Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong River Trip

We took a day long trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels and the Mekong River. The day started at 7:30 AM when our tour guide, Minh, met us in our hotel lobby. With one of the other adopting families, there were seven of us…four adults and three children. Our tour took us northwest of Ho Chi Minh City. We traveled through the countryside that was full of rice fields. We saw people working in the field with their traditional Vietnamese conical bamboo hats. Often, we passed rice fields with water buffaloes lying in the middle of a paddy.

Minh pointed out that the deceased were buried in the rice paddies. It is the Vietnamese belief that deceased ancestors continue to watch over and help the living. So, often they are buried near the homes or in the rice paddy.

We passed a Rubber Tree plantation. The trees are tapped on a rotating basis and are used for as long as 45 years or so.
Our next stop was a small hut where they made rice paper. It was being done by a young girl who showed us how to ladle the rice mixture onto a skillet. Then she covered it so it would cook. With a smooth cylinder type of equipment, she would roll the cooked rice paper off the skillet and onto a bamboo drying mat. I got to try my skill with making rice paper. As you can see by the pictures on my webshots page….., I did a great job with her help, but on my own, I need quite a bit more practice.

Our visit to the Cu-Chi Tunnels was very interesting and real history lesson. It is 75 miles of tunnels developed by the Viet Cong to hide and fight the Americans during what we call the Vietnam war, but what the Vietnamese refer to as the “American War”. It was a tunnel network of three levels. They had rooms that housed seamstress to make their uniforms. Another room would be used for sleeping, another for the kitchen and dining area. They would stay in the tunnel for weeks at a time.

The openings were extremely small and if the enemy infiltrated the tunnels, it was full of booby traps to protect those hiding. The US servicemen had dogs trained to sniff out the air holes to find the tunnels. So, the Viet Cong disguised them by putting spices around the openings to confuse the dogs. After awhile, the dogs learned that this scent was where the holes were and went right to them. So, to distract the dogs, once again, they put the spices off in a totally unrelated part of the jungle. They showed us how sandals were made from old tires. We also got to go down into the tunnels. Fortunately, it was only about a five minute adventure….it was very cramped and difficult to breath. It is amazing to me that people lived in such tight quarters!

Lunch was at the town of My Tho, which is south of Ho Chi Minh City and near the Mekong River. We ate at a lovely open air restaurant near a canal. Lunch consisted of elephant fish that was grilled and made into spring rolls at our table, soup, rice balls and another fish dish. Dessert was fruit. The rice balls were interesting. They had a mixture that they would drop into hot oil and as they turned the mixture, it would grow into a large ball. Once the ball was completely browned, the cook would remove it and as it was cut into to serve, the ball would deflate. A variety of boats passed by us on the canal, as we ate lunch.

A boat ride on the Mekong River was the next part of our tour. The Mekong River is the fifth largest river in the world. We passed a fish farming village. The house were built over the area where they had the fish farms on the river. The boat we were in was wooden and long. In the back of the boat was a small boy, probably five sleeping on one of the benches. We believed that it was the son of our captain and the first mate, his wife. It made for a cute picture.

Our destination was Unicorn Island (Thoi San), the largest of the four islands on the Mekong River. Here we visited a coconut candy factory. It was under a thatched roof, open air room. They showed us how they cut the coconut and got the meat out. Then, they pressed the coconut to rid it of all the juice. Then it is boiled and the candy is poured out onto a large marble slab. This mixture is then placed in a mold to make long pieces of coconut candy. After these have harden, the candy is removed from the molds and a women proceeds to cut them into small, bit size pieces with a large machete like knife. As she cuts the candy, she then flicks it out onto the table where there are about six or eight women who take the pieces to wrap individually.

From the candy factory, we walked along a path and were greeted by a farmer who was ready to take us to the honey bee area with his horse and cart. Now, for those of you who know me really well, it was very difficult for me to get into that cart. I would have much preferred to walk or ride a bike. Minh realized my discomfort with the situation and proceeded to tell me how the Vietnamese people believe in Karma.

They believe that we are reincarnated. That in another life, the horse had been a person who had done very bad things and today he is paying for doing those bad things in this life by having to pull a cart full of people around. He even said that in another life, Adam had done some things wrong and that is why his first few months of his life had been spent in an orphanage. Now, he had “paid his dues” and was being rewarded by being adopted and taken to live in America. I don’t know if I believe this or not, at any rate, I patted and thanked the horse when arrived.

We saw the honey bees and we served honey tea with local fruit…papaya, jack fruit, dragon fruit, rambutan, longan and bananas. We were ate and drank, we were entertained by the local people who played instruments and sang folksongs. Their music is very different sounding. To be honest, it sounds like they are in pain when they are singing.

Our trip off the island was in a small boat that was paddled by a young boy and woman in the bow and stern. As it was raining, we donned the traditional Vietnam conical hat for the trip out to the main waterway and our waiting boat.

It was a very long but interesting day. I don’t think we got back to the hotel until around 7:00 that night. Adam was so good…easily entertained!

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