all their life with no play toys – $0.50.
Iced chocolate at a businessman’s office cafe (amazingly good but might do me in) – $4.
Ticket to History museum where some parts are under construction but they have a cool music section – $0.95.
Lunch at Highlands Coffee (very American and prices to match) where we discover a fantastic lime freezey and baguettes – $6.
Moto back to the hotel to change for dinner and meet our group – $0.95
Dinner a traditional Vietnamese restaurant around the corner – $4.80
Night cap at a local bar with new buddies – $2.

Total Price without parting with ANY mod-cons = $20.10
Not bad for a full day and a full belly!
It is definitely achievable (without shopping).

Shopping: Ho-Chi Style

The wonderufl thing about Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is the fact tht everything is for sale and everything can be bargained for. After a recon mission to familiarise myself with the cost of things I head back into the streets to do some shopping. My first stop is the backpacker quarter where the local NGO shop is selling goods. They are certainly not into ripping anyone off so if you go in there (even though you can bargain) you don’t really want to because it is all a great price and possibly the most honest store you will find. I buy some toys and some bags and contiue my spree. Every street has an abundance of shops selling everything imaginable and after popping into some the final stop is Ben Thanh market; one of the most crammed and busiest shopping markets in Saigon. You really can buy anything here. This was the first market in my previous trips to Asia that I have been physically man-handled in. The sellers try their hardest to sell you their wares but heaven forbid if you make eye contact you have no hope. They will grab your arm and pull you in. Learning the local language helps a lot! A strong ‘khong cam on’ (no, thnk you) will get you out of trouble. And if that doesn’t work because your pronunciation is all wrong, then you MUST learn the ‘don’t bother me’ look. It works a treat.

I am sending the goodies home as preliminary presents so I don’t have to cart them anywhere. In summary of my expedition through the streets and marketplaces of Saigon my booty coonsisted of gifts for 13 people. Total weight 3.8kg. Postage price 52 US dollars. And my sum total of market expediture… 77 US dollars. Not bad – I don’t think I even got ripped of once?!

Cu Chi Tunnels

Cu Chi is a small farming community about ttwo hours out of Saigon. In the Vietnamese war back in the 70′s, America demanded power, and by supporting the Fench in their campaign, rained havoc of Vietnam. The tunnels are a complex system of highways built over three levels underground. During this period the people of Cu Chi used them to live, fight, hide and travel in. The system itself covers over 300kms of tunnels. I highly recommend reading up on this as it is a fascinating story (make sure you get an overall perspective as the one sided versions are very propaganda based (of course).

We move through the rainforest for our tour after watching a Vietnamese version of the war. In an ordinary looking section of trees the guide stops us and moves aside a pile of leaves to reveal a wooden boarded entrance cover to one of the tunnels; the hole is approx. 30cm X 20cm square. Not surprising when the average Vietnamese could potentially snap in half in a  high wind.

We progress to the tunnels that have been touristified and made larger. Although these stand no high than your waste and seemingly easy to crawl through, the air is close and heavy and you soon begin to lose some puff. Lucky there are exit points along the way and opt out of the tunnel at the next interval. One of my favourite read stories consists of the Vietnamese dismantling an old tank and reassembling it underground. Here they learnt a lot about their enemy and when the tunnels were infiltrated at certain points during the war by our ever-loved Aussie tunnel rats and the not so small Gringo’s, they discovered their arms and equipment in these chambers, they too discovered that their enemy was not so farmer-like.

We stop part way through at the firing range. Here you can fire weapon stolen or made by the Viet Com during the war. I opt to fire an M60 machine gun. They have taken all the safety precautions of mounting said weapons on the firing range and roviding ear muffs – although these are a waste of time and are not effective at all. The M60 is a semi-automatic monster. You really need to be careful on how hard you pull the trigger as you can fire dozens of rounds in a second. I do like guns.

We end our tour by walking out the same way we came in – through a gianormous car-side thoroughfare/tunnel. To me after reading a fantastic book from all sides, I was disappointed that the guide (who is our tour leader) pushed us through too fast as this is an important part of history here and I am sure those who are not familiar with the era will not understand.