Along the Saigon River

Published:  23:15 Saturday - January 26, 2013

Along the Saigon River

The VIP speed boat eventually glided into the wharf, it was forty-five minutes late, and we had been waiting impatiently for it to arrive so that we could begin our journey along the Saigon River to the Cu Chi tunnel historical site.

Sai Gon River. (Photo: Internet)

The boat looked to be full but our party of six adults and two children were eventually accommodated in the front of the boat, under the awning which shielded us from the hot overhead sun. The children were delighted that they were able to utilize the pilot’s seat and for most of the journey, each way, they took turns on one of the adult’s laps, the wind created by the high speed boat blowing their hair back. They were entranced by the foam created by the turbulence of the boat which climbed almost to the deck on each side.

The Saigon River is a busy waterway with heavily laden barges, smaller pilot boats, fishing boats and local ferries all utilizing this water course. Dense blankets of water hyacinths floated along the top of the river, the flowers still in bud; these aquatic weeds are a curse to the propellers of high speed boats and our driver did his best to avoid the thickest areas. The weed is harvested by locals who make attractive baskets in varying designs and quality to sell at markets.

The boat took an hour and a half to reach its destination; it was an enjoyable ride with the distractions of the daily life of the river continually changing.  We passed through the industrial city and into the countryside where farmers were seen working in the vibrant green paddy fields and laborers tended the forests of rubber trees. 

The tunnels of Cu Chi are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Cu Chi District of HCMC. They are part of a much larger network of tunnels that extend throughout the country. This section of the tunnels has been turned into a War Memorial Park and is very popular with tourists who can get some small idea of what it must have been like for the Vietnamese guerrillas who lived, worked and fought inside the very narrow confines of the tunnels. Some portions of the tunnels have been enlarged so that they can accommodate the larger stature of the modern day tourist and, for the adventurous and those that do not suffer from claustrophobia, crawling through these shafts is one of the options available.

It is almost impossible to believe that both men and women lived in these confined spaces for months, even years, fighting off not only the American soldiers but dangerous insects such as scorpions, ants, poisonous centipedes, spiders and rodents, diseases facilitated by the lack of fresh air and healthy food and water, particularly malaria, which was the second largest cause of death after battle wounds.

Tourists are able to witness the booby traps, fashioned from basic materials but used to deadly effectiveness.  They can fire a variety of Vietnamese War Era weapons, which include the AK47 and M16 rifles and the M60 machine gun, however, there is a need to take good ear protection, it is extremely noisy and that supplied is not altogether effective.

It is a grueling glimpse into the lives of the guerrilla fighters in their resistance against the American forces and it was a relaxing getaway to seat ourselves next to the fast flowing current of the river while being served a traditional Vietnamese lunch. The small restaurant, set on a platform above the reeded banks of the river and open to any light breeze which could permeate the mid-day heat, provided a relief from the horrors of war.


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