Exploring the Cu Chi tunnels
Remains of an American tank at Cu Chi
If you go to Vietnam, lots of the places of interest are about the war. You know which war I’m talking about of course. Usually called the Vietnam War, but since we are in Vietnam it would be silly to call it the Vietnam war, so in Vietnam they call it the American war, which makes sense.
And Cu Chi tunnels is as good place to start your tour about the American War (the Vietnam war, following?) as any. Cu Chi tunnels were the base of operations for the Viet Cong guerrillas near Saigon that the Americans controlled (or Ho Chi Minh as it is these days officially called).
Viet Cong sandals they used during the war, made from truck tires, very practical
Once you arrive to the Cu Chi tunnels, the thing that will catch your attention is the constant gunfire you hear all the time. It definitely adds to the atmosphere. Here you are, at a sight about the American war (The Vietnam War, pay attention ok?), and you hear the constant rattle of the AK-47s and M16s. And mind you, it’s not out of speakers the gunfire is coming from, no it is actual AK-47s you are hearing. There is shooting range where for a price you can shoot a clip with one of the guns used during the war.
Now if I had never shot an assault rifle, I would have been the first to jump at the chance, but having spent the mandatory six months in the Finnish military, I’m familiar enough with the Finnish assault rifle, which is basically just an improved version of the AK-47, called RK-62.
But if you haven’t shot an AK-47, maybe you should give it a go. You will see that it a lot more accurate than is always portrayed in the movies, where you can’t hit a van with it if you are standing ten meters from it.
There are a lot of bombs left by the Americans
Cu Chi is a complex and wide network of tunnels that allowed the guerrillas to move from one place to another during the war. It was also where they lived, cooked, slept and made weapons. So basically they did everything in tunnels.
The entrances to the tunnels were camouflaged, and to say that the entrances are tiny could be considered an understatement. The idea was that a Viet Cong guerrilla could slip in in a few seconds, which was demonstrated to us. However an American soldier carrying the standard battle gear wouldn’t fit in.
And it’s not difficult to imagine, anybody who is not fairly fit, would not be able to fit thru the small hole in the ground.
Entrance to the Viet Kong tunnels in Cu Chi, it's not very big
But apparently you can fit in, as demonstrated
And there is the camouflaged trap door
Which when closed fully, makes the hole invisible
There are over hundred kilometres of tunnels connecting the various bases, rooms and other tunnels to each other. It’s a system that the Americans were never quite able to conquer despite superior numbers.
After the demonstration we were allowed to have a go at going into the tunnel
And of course you get to go thru the tunnels yourself, and you better not be afraid of dark or small places, as it gets dark down there and the tunnels get really narrow. Again, the idea was that a guerrilla would be able to move forward but at some point the pursuing American soldier would get stuck. Which is not hard to imagine.
Those guerrillas were quite clever you have to give them that, no wonder the war went how it went.
But the cleverness of the guerrillas wasn’t restricted to tunnel designs, they were also very resourceful in creating traps, some which the Americans provided the materials for, namely bombs.
There were plenty of nasty surprises in the tunnels for the Americans
Our guide demonstrating some of the traps used by the guerillas
It was an interesting tour. It’s good to see the war from the other side, as often documentaries tend to focus on the American side. And I’d definitely recommend it for anybody in the area.
At least our tour guide was also really good; funny old man, who had worked as a translator for the Americans during the war and spoke really good English.
You can go into some of the tunnels, and they can get quite narrow
Tips for going to see the Cu Chi tunnels:
- Easiest way to do it, is to go for an organized tour from Saigon (costs less than $10), which you can book anywhere in Saigon, but you can also go by yourself
- Bring extra money if you want to try out the AK-47
- Take clothes you don’t mind getting maybe a little dirty (but then again, when traveling, you really shouldn’t have clothes you would mind getting dirty anyways)
Have you been to Cu Chi tunnels? Would you go?