Today I booked a tour to the Chu Chi tunnels, part of the vast network of tunnels built and used by the Viet Cong during The War. I arranged the tour through Sang, the owner-operator of Hanh Cafe tour office, situated in an alley off Bui Vien St. I give the details (email firstname.lastname@example.org; phone 08-392-06211) in case anyone is in the area and wants to book tickets, a tour, or whatever…because Sang is the coolest tour operator I’ve met since Anton, my buddy in Irkutsk.
Most standard tours to Chu Chi include a stop at a pagoda as well. When I asked Sang if the temple was worth it, he smiled and said, “Well, if you’ve seen a few temples around Asia, it’s not really any different.” In other words, he gave me his honest opinion instead of trying to squeeze a few more bucks from me. As a result, I’m now going to buy a 2-day trip to the Mekong Delta, plus a hop on/off bus service (very popular and cheap way to travel in Vietnam – sort of like the Eurail) from him.
Plus, he’s hilarious and will sit and tell you stories in an Aussie-tinged Vietnamese accent all afternoon if you let him. He’s the eldest son of a man who has fathered 22 (!) children with about 10 women in such far-flung places as Australia, Japan, the US and Korea. His father served as a fighter pilot for South Vietnam in the war, flying sorties over northern Vietnam. Referring to his father’s vigorous and far-flung seed, Sang says, “My father is a bomber!”
He also told stories of a Vietnamese guy he knows who is *the* marijuana kingpin in Canada, which those who smoke say produces some of the best weed in the world. Sang’s friend is now a multi-millionaire. Once, when the drug king came back to Vietnam for a visit, Sang went out with him for the night. “The man throws money around like it’s nothing. Two girls, bottles of champagne. We went to a bar and there were girls. Tall ones, young, old, whatever you want. ‘You like this one, take her!’ said his friend to Sang. ‘I don’t have the money to pay,’ he answered. ‘No problem! Take one! You want two? Take what you want, it’s no problem.'” Sang continues: “The guy spends $10,000 in one night, no problem. It’s nothing to him.”
He carried on talking, about the slang used on the phone to make drug deals. Which got him talking about gambling: “We bet on every single football match. There is a guy who owns a gold and jewelry shop around the corner. He had been losing heavily on bets during the World Cup. Then he put all his money on Brazil to beat Holland. When Holland won, he lost everything. $1.2 million. He killed himself.”
Sang could go on for hours. He talks about politics, the difference between South and North Vietnamese (who, he claims, don’t like and still suspect each other), the real name of his city (he agrees with me), corruption, visits by his father’s many children, and on and on. I’d break my hand trying to write everything down.
Instead, as I said, tomorrow I’m going to the Chu Chi tunnels. The next day I’ll do a 2-day trip to the Mekong Delta, including a homestay. Then, depending on how I feel, I’ll start making my way north. Sang, despite his clear prejudice towards south Vietnam, says there’s more to see in the north than the south. He points to an area just north of Danang, where the hop on/off buses don’t stop. “There’s nothing to see! Just rice fields. You see the same thing everywhere. Go to Hanoi. Go to Sapa. Go to Halong Bay. There, there are things to see!”