Saturday, June 12, 2010

Vietnam: Tunnels of Cu Chi

During the Vietnam War, members of the Viet Cong guerrilla had to find safe hiding places and a way for them to go around without the American-backed South Vietnamese army detecting their every move. This necessity was what made the guerrilla army invent the now infamous Cu Chi Tunnels.

Cu Chi Tunnel Opening

Located at the outskirts of Saigon, the Cu Chi district was where the Viet Cong chose to create their highly complex network of tunnels and bunkers. That way, our guide explained, they won't be too far from Saigon's city center but far enough for them to securely establish communication channels with their North Vietnamese backers.

Cu Chi Tunnel Network

The photo above shows just how complex the tunnel system was. All the area covered by the red color was the ground where the Cu Chi tunnels were dug. The black lines covering the red area are the tunnels. Right beside them is the Mekong River (in blue) which, due to the hilly topography of the Cu Chi district, never flooded the underground hideouts.

Vietnam War Battle Trench

That was then, however. Now, the Cu Chi Tunnels have been made into a tourist attraction, sort of an outdoor museum, complete with film showing and exhibits. It is in fact one of the more touristy things to do in Saigon. Travel agencies will arrange for a bus and a guide to take you to the museum complex for around 7 to 8 USD, entrance passes included.

Viet Cong Trap

One of the more stand-out exhibits are the very creative traps concocted by the Viet Cong guerrilla. They have different sorts of booby traps, mostly involving sharp metal rods, designed to impale body parts and inflict the maximum pain onto their victims. They are not simple contraptions, no. Some would make you realize that these people really thought about the mechanics of pain. Not exaggerating.

Rice Paper

Leather Sandals

Leather Sandals

Other exhibits will include that of museum workers demonstrating how life would have been back in the old days. A woman making rice paper, a man crafting and repairing sandals and footwear, old missiles and shells (which hopefully have been cleaned of their hazardous materials), etc.

Bombs and Shells at Cu Chi

And of course, there are the tunnels themselves. Some parts of the tunnel system have already been enlarged so as to accommodate even western tourists. One has to remember though that the Vietnamese are quite lean and thin. Their idea of "enlarged" is still quite small.

People with claustrophobia and weak knees are discouraged to go in. I understood why, actually. It can get pitch dark on some areas and at some point your knees will begin to strain from all the crouching.

All in all, I do think it is worth experiencing. One just has to remember though even if it is the actual site of the tunnels, what stands there now is a museum, a very touristy amusement park even. Surely, the tunnels now are far from what the Viet Cong guerrilla army used to have. One needs to realize that going into the whole Cu Chi Tunnel experience.


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