Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Cu Chi Tunnels

The Cu Chi area just outside of Saigon was the center of Viet Cong activity during the war. As such, it was the subject of much military activity and the Viet Cong went to elaborate measures to hide from American soldiers.

One of the major methods was an elaborate tunnel complex that ran for literally hundreds of miles. In many cases, tunnels went up to and into American bases. Entrances into the tunnels were elaborately disguised and were so small that few American soldiers could enter them, even if they were found.

The Cu Chi tunnels are now a major tourist itnerary. Various parts of the Cu Chi area have been transformed into displays and exhibits about life for the Viet Cong soldiers and supporters. Tours are given by Army soldiers who demonstrate various parts of the tunnel system.

Before visiting the tunnels, a visitor center has a cut-away diorama of the complexity of the system, and tourists are shown a grainy vintage black and white movie praising the tanacity and dedication of the Viet Cong rebels. It was not subtle.

A tight fit
Originally uploaded by yellojkt.
I was the only one of the Americans in our tour group willing to try to get into the tunnel. While I could just barely fit into the opening, when I crouched down, I got a minor panic attack. It took help from our guide to perform the rather gymnastic lift necessary to get out of the hole.

Other parts of the tour showed large craters from the constant aerial bombardment, different types and styles of pungee booby traps and pits, and all the various methods of concealing things like cooking smoke from detection.

There were also random pieces of destroyed military equipment on display and the opportunity to pose with cardboard cut-outs of black pajama clad insurgents. Please see my previous post here about my feelings about these types of displays.

Even accounting for differences in opinion over the war, it is hard to see the efforts of the Communist rebels and not be awed by their tenacity and ingenuity.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Room With A View

Saigon River
The Saigon River
Originally uploaded by yellojkt.
Our ninth floor room at the Grand Hotel in Saigon had great views of both the Saigon River and the city. In the first picture, the turret from the older part of the Grand Hotel (seen from the street in this picture) shows a series of low rise buildings near the waterfront. Immediately to the left as seen in this picture is the Rennaissance Saigon. Just to the right is another older hotel and another new high rise.

In a few years, I have to imagine that these older buildings will be demolished to make way for a new high rise that will probably block this great view of the river traffic up and down the Saigon River.

Across Dong Khoi street from the hotel there is a large construction site that is being billed as a multi-use high rise that was just starting. The construction noises woke us up pretty early one morning.

The pace of construction is Saigon is amazing and I fear a lot of the old character will be lost. While we were there a large department store opened further up Dong Khoi. Modeled after Japanese department stores, each floor specialized in a different area like women's clothes, electronics, and housewares. The top floor had a very nice food court and a huge gaming arcade that had videogames and bowling.

The prices were very high. Men's dress shirts were designer names and easily cost US$60 or more. Within walking distance on Dong Khoi, you can find tailor shops that will custom make clothes at a fraction of the cost. Times change.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Grand Hotel In Saigon

Grand Hotel
Grand Hotel in Saigon
Originally uploaded by yellojkt.
Our headquarters while in Saigon was the Grand Hotel, which is a government-run colonial-era hotel on Dong Khoi near the Saigon river. The colonial portion of the hotel is three stories tall with large grand open rooms. A more modern addition is ten stories tall and has more standard sized hotel rooms.

Despite it's name, the Grand Hotel is not the grandest hotel in Saigon. The Caravelle is the premiere colonial era hotel in the area. Several international chains have built modern contemporary luxury high-rises in the area as well, including Sheraton, Sofitel, and Rennaissance. Rooms in these more luxurious hotels can be US$200 or more a night. Another large luxury hotel was about open while we were there in July.

Grand Hotel Lobby
Grand Hotel Lobby
Originally uploaded by yellojkt.
The Grand Hotel had an excellent buffet breakfast with a great variety of fresh fruit and fruit juices each morning as well as the typical pho/omlette choice.

The location is also very nice being on the quieter end of Dong Khoi, which is the main shopping district for luxury goods. A wide variety of western and traditional restaurants were just blocks away.

The hotel itself had a very small lap pool with some token exercise machines in the corner of the outside pool patio serving as the "fitness center". A spa in the hotel offered a wide range of massages and manicures at prices competitive the salons all up and down Dong Khoi.

Overall, the hotel was very nice, but the general inexpensiveness of the hotels in the area would make us want to try one of the even more luxurious ones nearby if we visited again.