Pleiku and Saigon: Lazy Days, Tunnels and the River Delta

March 21, 2016

Pleiku ended up being a bit of a bust. We didn't have an official guide for the day, so we needed to figure something out on our own.  It actually turned into a nice break in the middle of the trip.  Some of the guys hired a guide to bring them out to a mountain village, while David, Dylan, and I decided to take the day on our own.

Unfortunately the hotel didn't have a pool, and it was the first time on the trip that we hit real heat.  We ended up walking a couple miles to the city center and back, but there wasn't much to do along the way.  After not too long we ended up back at the hotel where I spent the rest of the day reading in the air conditioned room before we headed to dinner, then the airport.  Unfortunately our flight was delayed so there was more time there spent just sitting and reading.  At least I finished my book.

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A photo of the fountain in front of our hotel.

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Creepy child mannequins.

We got into Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon (HCMC is the official name since the end of the war, but most people here still refer to it as Saigon) late, and pretty much went right to bed.  We pushed the next morning's activities off a bit so we could get some sleep, but we still needed to be up and ready to go by 8:30.

It was an hour and a half ride to the Cu Chi tunnels. It was an interesting trip, but definitely a little weird to see all the ways they killed Americans being showed off like that. The tunnels were tiny, and while I probably could have done one of the shorter tunnels, crawling 30 meters on my hands and knees through the one they showed us wasn't really something I was looking to do.

At the end of the tour they had a firing range where you could pay to fire some of the various weapons.  Mac and I fired 10 rounds each from the AK-47.

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Stopping on the road to Cu Chi for some livestock crossing the road.

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Dylan slipping into one of the tiny entrances they used to use.

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A tiger trap. The spears were soaked in waste water to make them poisonous.

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Mac firing the AK.

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My turn.

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Bill climbing out of a stretch of the tunnels.

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John coming up from the tunnel.

After heading back to Saigon for lunch, we went to the Reunification Palace, formerly the Independence Palace.  It was home to the president of South Vietnam, and the site of the end of the Vietnam War.  

It was built in the early 60s and it definitely shows. I loved the mid-century modern architecture. I would live in a place like that in a heartbeat.

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In front of the palace.

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The banquet room.

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The cabinet chamber.

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The president's office.

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The president's library.

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The casino room.

After, it it was time for a swim and some drinks at the rooftop pool/bar. For dinner we ended up just being ugly American's and eating at the Burger King and Popeyes around the block. We just wanted something quick and simple.  Then Dylan, David, and I walked around the town for a bit before heading back towards the hotel.

On the way back, we passed a bar where Dave heard Nirvana playing, so we decided to stop in for a quick drink.  That was a mistake.  As soon as we sat down we were swarmed by girls, asking us if we wanted to "head upstairs."  We quickly finished our drinks and got out of there.

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David being an ugly American.

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Dylan with, I think, Kung Fu Panda?

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Dylan and a creepy Mickey.

The next day David and Dylan went off with a friend of David's who lives in Saigon, while the rest of us drove out to the Mekong Delta.

We took a boat up the river and our first stop was an orchid farm where they also raised bees. The honey they produced was delicious. They also had a snake I got to hold. 

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Bees! Delicious honey.

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A lovely python.

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Unfortunately you need to watch out for pick pockets everywhere.

Next we rode horse drawn carts to our next stop, a fruit farm. We saw a bunch of different fruits growing including grapefruit, longan, and jackfruit.

After the tour we got to try a bunch of different types, so I got to finally try jackfruit. It was pretty tasty. Unfortunately they wouldn't let us try durian fruit without buying a whole one and I wasn't quiet ready to do that.

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A little boy in our cart. Fascinated with my camera as well as his own reflection in my sunglasses.

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Jackfruit! Now if only I could get some of this in the states.

Then we took a boat up a canal to a place where they make coconut candy.

First they scrape all the flesh from the coconut, and then press all the milk and oil out.  The dried remnants are almost like cotton.  It's then added to sugar and cooked until it's caramelized, about 30 minutes, while constantly stirring. 

It's then poured out onto a table and stretched into long strips which are in turn cut into small squares. Then the squares are wrapped in rice paper and a simple paper wrapper.  We got to try some while it was still warm, and I ended up buying some flavored with peanuts.

It was really cool to see the whole process, especially because they don't waste any part of the coconut.  The oil and milk are saved and sold off separately.  Even the husks are used to stoke the fire that cooks the candy.

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The boat down the canal.

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Cooking the candy.

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Wrapping the candy.

Then we all got on the boat and rode up river to a small fishing farm. They had a house floating on the edge of the river, with thousands of fish netted below them. They tossed some feed in to show the feeding frenzy.

After that we took the boat back to shore where we all got on scooters and rode to a homestay where we had lunch.  More of our usual. 

Another scooter ride later and we took a ferry back to our van on the mainland to head back into the city.

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Our ferry.

Once we got back to Saigon we went to the "War Remnants Museum", which used to be called the "War Crimes Museum."  While definitely very one sided, it was still a very interesting hour.  I liked walking around with my uncle John and talking about his time there, and having him show me the different equipment he used.

We also got to see an M107 like Mac used to have on his firebase.

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Mac and his 175mm.

After a quick dinner it was back to the hotel and a short swim and off to bed.  We we're up at 4am this morning to catch our flight to Rach Gia.  When we landed we couldn't get in our hotel right away, so we ended up sitting in the lobby for a while.

Once we got our rooms I took a nap for a couple of hours and then spent some time in the pool.

Since Rach Gia is so small, we're without a guide again.  We relaxed today and plan on taking a bus tomorrow to the area that Bill was during the war.  Hopefully I'll get some good pictures then.