April 30, 1975 North Vietnamese tanks rumbled past the gates of the Presidential Palace signaling the fall of Saigon and ultimately the end of the Vietnam war, however some Vietnamese call it the American war. That Palace has since been renamed The Reunification Palace. Today’s tour first stop was a visit to the Palace where the group learned a bit about that period in time. Contrary to the history books that state the last Americans were airlifted from the Embassy; it was the top of that little building that was the CIA HEADQUARTERS. After which, a photo opportunity at Saigon’s government district where they saw the replica of Notre Dame which was built between 1863 and 1880 by the French. Across the street in that square is the French colonial-era post office. Then later, There was a stop at the Phuong Nam Fine Art and Lacquerware Company. This is where one would purchase authentic lacquer boxes and such. If you aren’t looking for the real deal then you will find knock offs at the tons of souvenir shops in town.
The group took a break for lunch and our guide spoke of the best Pho (fa) noodle soup restaurant he would take them to. The 3 floors were jam packed with locals and the Kattrax Group. Lol. It was already hot and yours truly wanted no parts of soup nor was it my plan to ride for an hour plus afterwards to the CU CHI TUNNELS. I hit up an Uber and headed back to the comfort of our hotel, had a nice Caesar salad and enjoyed my lovely view of the Saigon River from my room. Scores of motorbikes abound. This city has over 8 million living here with over 7 million registered motorbikes. Truly a sight to see. Some drivers with stilettos, and some pregnant with a baby, no helmet but face masks riding with papasan. They are too tough for me.
Construction of the tunnels began in the late 1940s during the war with France. When the US military entered the picture to support South Vietnam, communist forces began expanding the network. At its height, there were over 250km of tunnels, no more than 70 cm wide, 90 cm high, some running 30 ft deep. This subterranean maze served as shelters, communication centers and supply lines.
The US had men, modern equipment, firepower and aerial bombing at their disposal. The North Vietnamese and Viet Công, most of them peasants, were outnumbered. During aerial attacks, to survive, whole villages moved underground—cramped, dark tunnels with kitchens, sleeping areas and hospitals. Despite clever engineering with disguised ventilation and drainage, the conditions were almost unfathomable. It was sweltering, hard to breathe and at risk for disease, flooding and snakes.
Only a portion of these tunnels are open to the public. Steve of Sacramento was adventurous enough to take a partial trip down. Only he can tell that story.
Tomorrow after breakfast, we drive toward Ben Tre Province which is located on a branch of the MEKONG RIVER. It promises to be an exciting tour day. Sometime in the afternoon, niece Yvonne McIntyre will join us, flying in from Jakarta, Indonesia where she is currently residing on assignment. She is so full of unbelievable humor and I can’t wait for her to get here to hang with us the remainder of our time here.