No trip to Vietnam will be complete without visiting the famous underground Cu Chi tunnels. It is as huge a part of Vietnam’s history as its temples and pagodas. These underground tunnels were the Viet Cong’s (Vietnamese guerrilla army) base of operations, where they lived and fought from during the Vietnam War. As a child I used to watch countless of “war” movies with my father and a lot of these were about the Vietnamese war. It was within these movies that I first learnt about this extensive underground tunnel system and couldn’t wait to see it for myself. Although I would always cringe while watching people go down these tunnels in the movies it fascinated me and I wanted to see if they were really so narrow and complex as in these war movies.
The Cu Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, the most famous being the Tết Offensive in 1968. It was during this fight that the existence of these tunnels came to light. It is quite strange as it is said that an American army base was actually situated right on top of this extensive tunnel system.
These tunnels are located 60km from Ho Chi Minh City in what is now considered a heroic district for the role it played in the anti – American war in Vietnam. The road there from Ho Chi Minh city is riddled with pot-holes but the scenery of the green rice paddies that we passed made up for this very uncomfortable trip to the tunnels.
Cu Chi has an underground tunnel system of over 220km but a lot of it has caved in or is now declared unsafe for visitors.
Before we got to see these tunnels we were shown a movie about how and where these tunnels were constructed. It took them a long time to dig these tunnels and I can believe that there were a couple of cave ins and that a lot of people died during its construction.
The Vietnamese did not only hide in these tunnels but lived there and used them as their bases to attack from. These tunnels served as communication and supply routes and also housed hospitals, food and weapon caches and held the living quarters for numerous guerrilla fighters. I wonder if there were some soldiers who were claustrophobic and how they coped with this arrangement.
An English speaking guide took us through the forest and as we walked I found it hard to imagine the destruction that must have covered this area during and after the war. There aren’t a lot of signs of damage or of the extensive defoliation that took place during the war left here. There are however clear indentations and craters caused by bombing and mines that were found all over the place. Thus Cu Chi still has some evidence to prove that it was once a fierce battleground.
Between these craters and bomb shells are the entrances to the tunnels that were used by Viet Cong guerrillas as hiding spots during the combat.
As I walked around the area I come across old military tanks that were left there and countless examples of the traps the Vietcong set in the tunnels and in strategic places in the forest. These traps were very disturbing in their cruelty and gave me the shivers when I thought of what would happen if you stepped into one of these. I am sure that these traps maimed a couple of soldiers and took a lot of lives.
These tunnels themselves were often rigged with explosive booby traps or “Punji stake pits” which would prevent people from searching them or following the soldiers who lived there. They only found this out by actually trying to follow the soldiers down these tunnels….a very scary thought indeed.
The two main responses by the Americans in dealing with a tunnel opening once they found it were to flush the entrance with gas or water to force the guerrillas into the open. Or they would toss a few grenades down the hole and “crimp” off the opening. I am quite claustrophobic so the thought of getting trapped down there made me shiver. I would also vote for getting them out rather than following them down into the unknown. You never knew what would be waiting for you down there.
We got the opportunity to actually crawl down one of these tunnels for a couple of meters along with the guide. But seeing as I am very claustrophobic I gave this a skip but asked my friend to take a couple of pictures down there for me so I at least know what it looks like down there. I am sure they have enlarged this piece of tunnel but it is still such a tight fit….how did they move down it at a speed?
Above – ground there were actually a couple of other attractions which included caged monkeys which we could feed, a couple of vendors selling souvenirs, and even a shooting range where you can fire a number of assault rifles. “When in Rome….” So I didn’t let this opportunity slip through my fingers. I actually got to shoot an AK47, something I would never have done otherwise. Cant say that I was very fond of firing this huge gun, it made me feel very uncomfortable and was very awkward to hold.