Monday, September 4, 2017

Ho Chi Minh City and a pot of Weasel coffee

Elizabeth spent the rest of her time in Cambodia recovering from her toe misadventure, until the date arrived on our visa that allowed us to enter Vietnam. We bought our bus tickets and high tailed it out of there. It was a long trip taking all day, needing to go through Phnom Penh, before heading into Vietnam. Elizabeth was taking it very carefully with my hiking pole now doubing as a walking stick. The last section crossing into Vietnam went very slowly with many many trucks passing us coming the other way filled with people. We did not find out why but I suppose the assumption is that they go into Vietnam to work and come back at the end of the day. The number of trucks and people was endless.

Independence Palace and the Ben Thanh Market
So we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam was going to be rushed: we wanted to traverse it from South to North in under a month and see the best spots. We did not want to do it by plane, so it was going to be a challenge, but then challenge is my middle name (well, it should have been anyway). Our initial thought was city tours; t ahey were really cheap and included everything such as water, lunch and entry tickets. After settling in to our hotel we found a travel agency just around the corner and booked a tour for the next day.

The morning took us around some main sites of the city - palaces, pagodas and the like - and finished at a coffee shop where I got my first taste of weasel coffee. Apparently the weasel eats the coffee beans but is unable to digest them and its stomach juices do some magic that adds extra flavour to them. Nature takes its course and then some lucky fella gets to collect the beans, which are dried and used to make coffee for me to drink. Surprisingly yummy, if you do not think about it too much. Tasted a bit sweet with a hint of chocolate and very strong.

Then was lunch and we got our first taste of a full-on Vietnamese meal. Starting with a hearty vegetarian Pho (noodles) and fried spring rolls through to stir fry and rice. We were packed solid and all vegetarian and gluten free. Luckily for me they use rice paper for the spring rolls and, especially in the south, most soy sauces do not include wheat. Then back in the van for the several hours to the Cu Chi Tunnels.

Spikes under the grass
The 121km of criss crossing interconnected tunnels were a thorn in the side of the US during the Vietnam War. Complemented by many ingenious booby traps inside and around tunnel entrances they were basically impossible to shut down, despite several campaigns to do so. They formed a veritable underground city including hospitals, weapons storage and planning areas. Seeing the different types of booby traps was chilling and you could imagine the pain and suffering they would inflict.

Elizabeth in the tunnel
Since Elizabeth was injured I made the sacrifice and disappeared under a secret entrance only to re-emerge moments later wth a 'ta da'. We were then given the option to walk along several sections of tunnel. Elizabeth was weary of missing out and decided to persevere and impressed our guide by making it through two sections of 10m tunnels so small you had to crouch waddle through them. We decided against shooting guns for fun and ate some baked cassava (tapioca) bread instead. This was the staple meal during wartime, which as it was not nutritionally complete contributed to the small size and short lifespan of the Viet Cong.
Eating cassava bread

Back at Ho Chi Minh City we found a lovely Indian restaurant for dinner as we prepared to jump  on a bus again to continue our discovery of Vietnam. No time to kick back and relax just yet...

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