The Big Squeeze

Back in Saigon, we were fortunate enough to get a room back at one of the Giang & Son guest houses, although this room didn’t have a street view. True, it didn’t open us up to the experience of another hotel, however it was an easy option and we certainly know it was clean and good value.

We made the decision to begin our travels north the following evening, so for our last day was to see us head first to Tay Ninh and visit one of the quirkiest religious locations I’ve ever seen, the home of the Cao Dao religion.

The colourful Cao Dao

The colourful Cao Dao

The Cao Dao religion was apparently created in 1926, make of that what you will, but at least they have some creative saints. Their ‘big 3’ are, Victor Hugo (the famous French writer), Sun Yat-Sen (leader of the 1911 Chinese revolution) & Nguyen-Binh-Khiem (Vietnam’s first poet laureate) which is somewhat refreshing.

They certainly were not lacking in colour either, so for something a little different, I’d recommend the visit.

This was however but a detour, as the true purpose of this day trip was to visit the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels. For those of you unfamiliar with them, Cu Chi is a network of tunnels from the Vietnam/American war stretching for over 100km’s.

Members of the Viet Cong used them as shelter and as a hidden means of transport/communication right underneath their enemies very positions.

For as tourist heavy a destination as it is, it is still fascinating to see first hand, and also see many of the various methods used to trap the Americans, South Vietnamese and their allies. We also got quite fortunate, as we were one of the last groups for the day, therefore there were not as many other westerners around as there normally would have been.

The spacious Cu Chi Tunnels

The spacious Cu Chi Tunnels

When it came time to descend into the tunnels (which have been widened to accommodate the tourists) we made sure we were at the front, right behind our guide. I for one could think of nothing worse than being at the back of our group with face flush with the bum of the person in front! So when the guide took a side exit and said to continue, it left me at the front of the queue breathing fresh air!

There’s also the opportunity to buy a few rounds and choose a firearm from the era and pop off a few shots at their firing range. It does kind of add to the feel as you wander around through the jungle, hearing the odd crack of an AK-47 or M16.

Everything we’d read about the bus journey to Dalat had suggested that the bus journey was around 6-7 hours, so when we’d enquired about an overnight bus which left at 10pm they assured us it didn’t arrive until daylight, so we just assumed there were some stops along the way and promptly bought our tickets.

We had our last Saigon meal (of delicious duck and a claypot fish) and found our first Bia Hoi. Bia Hoi is famous in Vietnam, especially in the capital, Hanoi, but this was the first place in Saigon we’d found. This wonderful idea, is freshly brewed beer available by the glass and sold on the street. You can relax (as much as one can on a tiny plastic stool), sip fresh cold beer, and enjoy some conversation or people watching, and for around 5000 dong per glass (20-30 cents in Australian terms) it represents great value!

Our last Saigon supper

Our last Saigon supper

One of the joys of travel is always the people you meet, and while sitting here sipping a few beers, Sarah & I struck up a conversation with a lone Irishman, Laurence (he wasn’t traveling alone but his partner was off sleeping). On a global trek, they’d spent the past month or so on a motorbike riding through Vietnam and Cambodia. We left him with one of our business cards in the off chance they ever got to Melbourne and wanted to look us up.

At around 4.30am the next morning, the skies remained pitch black, dawn was still an hour away and we pulled into the bus station at Dalat. Turns out our guidebook was right…

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