Sunday, January 4, 2009

Cu Chi Tunnels

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) on Thursday night and as soon as we got to the hotel, one of the staff booked us a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels. This is actually this biggest reason why we came to Saigon, since it's not a huge tourist town. But anyway, I'll save Ho Chi Minh City for another post. For $6 USD he signed us up on a guided tour of the tunnels which included transportation to the tunnels which are about 40 miles northwest of Saigon and a real, English speaking tour guide (unlike many other "tours" that we saw in Nha Trang).

As we rode in the bus, our guide explained to us a little bit about Saigon and what Saigon was like during the war. Our guide explained to us that he had fought with the South Vietnamese Army during the war, the side of the Americans.

Once we arrived, we had to pay entrance into the area, which was 80,000 Dong, which is about $5 USD. Once we entered, we went into a room and were shown a propaganda/documentary film that was actually filmed in Cu Chi during the Vietnam war by the Viet Cong to demonstrate the loyalty and hard work of the citizens of this area. It was strange to hear them praising how great the men and women who killed Americans were, but it was amazing to see actual footage from that time.
They then walked us into the forest. The first stop was to view an actual entrance into a tunnel. it was tiny and was basically a hole that went straight into the ground and was covered by a small wooden cover which the VC soldier could pull over his head. Covered in leaves it would be practically undetectable by American soldiers looking for it. As we approached, a tour guide was putting himself into the hole in the ground and he magically disappeared underground.

They then offered any of us to try to get in. One fairly tall western man jumped in first and he got in alright though he had some trouble getting his arms in and pulling the cover back over himself because he was so tall. I jumped in next (yea, i have to try everything). I had no trouble what so ever getting in, since I'm pretty short and more or less small around. Here, though, was just a demonstration of the size of the tunnels, not for actually going through the tunnels, so then we finished jumping in holes in the ground and continued along our way through the woods. By the way, this picture is of me under the ground.... believe it or not, I don't care.

Next to see on our journey through the woods were all the booby traps. Other bloggers described the booby traps as almost something you had to watch out for as you walked along, but they were pointed out by the guides. I wouldn't quite describe it like that. The first booby trap we saw was this railed off tiger trap. It was used before the war to catch tigers and such, but they turned it into a weapon to catch enemy soldiers. If you step on one corner, it flips up and drops you into a pit full of spikes.

Our guide then took us to a whole room full of various improvised booby traps that were used by the VC. None of which looked very pleasant. One particular booby trap was a double hinged bar that would swing down from a door entrance. He said enemy soldiers particularly disliked this one because it had the tendency to turn them in to "lady boys" as he put it.

As we walked long the trail, he pointed out many things that looked like termite hills. In fact they were actually air holes in disguise for the tunnels. These air holes were also vital in protecting them from all the attempted sabotages from the American soldiers. They would try to gas them out, but with these air holes it proved in effective. There were also so many exists that even if they cinched off one exit, they could still easily go to another exit to escape. He also explained that wherever they did their cooking, they were able to divert the smoke from the cooking to another area, and there diffuse the smoke so that even if it was detected and bombed, it would be far away from the actual tunnels and eating area. Their ways of protecting their tunnels were really ingenious.

Here's our guide in front of a tank that was captured by VC soldiers during the war.

We were brought to an eating area where we were able to try tapioca which was the main sustenance of the VC soldiers sometimes. I never realized what tapioca actually was in its real form. It's actually some sort of root and sort of has a consistency like a potato, or more like a yuka if you've ever tried that. Then you can dip in into a dry mixture of peanut and sugar. I expected it to be really disgusting, but it actually wasn't bad. Even still, I can't imagine living off of that. Of course, that's how they can fit so easily in the tunnels I suppose.

We also got to see a quick demonstration of how rice paper is made. Here is a photo of the rice paper drying in the sun. Rice paper like this is used to make spring rolls.

Then there was the actual tunnels. I feel like this was the most hyped up part of the adventure, and unfortunately for that reason it was a slight disappointment. Every review I had read described the tunnels as these incredibly claustrophobic, pitch black and impossibly small tunnels that no one can believe were actually widened so that western tourists could fit. Everything I read said that you pretty much had to crawl. What it actually was, was a fairly well lit tunnel large enough that I could walk through (albeit hunched double over). I wished they had preserved a small portion of the tunnel for tourists to go through that was the actual original size. I wouldn't want to go far, but I just want a real idea of what it was like. Evidently the VC essentially walked (or should I say waddled) in a squat position when they traveled through the tunnels.

The VC had many many kilometers of tunnels, though I don't think anyone knows the exact number of how far they went at their height. For more information, check out the wikipedia article.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting photos and story. Like other countries in Aisa, guides usually do not talk about the past of war or political issues. Instead, focus more on the current development and fun part of travel.

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