Braving the Cu Chi Tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City

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As we continued our unplanned travels, we hit a snag when my Russian friend wanted to go to Vietnam and I wasn’t too keen as I had been there before and was quite content with what I had seen.  Also, the visa is 70USD to go there.   So we made a compromise, we would go just to see this cave complex in the middle of the country that has just recently opened up to tourism called the Phong Nha Caves (more on this in next post).

As we were in Cambodia, we first crossed the border and headed to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City.  Although I had been hesitant to go back there, upon waking up in the city, I was absolutely elated to be there.  I couldn’t wait to eat banh (Vietnamese sandwiches), pho, bun (Saigon style which is the style that you get in the western countries), and they cook their meats in this lemongrass, ginger, chili sauce that is to die for.  Oh how I’d forgotten how great the food in Vietnam was!

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Then there was the cracked egg shell tea set that I had wanted to buy last time that I was in Saigon, but couldn’t because I had no space to carry it with me.  I thought that I would get a chance somewhere else in the country to buy it once I dumped some of my stuff, but never saw it again.  Not even in China where they make everything.

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Finally, I would have the chance to visit the Cu Chi tunnels which I didn’t get a chance to do the first time round.  No visit to Vietnam is complete without learning about the history of its war.  The Cu Chi tunnels are where the Viet Con hid out while fighting the American soldiers.  You can visit this site which is about a 60 minute drive away from Saigon by paying 5USD for transportation with a tour group and then the entrance fee once there. Here you will be able to explore some tunnels and if you really want to, you can shoot a machine gun.  Yes, shoot a machine gun.

There are two tunnel systems that you can go through.  One mostly everyone walks through.  It’s relatively clean (just dusty) and it is lit with lights.  There are many exit points along the way if you don’t like it and want to exit.  In here the tunnels are connected to rooms where the soldiers would congregate for different activities such as eating.

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And then there were the other set of tunnels… Optional…  This sampling of unlit tunnels that we could choose to go into had a very narrow opening to enter.  Then initially you could “monkey walk”- walking in a squat position, and at some point, you had to go on your hands and knees.  We were warned that these tunnels had bats.  So the first set of people that went down said that they saw the bats, but that they were not in the areas that we were crawling in.  My friend went down and said that she didn’t even see any bats and she was looking.  By the time that I went down, I was one of the last people to go.  Two people were in front of me and we were supposed to stick together.  All we had for lights was the flashlight function on mobile phones.  After posing for some photos as I squeezed my way down the rabbit hole, I got into the tunnel and couldn’t see the two people that had gone ahead of me, but I could hear them.  We had been instructed to turn right and then left in the tunnel.  So I made the right turn and was now crawling on my knees.  Black things were flying past my head.  OMG, bats. I started feeling anxious.   I called out to the 2 ahead of me.  No response.  I couldn’t hear them.  I called out again and nothing.  I found the tunnel where I was supposed to turn left and all I could see were bats hanging from the low ceiling.  If I continued to crawl toward them, I would run into them with my forehead.  I remembered people saying that the bats were not in the parts of the tunnel that we crawled through.  So I thought that I had gone the wrong way.  So I backed up looking to see if there had been another left turn.  Then, thankfully, I heard voices from behind me.  I called out to them.  They caught up with me and I let them go ahead of me because I wanted them to be the ones to encounter the bats first.  They went ahead and as they disturbed the bats and they started to fly, they flew into my head.  So much for not going first.  From this point, we were just 5m around a bend from the exit.  When I came out, my friend and others were wondering what had happened to me in there and why I’d taken so long.  Embarrassed, I told them I panicked because of the bats.  So be warned, if you go down the optional tunnels, they aren’t kidding when they say there are bats in there.

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Rabbit Island: It Doesn’t Get More Basic Than This

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Only 30 minutes by bus from lazy Kampot, you can find a beach resort town named Kep. Catering to a slightly didn’t clientele, the bungalows here are actually luxurious and were out of our price range. Trying to keep up with our atmosphere of pure relaxation, we got ourselves onto a ferry and headed directly to Rabbit Island.

In the Philippines, I thought El Nido was rustic, but compared to Rabbit Island, it was extremely touristy. In Indonesia, I thought Gili Trawangan was a backpackers paradise, but Rabbit Island must be like what Gili T was 20 years ago.

We got off the boat to a shoreline of bamboo bungalows. There were 4-5 guesthouses with very basic accommodations. Each guesthouse has its own restaurant and that is all there is on the island. Toilets don’t flush, so you have to know how to use a bucket to flush. Most showers are bucket showers. We actually had a shower head but the pressure was so low, I used a bucket anyways. Electricity is via a generator which runs from sunset to 10:30 pm. You pretty much have to be in bed by 10:30 as there is no light anywhere. You also can’t sleep before 10:30 because you can’t turn off the light.

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Rabbit Island was the perfect place to do nothing. Sit in a hammock and read, bathe in the sea, drink coconut water, eat crabs and just enjoy the natural surroundings. For a bit more activity, we actually walked around the island which takes 2 hours to walk. There is well marked path for 90% of the journey. For the last bit, the path disappeared and we found ourselves skirting the edges of a manky mangrove and then having to walk on jagged rocks along the water edge. Oops have we done something wrong? No, we were on the right path.

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Rabbit Island was a paradise, I could have stayed longer except for one thing. The suffering at night when the mosquitos and sand fleas attacked with a vengeance. I couldn’t take the onslaught as they went for blood.

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So back to the mainland it was. Although a completely different feel from Kampot and Rabbit Island, it was worth a visit for the crab market. Here you could see the crabs being captured and brought in and sold. You could also partake in indulging in cheap crab in one of the many restaurants there.

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D’Talipapa- A Fish Lover’s Paradise

Much better to see what the colourful fish and seafood looked like in the best fish market that I’ve been to.

Marcia's Travels

 

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After the north, it was time to head to the beaches and see what all the fuss was about the Philippine beaches.  First I headed to the small island of Boracay.  This island was so unbelievable touristy.  People from all over South East Asia fly here to just have a week of relaxation, partying, clubbing, water sports, whatever you may like, there is something for everyone.

Although a bit too touristy for me, it did have its little charms.  One in particular for me was the small fish market tucked into the alleyways known as D’ Talipapa.  Here you can peruse the market of freshly caught or still alive fish and seafood.  You can buy the fish or seafood and then take it to one of the many restaurant stalls, who will cook it up for you with a choice of different styles.  You can also get some vegetables…

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Karsts, Moons and Dogs…China continued

Looking through my photos, what great memories of China!

Marcia's Travels

 

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My next destination in China was in the province of Guangxi.  This region is known for its karst formations.  I used Guilin as my entry and exit point, but it had some activities to do like climbing up on the karsts for amazing views and caves with stalactites and stalagmites.  One thing the Chinese always know how to do well, is to take natural wonders of the world and make them tacky.  In the caves, there was a 5 minute light and sound show on the rock surface.

I moved from Guilin and headed to Yongshou which is in the countryside.  Here I spent my days in the karst filled country side riding bikes, trekking and attending cooking classes.  It was great to get out into the country side to see the minority tribes and their villages.  Within these minority tribes, it was evident to see that when it…

View original post 412 more words

D’Talipapa- A Fish Lover’s Paradise

 

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After the north, it was time to head to the beaches and see what all the fuss was about the Philippine beaches.  First I headed to the small island of Boracay.  This island was so unbelievable touristy.  People from all over South East Asia fly here to just have a week of relaxation, partying, clubbing, water sports, whatever you may like, there is something for everyone.

Although a bit too touristy for me, it did have its little charms.  One in particular for me was the small fish market tucked into the alleyways known as D’ Talipapa.  Here you can peruse the market of freshly caught or still alive fish and seafood.  You can buy the fish or seafood and then take it to one of the many restaurant stalls, who will cook it up for you with a choice of different styles.  You can also get some vegetables, which can be quite sparse in the Philippines, and have them cooked up as well.

I came here twice and these were probably the best meals that I had during the whole trip in the Philippines.  Combined with the experience of choosing my dinner, it ranks quite high with fish market experiences.  As I entered the market aisles with my friends, we first went up the less frenetic aisle of the fish.  Some fish were swimming around in buckets, while most laid on ice.  The vendors who were definitely in your face trying to get you to buy, would sometimes hold the fish up to your face for inspection.  Then we moved away from this aisle to the crustaceans.  Live crabs and lobsters.   The lobsters were huge and multi-coloured.  The vendors really enjoyed lifting the lobsters out of their buckets and shoving them in your face as the lobster’s tentacles and long antennae waved in your face.  My anxiety levels started to rise.  I could feel my stomach in my throat.  They say that lobsters are like cockroaches of the sea, and at that moment, I started to see why. The antennae were freaking me out.  I had to exit the market.  I couldn’t take it.  As much as I would have loved to order lobster that night, I couldn’t bring myself to go down the aisle and look at them.  So for the first night I ordered squid and the second night prawns.   The squid I had done in an adobo sauce.  It came out in a black sauce that was absolutely unappealing to look at.  However, it tasted amazing.  The second night, the prawns were covered in a coconut sauce flavoured with an assortment of spices, it was either called goto or gota, I can’t remember.  So good.  One of the best eating experiences ever.  I’d go back to Boracay just for this.

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Karsts, Moons and Dogs…China continued

 

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My next destination in China was in the province of Guangxi.  This region is known for its karst formations.  I used Guilin as my entry and exit point, but it had some activities to do like climbing up on the karsts for amazing views and caves with stalactites and stalagmites.  One thing the Chinese always know how to do well, is to take natural wonders of the world and make them tacky.  In the caves, there was a 5 minute light and sound show on the rock surface.

I moved from Guilin and headed to Yongshou which is in the countryside.  Here I spent my days in the karst filled country side riding bikes, trekking and attending cooking classes.  It was great to get out into the country side to see the minority tribes and their villages.  Within these minority tribes, it was evident to see that when it comes to labour, they believe in equality.  Women of all ages were involved in manual labour.  What was striking was that most of these women were elderly.  Wherever there was a man working hard, there was a woman beside him working harder.  They were digging holes, carrying heavy loads like logs, building homes.  Can you imagine your grandmother working that hard?  No way.

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The karsts in the countryside were amazing.  These limestone structures rose up out of the ground with sharp slopes and littered the countryside.  There is one particular karst that everyone goes and visits which is moon hill, a karst with a hole in it.  A group of us from the hostel headed up to the karst and it was here that I learned about a Norwegian Tradition (please let me know if this is true or not).  After climbing up to the base of the karst, our group continued to climb to the top of the moon hill.  There was an overgrown path behind moon hill that we climbed up.  When we got to the top, the Norwegian in the group told us that in Norway, it is a tradition that whenever you climb something, you have to get naked.  Keeping with traditions, he took off his clothes and posed for a picture.  Somewhere in my photos, I have a picture of a moon on moon hill.

As food is a big part of travelling, I must tell you about the panic I had here.  I had ordered a meal which I thought from the picture was noodles and pork.  When I was eating it, I knew the meat wasn’t pork, but I kept eating it.  When I got back to my guesthouse, I read up on the specialties of the region.   One of the specialties was dog as evidenced in the market place where they were hanging from hooks in the meat section.  You can only imagine how my stomach knotted knowing that I may have had dog.  I prayed that it wasn’t dog.  I also read that venison and horse were specialties as well. I was hoping that is what I actually ate instead.  I think my fears were slightly lessened when another traveller told me that he was actively seeking out dog to eat and found out that the meat was prohibitively expensive.  That made me feel good, because the dish I had was a very cheap dish.  Phew <wiping sweat off my brow>.  IMG_3525

Sichuan Delicacy- Hot Pot or Hot Not

When I’ve been travelling throughout Asia, I’ve always noticed hot pot being an option on menus and have always wondered what it was exactly but had never tried it out because it was always too expensive.  I found myself in Chengdu in a hostel where 8 of us decided to try a hot pot, a very Sichuan thing to do.  It was 7 foreigners and 1 girl from Hong Kong.  As the menu was all in Chinese, she took on the job of ordering everything. We were asked only two questions: do people want pork? YES. do you want beef? YES.

What is a hot pot exactly? It’s a communal meal where you cook raw items, meat and vegetables in a spicy hot oily broth.  We had mild and a hot broth.  Seconds after the food was ordered, a trolley was wheeled up beside me with all sorts of raw meat on it including something that resembled the shape of a brain.  What is this?  I thought we ordered pork and beef.  Well, not only did we have brain from a sheep, but we also had duck tongue and balls of rabbit on a stick.  Somehow this meal was looking less and less appetizing.

There were more eager eaters than me there.  One guy couldn’t wait to try the brain.  It’s cooked, he constantly kept saying while picking it out.  The girl from Hong Kong would keep saying, let the brain cook longer, there is lots of bacteria in it.  When it was finally cooked, pretty much everyone around the table was taking samples of it.  I was not interested at all.  I kept thinking mad cow mad cow.  When they realized that I hadn’t had any, I became the focus of attention around the table.  You can’t come to Chengdu, China and not have brain.  To which I replied, This is something, that I will never regret in life.   A piece of brain found its way onto my plate and without them noticing, I put it back in the hot pot.  I was a wimp, I didn’t try it.  So far I haven’t regretted it.  I was a bit hesitant with picking food out of the pot, so I didn’t get much of the meat that I was willing to eat, and ate mostly vegetables.  This meal almost made me turn vegetarian.  As surreal as having a whole brain go into the hot pot was, the one item that made me stop eating was when the blood pudding slid into the pot, blood and all.

Hot Pot, done it, check.  Will never do it again!

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