If you’re traveling in Vietnam and you’re a war history buff like Keith, a visit to Cu Chi Tunnel is a must. Cu Chi Tunnels are complex network of underground fortress dug beneath the jungles of South Vietnam.
The tunnels were initially dug by Viet Minh guerillas as a safe haven during their battle with the Japanese and French and was further expanded by Viet Cong guerillas during their fight with the South Vietnamese and US forces.
Located in the Cu Chi District of Ho Chi Minh City, this elaborate underground system stretched 75 miles from Saigon to the Cambodian border and went several stories deep. It was built over a period of 25 years starting in 1948.
The guerillas covered the trapdoors with vegetation as well as chili peppers to mask any odor from sniffing dogs.
The tunnels enabled the guerrillas to mount surprise attacks and then as quickly as they had appeared they vanished ino the trapdoors without any trace.
“No one has ever demonstrated more ability to hide his installations than the Viet Cong; they were human moles.” -US General William Westmoreland
The crawling space in the tunnel ranged from .5 to 1 meter wide, enough for small persons to wiggle their way in.
Some tunnels were widened to accommodate tourists, but be warned it is still very claustrophobic. We didn’t go very far. Aside from feeling suffocated, we also felt hot inside.
The guerillas stayed underground up to few days at a time and surfacing only at night time. We can now appreciate the difficulty they must have gone through.
The tunnels were also used to connect villages under Vietcongs control so the guerrillas could move between areas undetected.
The strategic design of the tunnels as well as the use of the booby traps made the ground attacks by American troops unsuccessful. They then resorted to “carpet bombing.”
An abandoned American tank.
One of the Viet Cong memorabilia that our guide showed us with great pride was the sandals worn by the guerillas. The sandals were made from recycled rubber tire. They were designed to appear like the toe area was at the back and the heel area is on the front. This was meant to give the enemies false impression that the footprints of the guerrillas were heading to the opposite direction.
There is a shooting range where visitors can fire assault rifles used by both American and Vietcong troops during the war.At the end of the tour, we were served a snack of boiled cassava and tea, which were the Vietcong’s staple food while hiding underground.
Visiting Cu chi Tunnels gave us a better understanding of the sheer will power that the South Vietnamese and American forces were up against and how much determination they had exerted to fight the VietCong. Vietcong’s impressive “low tech-high concept” approach may have won them the war, but they also lost so many lives.
Getting there: Bus tours can be booked for about $45 per person from Ho Chi Minh City. For a little more per person, we rented a car for $100. It included a driver, a guide and the entrance fee. The departure time was flexible and the tour was private. With traffic, the travel time took an hour and 45 minutes from and to downtown Ho Chi Minh City. Bus tours or car rentals can be arranged through the hotels.
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