Whilst staying in Ho Chi Minh City we did 2 tours with Tiger Tours, and both were absolutely amazing, and I want to start by saying what an amazing company they are! We actually had 3 tours booked with them (food, Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta), but sadly my wife became very ill and we are unable to do the Mekong Delta tour, which is a huge disappointment for both of us. However I cancelled this literally last minute and they phoned a few times to check on her and offer to give any help should we need it – our tour guide even offered to drop by the hotel to check on her personally. They did offer a partial refund, however I understood that it was late in the day and they missed potential other income from us being booked so did not take this. The management and all of their guides are probably the best we have ever had the pleasure of dealing with!
Cu Chi Tunnels
Now on to the tour! The Cu Chi tunnels day tour is great anyway however they were very accommodating in allowing us to make a change to it, which I will get to later. The day starts with an early morning trip to the tunnels, which as soon as they open are absolutely dead, but had really started to fill up by the time we left a few hours later. They are an iconic relic of the war and I would really recommend coupling this trip with a visit to the war remnants museum on another day!
You start off with a video and to be honest I think you could easily get away with not seeing this – the tour guides cover everything in a much more interesting way as the video is very old. You then head around the complex, which is of course why we all go… First stop – get in to one of the holes in the ground, which you CANNOT see when you first walk past it. I really recommend this iconic photo opportunity – they have made the holes a little bigger for westerners such as myself who carry a little extra timber!
There are then all sorts of places to see and interact with including a tank you can clamber around on, more tunnels you can actually walk through, a bunch of booby traps you can take a look at (these were a real eye opener), models you can pose with and even some guns you can shoot! Sadly they are bolted down and you really don’t get much movement, feel for the power of the weapons or even a paper target to show where you managed to shoot – for someone in the UK it is quite cool to have shot an AK47 though… I really wish I’d shot the big gun mounted on the jeep though if I’m going to be honest.
Finally you also have a chance to drink a little tea and eat some taro root cooked in the same way as the Vietcong used to eat… All I can say is that I’m glad its not a staple of our diet back home.
Cu Chi Wildlife Rescue Station
It was after this tour where we asked for a small change to be made, and I would recommend anyone who comes to the Cu Chi tunnels to also head to the Cu Chi Wildlife Rescue Station run by Wildlife At Risk. It is hard work getting in there and I recommend getting a tour operator to help you with this, especially if you don’t have much time in the area… But it is definitely worth going to! The work which they do there is truly admirable and the center looks like it is in better shape than the bear center in Cat Tien National Park. One thing which they have lots of are gibbons, and also a few douc langurs, which are very rare to see, so for people who see a lot of rare primates it was a real treat to see them getting nursed back to health for re-release (something which they have a huge amount of success with). We were shown around by the manager of the center who gave a great deal of insight in to their work and what they have planned for the future.
Tay Ninh Cao Dai Temple
Once we’d had our animal fix we headed in to Tay Ninh to see the Cao Dai Temple. Cao Dai is a religion which draws from various other religions to make one where the whole makes far more sense than its parts on their own – whilst I am an atheist our guides view on this religion certainly did give you plenty of food for thought.
Black Virgin Mountain
However we came just after one of their services (just after a lunch on our way from the Cu Chi Tunnels to the Black Virgin Mountain) – this is a good tip as the restaurants in the area are very quiet during religious events and shortly after those events finish these restaurants get very busy. The temple is also very busy during these times which means that there is really very little to see in the crowds, and to be honest I always feel uncomfortable coming and gawping at people going about their religious activities – whilst I do not share such religious views I do respect their views and ability to practice them in peace. As such we came to the temple after it had emptied allowing us to marvel at what for us was an amazingly beautiful building. It is very decorative with these carvings and artworks being very well done – It is certainly one of the most colorful temples I have seen.
We then had one final stop in what was an exhausting but thoroughly enjoyable day – The Black Virgin Mountain. This is a really interesting place allowing you to see how the Vietnamese like to spend their time off… We didn’t see any other westerners here, and felt like it is an area where not that many western come and as such covering tattoos is the best idea. We both have quite a lot of tattoos and got a lot of looks while walking around. I actually didn’t know that we were coming to a highly religious site as part of this tour, as not that much information about it was available, and had I known I would have certainly thought about covering up the naked pinup tattoo on my leg.
You can get to the top of the mountain (although there is already plenty going on at the bottom) with the cable car which is fairly quick but there are then also a lot more fairly steep steps to get to the temple and to see the statue of the black virgin. Our tour guide took us here and whilst it was great to see, it felt a little wrong to get in and see things like the black virgin as it feels like a very spiritual and personal place for the locals… I certainly didn’t feel like it was appropriate to join in with the rituals (which our guide encouraged, but we decided to decline) as we didn’t want to get in the way.
Even though this started as a way to explore the Cu Chi Tunnels, the best thing however about this trip was the way back down the mountain! Don’t use the cable car, there is a great kart ride down which if there is no one in your way, is a super quick way to travel and is heaps of fun… Almost worth the trip just for that!