Positive Tunnel Vision in Ho Chi Minh


Have you ever had one of those days where almost everything is a big let down, but it turns out the day itself is really great? In the moment you think to yourself, or out loud if it’s really bad, “wow this sucks, I really wish things were different!” But after the fact it turns out it was actually a great day! And besides, good stories aren’t made by everything going exactly right. Good days aren’t made by good things happening, good days come from within. Our perceptions totally shape how we experience our surroundings, and can make bad days good, or on the flip side even good days bad.

The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.    Viktor E. Frankl

Today was one of those days. We took a tour that was expected to be awesome, but in reality was the opposite. Despite this less the ideal tour, we still had a great day! This showed us that just being somewhere new, making friends bonding over the suckiness, and having an awesome partner can turn the worst of times into the best of times.

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam is where much of the Vietnamese War history can be seen first hand. There is a vast network of tunnels where Vietnamese fighters would fight and live for months just outside of Ho Chi Minh City, particularly in a town called Cu Chi. When looking at tours in our hotel lobby, we saw one that combined the Cu Chi tunnels with visiting a Cao Dai temple, a fairly new religion native to Vietnam. The pictures of the temple looked incredible, and we are eager to learn of new cultures, so for an extra 3 dollars it was a no brainer and we started getting pumped!

We piled into the not-too-overly-dirty, a-ok-average long haul bus complete with cracked leather seats and slightly grey walls that were once cream colored. We had read that the temple was 2-3 hours outside of the city depending on traffic, and settled in for the long haul. Fortunately, we had downloaded some podcasts about the Vietnam War to occupy our time and brush up on our history. Unfortunately, none of them actually downloaded. We were forced to go old school and talk to each other and the people around us. It felt weird and foreign, but definitely passed the time. And luckily the bus was so bouncy that we couldn’t sleep, so we got to see the green Vietnamese countryside and its large rice fields. We didn’t realize we had really bought a plane ticket since we spent 30% of the time in the air and out of our seats.

After only a 4 hour teeth chattering ride we finally arrived at the temple. We walked through the gates hoping that it would make up for the ride to get there. We made it there right as a service was starting, and walking up to the temple we could hear the sounds of an oriental tune coming from a stringed instruments, and a beautiful chorus coming from a women’s choir.

Lining the outside of the temple were statues of the all seeing eye, like on top of the pyramid on a one dollar bill, or the illuminati symbol.

Whoops not these all seeing eyes…

This all seeing eye!

As we walked inside we thought there was surely either psychedelics in Vietnamese water, or we had wandered into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory because everything was so colorful and vibrant.

It really was like walking into a cartoon because everything was so colorful that it didn’t seem real. The arched ceilings were painted to look like a clear blue sky with puffy white clouds and white dragons racing across. There were two lines of pink pillars stretching from the back of the temple to the front altar, with green dragons circling the sides adorned with blue and pink flowers. One of the most beautiful and unique worshipping centers we have ever seen.

It was interesting going during their ceremony to see how they worshipped, but at the same time felt very intrusive, like we were crashing something intimate and special. We were apart of a group of tourists entering the temple, and the people  seemed relatively unphased by the cameras and stares. Hopefully they saw us as genuinely curious and interested in their religion rather than just a tourist trying to get their next instagram pic.

Like this lady.

This kid could NOT sit still. We learned that kids  are restless throughout religious ceremonies no matter the religion, the world is so similar!

Through a plaque on the wall and borrowing the knowledge of some one else’s tour guide, we were able to learn that Cao Daoism is a fairly new religion, created in 1919. It is a combination of Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Islam. Frankly, we don’t know they keep everything together and remember it all. But in a world that can use more religious acceptance, maybe we need more Cao daoists in the world. Because if these people can fuse together multiple beliefs, we should surely be able to accept and love a few as well.

We piled back into our amusement ride/ airplane to stop for an overpriced lunch  (by Vietnamese standards) because we couldn’t get anything else even if we wanted to. After another 2 hours of the bus shaking the sand out of our ears, we finally made it to the village of Cu Chi to see the tunnels.

The site where the tunnels reside is now like an outdoor museum, even complete with a gift shop/shooting range where you could shoot 10 bullets for $50. Ammunition is the ONLY thing more expensive here than in the US. As we were walking through the jungle, gun fire was ringing in the distance, completing the eery picture of walking though this battleground when these bullets weren’t at a shooting range.

The Vietnamese dug a vast network of tunnels that ant colonies would even aspire to build. There are three layers of interconnected tunnels, with the third and deepest layer opening up to 8 feet or 3 meters tall where the Vietnamese lived, stored supplies, and fabricated weapons. The top layer connected to bunkers and hidden trap holes that were very easily hidden.

Where’s E?

There he is! With maybe one too many banh mi sandwiches in his belly…

It has been said that the best way to learn anything is by doing. So in order to really learn about the tunnels of course we had to go in. E was a little worried about going in, not because he’s claustrophobic, because he’s asstrophobic. He was afraid his 6 foot tall American butt wouldn’t be able to squeeze through these tiny Vietnamese sized tunnels. We descended underground for about 10 feet before the entrance of the tunnels started, which are about 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide, not eric sized. We crumpled our bodies in half and E had to walk/crawl/belly flop like a dead fish to fit while e seemed like she was going for a nice, easy stroll. It was at this point E wished we would have brought an emergency tub of butter in case things got tight. We felt very safe, and had there been bullets flying 10 feet above our heads, we would have wanted to be right there in those tunnels.

A dark silhouette of e cruising through the tunnels.

Our tour guide, Mr. Vinn, was like that slightly crazy uncle that you laugh at from afar because he’s funny but slightly racist and inappropriate.

Mr. Vinn was a very interesting and animated man, whose story was as confusing as his English was hard to understand. From what we could make out, he lived in Vietnam when the war started, but must have been an anti communist because he fought for the US navy as a translator. The confusing part is that when talking about the US military he would call them lazy and dumb…even though he fought for the US. During his sometimes rambling stories he would break out into song, with a collection of favorites such as ferra jocka, we can’t stop the rain, and hey Jude. It would have been nice if he had more tunnel vision when it came to giving out objective information. Either way, we didn’t learn as much as we would have hoped because it was hard to hear useful information through all the loud bias. Most of the information we learned came from listening to other tour guides, who were solely objective. So this isn’t a Vietnamese thing, only a Mr. Vinn thing.

Looking past the dark history of the Vietnamese war, these tunnels were pretty impressive, and we were really digging learning more about them.

So at the end of the day we were on the bus for 7 hours and were off the bus for 1 hour and 45 minutes. Those are some very losing stats. While the timing of the tour was awful, we saw a very beautiful temple, learned of a new religion, and got to see first hand a big part of Vietnamese and American history. And even though we were on the bus waaaaay too long without any wifi, we were able to see some beautiful Vietnamese countryside, it gave us a great chance to talk, connect, laugh, and just spend time together.

And bounce, there was a lot of bouncing on the bus. Having the right perception gave us the ability to see the positives of this far too long bus ride, and look at it as a great experience. So even though objectively the day sucked, it really was a pretty great day!

We would highly recommend taking a tour to see the Cu Chi tunnels, but we would highly not recommend having an offensive tour guide or going to see the cap dais temple, totally not worth it. We would very highly recommend traveling with someone you can have fun with in any situation, and opening your eyes up to the positivity of even bad circumstances. They are everywhere you look!

Let us know in the comments, what were some bad situations that turned out to actually be pretty great for you?

Thank you for reading,

Happy travels and steady blood sugars


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