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Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam | Visit Củ Chi Tunnels and Mekong River Delta in a Day - Dbucketlist
We went to Vietnam coming from Cambodia as part of our Indochina trip. It was the last country we visited for our 7 days backpacking tour. That day we arrived in the city, we randomly passed by a tour agency located near our hotel. Without any plans yet as usual, we decided to book a tour package to visit Củ Chi Tunnels and Mekong River Delta in one day. Tell me about being spontaneous! Tee-hee! We woke up early the next day to catch the call time set by the tour agency we booked with — Asiana Link Travel. Our tour guide, Kevin, arrived exactly at 7:30AM to fetch us from the hotel lobby. We were a group of 9 tourists from New Zealand, Germany and Philippines. While we were on our way to our first destination, Kevin introduced himself and told us about what to expect for the day tour. Still there? Great! Now, let me tell you all about it. WHAT TO EXPECT Before you read any further, let me tell you this — it was a really long and tiring day. Củ Chi Tunnels is 46 km away from the city proper and it took us almost 2 hours to reach this district in Ho Chi Minh known for the underground tunnels. From Củ Chi, we traveled for another 2 hours to reach Mekong River Delta where we spent the rest of the afternoon. If you’d ask me if I will recommend you to include this in your itinerary, I’d definitely answer you with a YES. BUT before you put the blame on me for not having lots of instagram-worthy photos for your #feedgoals, let me tell you frankly that it’s not that kind of trip. Sure, you’d have your photos taken in Củ Chi Tunnels, with 3/4 of your body under the ground, and in Mekong River, wearing a non la hat, but that’s it. Everything else would be a learning experience about Vietnam’s past, its culture and life beyond the glitz and glamour of this modern world. Still interested? Good. After all, traveling should be a learning experience not a photoshoot. Don’t get me wrong. I still encourage you to take photos but this time, immerse yourself more with the experience. 12 THINGS TO LEARN & EXPERIENCE 1. Learn How Handicapped Artisans Make Lacquer Paintings (Son Mài) Before we went to Củ Chi Tunnels, we stopped over for a quick visit to Lamphat Company Handicapped Handicrafts. Kevin introduced us to a lady wearing a Vietnamese dress. She toured us around the factory starting off with this group of artisans working on artworks they call Sơn Mài or Lacquer Paintings. The lady in yellow dress told us that this technique is a traditional form of art in Vietnam. The process starts with a sketch using a chalk to outline the image over a black wood board. Then the drafted image will be covered with different materials of which the most commonly used are eggshells. Once the outlined image is covered, it will be set aside to dry and then several layers of lacquer paint will be applied until the desired color is reached. Those paintings with delicate designs require more polishing and thus, expect them to be more expensive. 2. Visit Cu Chi Tunnels and Experience Crawling Beneath the Ground Củ Chi Tunnels is one of the top destinations for tourists visiting Ho Chi Minh nowadays but way back around late 1940s until the end of Vietnam War, it was a place of refuge for the Viet Cong, a communist guerrilla troops, as they resist the American military forces. It was once an immense network of tunnels underground and was said to be built in 22 years. Imagine living underground with scarce resource of air, water and food, just to survive the war. As part of the tour around Củ Chi, we were asked to choose between 20m, 50m or 100m tunnel length to traverse. We chose the shortest one because I was afraid I might get a little panic attack underground. It was the right decision we made because when we started crawling beneath the ground, all I could think of was getting out. If you’re brave enough to crawl the 100m, then go for it! But for those of you who are claustrophobic, you can skip this part of the tour. Safety first, always. Through the years, these tragic memories among the Vietnamese people fade away with time but the government of Vietnam preserved what was left after the war to honor the sacrifices of the soldiers who died for the country. 3. Take Cover Under the Famous Vietnamese Cover of Secret Refuge One of the things you shouldn’t miss in Củ Chi Tunnels is to experience going under a tiny space of not more than 2 meters high while you take cover under this famous Vietnamese Cover of Secret Refuge. It was said to be an entrance to the tunnels and many were hidden in the forest, covered with leaves, so the enemy wouldn’t see them. Some were said to be refuge for soldiers in case they were in the middle of a battle and they need to take cover. 4. Learn about the Different Tactics Used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War Still part of the tour in Củ Chi Tunnels, you’d get to learn about the different war tactics used by the Viet Cong soldiers. Take time to learn how they used traps during the war. They also used this so-called backwalk slippers that leaves flipped footprints to confuse the enemy. It was believed that the Americans were aware of its use so the Viet Congs wore them in random sides leaving the enemy with uncertainty of their path. 5. Experience Cu Chi Shooting Range There have been some dispute over the existence of a shooting range in Củ Chi Tunnels. Some says it dishonors the horrors of the past. While it might sound pragmatic, I still don’t think it was something that could do any harm to the tragic memories of the bygone war. But if you think that it does, I won’t argue with you either. In fact, we didn’t try it ourselves. So you can skip this as well if you prefer not to. 6. Learn How Coconut Candies are Made in Unicorn Island It was a few minutes past lunch time when we finished the tour in Củ Chi. Good thing that we ate heavy breakfast that day so we weren’t that hungry even after 2PM. It took us more than 2 hours to reach Mekong River port and another 15 minutes or so to reach Unicorn Island, one of the four main islands you can visit in Mekong River Delta. The first destination we went to was this small local coconut candy factory. From the name itself, coconut candies are basically made from coconut. A local demonstrated how to peel a coconut and then Kevin explained that after extracting the coconut milk from this tropical fruit, it is then added with sugar and other ingredients like malt syrup to make a distinct sweet taste. When the mixture is ready, it is then heated to a very high temperature and stirred continuously until it caramelizes. Set it aside for a few minutes until it’s warmer but still soft enough to be molded into candies. You should try some while it’s still soft! It’s like yema and I personally liked it better that way than the wrapped candies we bought. Nevertheless, it’s still one of the recommended goodies you could buy for your friends and families at home. 7. Take a Sip of Snake Wine Take a sip of snake wine? Yikes! That sounded a bit disgusting to me to be honest. Especially when I personally saw that jar of wine with dead snake skins. Are they kidding me? But no. As unappetizing as it might sound, you can actually drink it! Oh thank God I have TJ to try it. Good Lord, he said it didn’t taste weird. You might want to try it too! But still a no for me, I’m sorry. 8. Feed the Crocodiles Since TJ already tried something cool that day, I asked myself, what’s more to this tour for me to experience? I was thinking about the Mekong River tour I keep seeing on instagram until we went to visit this crocodile farm. Then Kevin asked us if we wanted to feed the hungry crocodiles with freshly caught fish that costs VND10,000. At first, I was hesitant because I was a little bit scared. But then TJ had a sip of snake wine, I told myself. Maybe, I should do this too. And it was the best experience I had in our tour around Unicorn Island. It was quick but at least I could say that at least once in my life, I fed a croc! Tee-hee! 9. Eat a Tropical Lunch It was already past 3PM when we had our late lunch. As someone from a tropical country, the food wasn’t really something new. And I am a picky eater, so I didn’t quite appreciate our lunch. But if you love seafoods, you’d definitely enjoy a tropical lunch after all the tiring activities you’re gonna go through. Also, it’s the perfect time to make some friends! Talk to your group buddies and I’m pretty sure there’s one or two things that will spark a good conversation or maybe, just maybe — a good relationship. For my single readers out there, take this chance and you’ll thank me later. Tee-hee! 10. Experience a Quick Boat Tour along Mekong River After eating our late lunch, we finally headed to the supposedly highlight of our Mekong River Delta Tour. We were grouped by four and a boatman was assigned to tour us along Mekong River. I was excited at first until the next few minutes passed by without anything special to see. I was expecting to visit floating markets or see locals living in stilt houses but the tour that we had was a quick roundtrip along the river with only the palm and water coconut trees to see. Then I realized, maybe the ones I expected were from other islands. That gave me a reason to come back. Let’s see some other time! Nevertheless, it was still a good experience because the whole time we were on the boat, it felt like a different world as it was very silent. And I crave for serene moments like those! 11. Visit a Bee Farm and Sip a Cup of Hot Honey Juice When we returned to the same boat that took us to Unicorn Island, I thought the tour was already done. Then we stopped over to this small island where the big billboard says Bee Farm. My tiny disappointment from the Mekong River boat tour was replaced with a spark of excitement because at least the day was not yet over. Kevin did a quick explanation about how bees make honey. Then we were served with hot honey juice and some snacks. Yum! 12. Listen to Locals Singing and Playing Some Vietnamese Music It was already nearing the night when Kevin told us about our last destination. What is a better way to end the day than listening to some music? Oops! It’s not a local pub nor a bar where we’d end up drinking. I believe it was still on the same island as the bee farm but I’m not so sure anymore because we already had a lot of walking around that day. Haha! I just remembered that we had some fruits to munch and two locals singing an unfamiliar Vietnamese song. I also got the chance to play the traditional musical instruments the instrumentalist used to accompany the two singers. One was like a violin and the other is like a guitar and as a person who also plays instruments, I find it hard to play them. Kudos to those locals and thanks for the patience while he was trying to teach me how. Haha! THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND Like any other countries, Vietnam...