I must admit, we aren’t the biggest fans of organised tours but with limited time available it is a lot easier to just jump on a tour bus and get driven around without having to worry about which bus to take and whether it’s actually going to get you where you want to go.
We booked our tour through the hotel but it’s actually run by a company called Delta. We got picked up at around 8.30am and finally made it out of Saigon by just after 9am. We stopped at a lacquer factory that employs and supports artists with disabilities. With only twenty minutes “free time” we didn’t really get the chance to observe the artists. Naturally and as you would expect there is a massive shop attached to the workshop. Quite worryingly it is relatively modern compared to the workers’ working environment which is a dimly lit converted warehouse with wooden benches and tables. The shop itself feels overpriced and even though it communicates that everything for sale is produced by the people employed in the workshop some of the items look strangely mass produced and can be found at local markets for at least half the price. I just hope that the higher prices and the resulting higher profit get directly reinvested in the project.
On our way to the temple the tour bus broke down. Luckily Delta is super organised and because the driver noticed the problem on the way to the workshop a replacement bus picked us up with only a five minute delay.
When we arrived at the Great Temple the noon prayer session was already in progress. When visiting ensure that you’re appropriately dressed. Refrain from wearing short skirts/shorts and sleeveless tops. If you’re visiting on a particularly hot day just bring a scarf to cover up. Once inside you are welcomed by bright colours and a blue ceiling that resembles the sky. It might be slightly on the kitsch side for some but impressive nonetheless. You’re allowed to take pictures of temple objects but don’t attempt to snap worshippers without permission. According to our tour guide you’ll fall mystically ill upon returning home and to get cured you will have to return and pray to the Divine Eye (which overlooks the temple from high above) for forgiveness. Probably not worth the risk after all.
After lunch in a prearranged local Vietnamese restaurant of mediocre quality the tour continued on to Cu Chi Tunnels. The entrance fee is 80, 000 dong which includes the tour and a very dated propaganda video which tells you all about the war heroes but nothing about life in a war zone and underground. Thankfully, our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable about the subject and told us everything we needed and wanted to know. The main part of the tour happens overground including a presentation of traps used in the area, an American tank that hasn’t been moved ever since it was destroyed in the war and some entries to tunnels as well as tiny holes in the ground that served as hideaways from the Americans. You’re invited to go down the hole but it’s worthwhile mentioning that it’s only 50cm wide. Get out the measuring tape and see for yourself how much space is available for your hips and shoulders. There is also a shooting range where you can fire a number of guns at an extra cost. I find it completely pointless and disgusting. It’s extremely loud and completely disturbs the experience. Anyway, the entrance to the tunnel that has been widened for tourists is close to the shooting range. I chickened out after I went down and saw how deep, narrow, low and dark the tunnel is. The tunnel itself is 100m long and exits are available every 20m if the experience gets too overwhelming. My SO went all the way but had to duck all the time and crawl through the even narrower and lower sections. I was told that even though there are rays of light you spend most of the crawl in complete darkness. Not for the fainthearted (like me)! It’s also extremely hot and humid down there (even more so than above the ground). Overall a great experience and a must do when in Saigon.
We finished of the day with some home brewed beer (8, 000 dong) and street food bbq skewers which were delicious.
Our next trip will take us to the Mekong Delta!