The Cu Chi tunnels are located about 70 kilometres from central Ho Chi Minh city and are an important historical treasure. The drive takes approximately an hour, during which our guide, the wonderful Typhoon, entertained us with interesting facts and stories about the people of Vietnam. For today we were Typhoon’s family, laughing, eating and exploring together.
We stopped on the way at a factory which employs disabled people who were affected by Agent Orange. Over 5 million Vietnamese were affected by the toxic agent Orange and the adverse affects have continued for several generations. It is a humbling experience to see these people, some of whom are badly disabled with disfigured limbs or intellectual disabilities, making beautiful and delicate pieces of art work. The art contains crushed duck eggs, or mother of pearl inlays, tourists can purchase the works of art to support the people in the factory.
Then we were on our way again, weaving our way through rubber plantations and gorgeous green rice paddies. Vietnam is the second largest producer of latex (rubber) in the world. As the industry develops and the wheels of commerce turn, it will become the largest producer in the world in the next ten years.
Finally arriving at the tunnels, you feel as though you have stepped into another world, tall trees and dead leaves lie strewn across the grounds. Guards in green, sit or stand watching the tourists as you walk by, ready to showcase some of the ingenuity of the tunnel system at a moment’s notice.
The Cu Chi tunnels were virtually an underground city, covering three stories and over 250 kilometres. This complex system of connecting tunnels housed villagers and Viet Cong Guerrilla fighters alike during the Vietnam War. There were several rooms connecting the tunnels, including food and weaponry storage, a hospital, kitchen, military strategy rooms and sleeping quarters. Looking at the size of the tunnels, it seems unbelievable that 16,000 people lived there.
Amazingly the tunnels were built by hand, many hours must have been spent shovelling the dirt out into baskets and then dumping it into the river. The lack of disturbed ground meant that American soldiers were none the wiser of the ingenious system of tunnels that lay under their feet.
Most of the tunnels are now closed to tourists due to erosion and their infestations by scorpions and snakes. A small portion are open to tourists, they have been widened to twice their original size so that tourists can go underneath and experience them first hand. The tunnels are tiny, moving 200 metres can take close to ten minutes, some of which is spent on your belly. Claustrophobics beware.
The Viet Cong’s guerrilla tactics were the winning factor in the Vietnam war. The Vietnamese had very little money or modern weaponry, Guerrilla fighters used ingenious methods in combat against the Americans soldiers. The tunnels enabled the Viet Cong to move through the forest unseen to set up booby traps. Shivers ran down my spine as I imagined the American soldiers walking through the forest only to be suddenly impaled on a bamboo stake coated in human waste.
Walking through the compound, you get a sense of the enormity and impact this war had on it’s local population. The Napalm and other chemicals that were dropped here, completely destroyed the eco system. It is only now, after years of hard work is the eco-system returning. It’s hard to imagine the death land it must have been, when all you can see are the lush green fields of rice plants and scurrying lizards.
The tour ended with samples of war time life. Craig shot a M30 mounted machine gun for the princely sum of 300,000 dong (17NZD) for ten bullets.
Then it was time for the Typhoon family tea party. Our bubbly guide presented each of us with the opportunity to try the staple meal of the Viet Cong; tapioca root dipped in crushed peanuts washed down with a cup of green tea. I can’t imagine living on this for any length of time.After a whirlwind few hours it was time to depart, a little wiser perhaps to the atrocities of war.
Tomorrow it’s on to the Mekong Delta.
Ginga Musings out.