Rockin’ machine guns in ’Nam

Day 79
Saigon, Vietnam

One could get used to living like this. The Park Hyatt is easily one of the nicest hotels I’ve stayed at over the last 80 days. English dominates the television channels, the pillow-topped beds make waking up nearly impossible and the carerra marble bathroom, with its rain shower and plush robes, sure beat this one.

This is a comfortable retreat from the energetic streets of Saigon, this country’s largest city. After reading about the 3 million motorbikes, we were prepared for chaos, but instead found Saigon the opposite. The streets are wider, the buildings taller, everything a little bit more Western. We love it here.

Shunning a $25USD breakfast at the hotel, we grabbed a cup of iced Highlands Coffee before haggling with a taxi driver to bring us to the Cu Chi tunnels. We finally found our man for 800,000 dong ($50USD) and were off on the 60-kilometer trip to Ben Dinh, a town located along the banks of the Saigon River.

The Cu Chi tunnels, which at one point stretched from Saigon to the Cambodian border, played a key role during the war — the Viet Cong used them for supplying the resistance against the U.S.

After a short propaganda video (sample line: “Like crazy batch of chickens, the Americans fired into women and into schools.”), we set out to explore the area. The tunnels themselves were up to 10 meters below ground and absolutely tiny. After one look, we pretended to crawl through them and moved on.

On display were various weapons and bamboo traps used by the Viet Cong — they looked absolutely brutal.

There was also a destroyed U.S. tank that had been disabled by a mine.

It was hard to walk through these exhibits and not feel something for the tens of thousands on both sides who lost their lives in this conflict. As we neared the end, we heard gunfire and came upon a full-fledged military firing range. Although it wasn’t cheap ($1USD per round), we plucked down $100USD for a chance to fire an AK47, M2 Machine Gun and M1911 Pistol.

Burt shunned the ear protection while they gave me a pair of old headphones. Neither of us could hear much afterwards.

We had recovered by the time our driver dropped us off at the Hyatt. With a couple of hours to spare, we walked past Notre Dame Cathedral en route to the Reunification Palace, built in 1966 to serve as South Vietnam’s government headquarters.

It had a cool retro feel to it, as nothing has changed since the communist tanks rolled in on April 30, 1975 — the day of Saigon’s surrender.

This being our last night in Vietnam, we threw on some polo shirts and went downstairs for dinner at Opera. The open-air kitchen served up a delicious bean dip with freshly baked bread, the perfect starter before fried calamari, Greek salads and a wood-oven baked pizza. It was just what we needed before a big night out on the town.

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