Ho Chi Minh Part 2: The Generic Tourist Experience…


OK, so long story short I tried to get a visa for China in Ho Chi Minh but because I got there at 1 in the morning, I woke up too late to apply for a visa. I then realised I was about 30 minutes away from the embassy and reports online suggested that the Chinese embassy there was less than helpful, so I decided that I’d stay in the south for 15 days, then do Cambodia for a while getting my visa there before going back to Vietnam and doing the north for 15 days, essentially spending double the time in the country. (Sorry, that wasn’t short at all was it?) So after doing Nha Trang and Da Lat I eventually said to myself that it would be a cool idea to do Ho Chi Minh again, but this time do the tours of the tunnels etc instead of doing the non touristy experience that i did the week before…

I stayed bang in the centre of the tourist area, and to put it politely, it was a shithole. Fortunately for me I’d already experienced the real Ho Chi Minh and knew what it was really like, otherwise I would have looked at the place blankly, shouted “NOPE!” and carried on travelling…

I stayed in some unmemorable hostel with my own room. It was OK, the tour guide downstairs tried to sell me everything except her immediate family. I booked a tour to a temple and the Chu Chi tunnels for 180,000 dong with them (just under £6) so I didn’t bother checking anywhere else and booked it for the next day, also handing in my washing after they said it would be done by tomorrow so I’d be set to go into Cambodia the day after that.

The tour itself was really cool. The temple was gorgeous and we got there just in time to watch them pray and chant. Apart from that, nothing else happened, apart from Luke Skywalker and Peter Griffin bursting through the ceiling and fighting to the death. The tour guide kept saying “NO PICTURES!” so I can’t actually prove this. But I said it so it must be true…


Then we got back on the bus and I got chatting to an Italian legend by the name of Dennis. He and his girlfriend had been living in Australia (or New Zealand, I can’t remember, so lets meet half way and say Madagascar…) working there for a few years and were now travelling around Asia. I recommended a few places to go in Chiang Mai because I’m an English gentleman and then generally talked over him until we got to the Chu Chi tunnels.

I admittedly know very little about the Vietnam war, so I was intrigued to find out more about it. I did the killing fields in Cambodia 5 years ago and felt it would be a similar energy and interest in terms of historical importance.

At one point we found a secret tunnel that the Viet Cong used. It was tiny, and the guide joked that the fat Americans could not fit down it, and it had been made slightly bigger  so tourists could use it. “Who wants to try?” He said enthusiastically.

“Well I’m the skinniest person here, so I guess I’ll give it a go…” I replied. Prompting angry stares from women on diets. Nonetheless I walked with a swagger towards the hole and slipped right in. The guide then stood on the trap door and said “Bye bye!” To which everyone laughed. I stayed down there for a about 20 seconds and then made my way back up.


Then we got to some nasty looking traps. One was a false floor which spun around sending you falling towards some evil looking spikes. “I’m not trying that one!” I said in jest. The guide looked slightly disappointed…

Then we saw a few more horrible looking traps before we all walked through the tunnels. I did all of the tunnels but my legs didn’t thank me for the next few days. The tunnels were 1.2 metres high and roughly 1 metre in width, so you had to crouch or crawl through. Then we watched a video about the war describing the Americans as evil people. I tried to concentrate but my legs were killing me so I slumped on my seat and waited to die. I didn’t die…

Then I got back to my hotel. I’d seen a price for a ticket to Phnom Penh in a tour agents across the road but I thought I’d give the money to our tour agents, as they had been nice to me. However when I asked the price it was 90,000 dong (£3) more than the ticket across the road, so I told them this and they started getting aggressively persistent, like the touts in India who talk over you thinking that this is a good sales technique. In the end I bluntly excused myself walked 50 metres across the road and booked the ticket for nearly half price. Then I saw that the same tour I had taken had been sold to me for 50% more than what this company were offering. “Oh well, you win some you lose some…” I thought nonchalantly.

Then the hotel said my washing wouldn’t be ready until tomorrow. I told them I would be leaving tomorrow and that it needed to be ready, considering they promised it would already be done by now. The next day 1 hour before I was about to leave they again told me it wasn’t ready, and I needed to wait for 2 hours. I told them I was leaving and that they needed to get my stuff done. It was ready just as the bus was about to leave (they wouldn’t give me my passport either) then the lady barked at me, “YOU NO PAY YET, YOU PAY NOW!”

“I KNEW YOU’D TRY THAT!” I said angrily, slapping the receipt saying that I’d already paid on the table, before saying that I wouldn’t trust them as far as I could throw them. I managed to get my passport again, but this left a nasty taste in my mouth, trying to scam tourists for as much as they can get (maybe a lot of people panic when they still have your passport, the bus is about to leave and they shout at you to pay even though you already have done). Again, why I hate touristy areas…

So to summarize, the tours were great, the tourist area was not. Go to Ho Chi Minh, it’s a lovely place, but for the love of god don’t stay in the tourist area, unless you are one of those tourists who loves to party all day and doesn’t really give a shit about offending people or other people’s cultures.


Basic map of the Chu Chi tunnels. They are surprisingly advanced considering the tools they had at their disposal…

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