Today's destination is the Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam. A fascinating 200 km system of underground tunnels. You can visit Cu Chi from Ho Chi Minh City on a day tour.
We booked ours tour with Happy Tour and we were off in a comfortable minibus to see one of the most famous battlegrounds on earth. Then we paid $6 US per person, I see now that it is $20 online with Happy Tours, but I am sure that you can still book in Saigon for a better deal. How quickly prices rise with the onslaught of tourism.
For a great selection of places to stay with discount prices visit Ho Chi Minh Hotels for more information.”The Cu Chi Tunnels are a must see destination. During the War it was the major battleground.
Remember all those old war movies that you watched where the US soldier ran after a rebel in the jungle only to have him disappear in plain sight? How did the Vietnamese soldier be so clever? Well a visit to the Cu Chi tunnels explains all that.
It was a masterful system right under the noses of the US army. The American's knew they were there somewhere they just couldn't find them. Not for lack of trying however. Agent Orange, napalm and constant bombing was used to try to find the tunnel system that had eluded them. The jungle was completely wiped out and barren. It had been ruined by man, but Mother Nature's is a strong entity and with time has healed herself and it is now lush and green.If you really listen to your guide and forget that you are on a kitschy tour exploiting the horrors of war, you can learn a great deal about the tactics used by a people filled with strong will to defeat a more powerful enemy.
Our guide, a former translator for the American army led our group telling the story of the North Vietnamese. He explained how they could disappear in the jungle by sneaking into cave entrances camouflaged by termite hills being placed on top. Cayenne pepper would be sprinkled around the entrance to disrupt the search dogs senses.
We learned that they fought in sandals made from tires to avoid jungle rot. The Americans struggled greatly with wet feet rotting in their boots. Little did they know, sandals were their best defence.
We also learned about the booby traps laid out, waiting for the moment when the U.S. would find a cave entrance. I can't imagine what it must have felt like for the tunnel rats (that was the name of the poor soul that had the task of exploring the cave when they did find an opening) to have to go into darkness knowing that bamboo spikes or other painfully slow ways to die were waiting for him around the corner.
We learned how the Viet Cong wore checkered scarves to announce to fellow countrymen that they were fighting for the North. Farmers would sneak food to soldiers as they were living underground in the Cu Chi Tunnels for years on end. They had an entire society set up underground. The had different rooms for planning and meeting, they had kitchens where they would only cook during the early morning fog to hide their smoke. The Cu Chi Tunnels even had makeshift hospitals where wounds were tended and children were born.
There was a living civilization struggling and surviving underground for years on end.
And yet, the thing that we found most interesting was when our guide showed us the plants of the jungle. As you walked by, they would bend and their leaves would curl in the direction that you were walking. It was so easy to track the enemy once you knew this secret. There was no walking through the jungle unannounced when the trees were telling everyone that you were there. Incredible.
Cu Chi Tunnels Original Entrance
It was then time for the star attraction of the tour. If we had the nerve to go into an original tunnel entrance and crawl 150 metres to the exit we could. Only five in our group decided to go for it and it really gave a sense of just how uncomfortable the conditions were.I didn't realize that I was claustrophobic until a few minutes into our journey.
The dim lights went out for a few seconds but we kept crawling in the dark. Earlier, I saw some lights leading to another direction through another tunnel, and I was starting to panic that we had taken a wrong turn.
The tunnel system is hundreds of kilometres long and the irrational worry took over that I would become lost in the maze.
The lights came back on, just in time for 3 bats to fly by our heads. I was definitely ready to get out of there. I don't know how anyone could last in there for hours on end, let alone years on end. Unlike the Vietnam War, we didn't have to worry about meeting up with an unexpected enemy in the tunnel, we didn't have to worry about bombing, malaria, lice or infection. We only had to worry about making to from point A to point B so that we could catch our bus back to the city in time for dinner.
And that was enough for me
War Remnants Museum
Part of the Cu Chi Tunnel tour is to stop at the War Remnants Museum. We were dropped off at the museum in Saigon and left to wander on our own time. It is an emotional look at the effects of war. Photos of Napalm and victims and acts of torture hung on the walls, the tools they used for torture and death were on display and devastating photos of the effects of Agent Orange we hanging all over the room. There are tanks, bombs and planes outside. You will see torture chambers and the cages that POW's were kept and cells.
It is a difficult museum to visit, I learned a great deal and it is something that should be seen to remind us all of the horrors of war. What sense is there in all this killing and suffering?
There is a display honouring photographers and correspondents who lost their lives covering the war. It is a moving tribute to the men that kept the world informed about the atrocities going on in Vietnam.
Kim Phuc's picture is on display. She was the girl in the photo running down the road with her body covered in burns from Napalm. I had a chance to meet her here in Canada a few months ago. She now travels the world speaking about war, peace and healing through faith. I wrote about her a couple of months ago, in my Girl in the Picture post.
The Cu Chi Tunnels is a fascinating tour from Ho Chi Min City. It is a little bit on the touristy side, but well worth seeing. To be in a place where a momentous event in history took place is always an intriguing experience.