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open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

HCMC is supposed to be big, fast, loud, and scary. My friend Mari, connected me with a Vietnamese friend that lives in HCMC to show me around. Tanaka san, was an incredible guide and host and made my experience in HCMC a great one! Tanaka has a Vietnamese name, but he is fluent in Japanese (and English and Mandarin and Cantonese) and works for a Japanese firm where he goes by Tanaka. The first touristy thing I did in HCMC was visit the Cu Chi Tunnels which are a 2 hour drive from the city. I organized the trip through the hostel I was staying at and it was interesting. On the way to the tunnels, there was an unnanounced stop to a factory of “victims” that produce handicrafts that we were supposed to by. I chose to wait outside of the factory as my threshold for such surprise visits had long been exceeded. Cu Chi was cool though. We got to watch a 20 minute anti-US propaganda film before going in the tunnels. My favorite quote was describing the Americans as “a bunch of flying crazed devils.” We saw a variety of homemade boobytraps that were used against the Americans and got to crawl through some of the tunnels that were used by the VC. At the end of the tour, you could shoot several weapons that were used during the war. The price of bullets was really high and I have shot more than enough guns for a lifetime, so I passed. That night, Tanaka took me for a tour of the city on his motorbike then we had dinner at his parents’ house. His dad was on the losing side of the war and had to spend 2 years in a “reeducation camp.” His parents, did not speak very much English, but were amazing, gracious, and warm hosts. The food was tasty. The next day I went to the War Remnants Museum, formerly known as “The House for Displaying War Crimes of American Imperialism and the Puppet Government.” As the original name suggests, there was a lot of propaganda on display. A great deal of the information was true though, and very tragic. Photos of civilian victims of the war, many of which were women and children, really hit home. It didn’t make me ashamed to be American, it just furthered my anti-war resolve. Tanaka took me to a local place and we had offal soup for lunch. It had coagulated blood, intestines, and various other pork parts. For dinner, we met two of his employees and had goat hotpot and yakiniku style. It was my first time having goat brain and liver. The next day, we went to a few museums and Tanaka was able to explain EVERYTHING. He has quite a bit of knowledge about the history of his country. We also went to a couple high end coffee shops for some great coffee and better conversation. We had lunch at a popular semi upscale restaurant that features cuisine from all over Vietnam. We visited several markets and department stores. I am an enormous hammock enthusiast and finally bought one to take back home with me. I also got to try balut, partially matured duck embryo. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be and the broth was quite good. For my last night in Saigon, Tanaka brought 5 beautiful young ladies to enjoy cocktails with us on the rooftop bar of a 5 star hotel overlooking the river. HCMC was incredible and even though I spent more time there than I had intended, it was still very difficult to leave.

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