Okay! Part 2 here we go! On our way to the Cu Chi Tunnels. For reference here is a map:
One last history lesson before we get started. During the Vietnam war, the country was divided North & South. The North, who were pro-communism were known as the Viet Cong (which I mentioned very briefly in my last post when I included a picture of the cell cages they were kept in after capture). The South were primarily fighting against Communism, which was the side the Americans were on.
One of the main reasons that it was a such a hard battle for the Americans was guerilla warfare tactics the Viet Cong used enabled by the enormous and complicated tunnel system that ran throughout the country. I’m talking tens of thousands of miles, sometimes multiple layers deep. The tunnels were a way to transport supplies, relay communications and provided shelter. The US relied heavily on aerial bombing so the tunnels provided safety, as the Viet Cong would escape underground. In heavily bombed areas, the soldiers spent much of their lives underground so the tunnels grew to be entire underground villages with living quarters, kitchens, ordnance factories, hospitals and even in some larger areas hosting theaters or music halls.
We visited the section of tunnels under the Cu Chi district about an hour outside of Ho Chi Minh City. At first glance, it looks like a jungle, like any other jungle would. But then, while you are walking and the guide points out subtle traces left behind. We start to notice that the uneven terrain is actually bomb craters and what we thought were massive ant mounds are actually cleverly disguised air holes that were used to vent the tunnels below.
When I was younger, my parents took my sister and I to New Hampshire and we visited the natural caves. I distinctly remember a specific cave called “The Big Squeeze”, appropriately named for it’s tight crawl spaces that not everyone could fit into. Once you started to crawl through, you had to commit because there was not enough room to turn around. Well, these caves ain’t got nothing on the Cu Chi tunnels. These tunnels are small. Very small. I thought this even before I found out that some of the ones we would be crawling into were actually widened to accommodate our western frames. For some, there is actually only one way to enter: feet first, twist the hips, arms up to bring your shoulder blades in, and drop through. Why don’t you let Sean demo for you in the following photos (and yes, this extremely small hole was one of the widened ones).
We then all ventured down into the tunnels. Again, this tunnel was widened to where we could sort of do a crouched duck walk through (hello thigh burn), but at some points we still had to crawl on our hands and knees or even slide feet first through spaces. Here are a few photos I had, but they are not too great.
We also got to real examples of the booby traps that were set in the jungle. For the purpose of safety, they cover with a green fake grass so you can clearly see where the holes are, but when they actually were in use, they would be covered by sticks and leaves and would completely be disguised by the jungle floor. It was interesting, but at the same time it’s a somber experience as well. Looking at holes with poisoned sticks or metal clasps are barbaric warfare in a sense, that you aren’t use to seeing in our advanced civilization (even 40 years ago). War brings out the worst in mankind, and it was a reminder.
For those that travel there, they also had a shooting range, which you could shoot weapons and bullets that were left behind. Sean and I don’t shoot, so we didn’t partake but it’s there and seemed to be quite popular amongst tourists. That evening we returned to the city and we had an amazing sunset on the bus ride back.
Stay tuned for next weeks blog on Mekong Delta & back to Ho Chi Minh City to enjoy night markets and street food!
If you missed it, don’t forget to catch up on Part 1: Ho Chi Minh City