Saturday, January 11, 2014

Vietnam: Cu Chi Tunnels

We signed up for a couple of organized tours this trip and our first was to the Cu Chi Tunnels. For those of you up on your Vietnam history (or visited wikipedia) The tunnels of Củ Chi are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Củ Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Củ Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and were the Viet Cong's base of operations for the Tết Offensive in 1968.

Our tour took us through one of the villages to understand how the people lived and used the tunnels to thwart the US military during the "American War" which is what many of the literature around Vietnam calls the Vietnam war. It was incredibly interesting to think about how these people survived. The ingenuity for violence and survival was impressive and scary at the same time.

Here, for example, is an exhibit describing all the many ways the Viet Cong tried to maim and injure the US soldiers. The idea was to incapacitate them enough to call for help and only once the whole squad was there trying to rescue the initial soldier did they open fire. It was heartless and awful, and it was war and their whole village was at stake. I just can't even imagine.

The first picture shows how they would build a trap and then cover it with grass so that you wouldn't see it if you were running through the jungle. The second shows what happens when you step on it.

There were a few more, but I think you get the idea. Very clever as they didn't require many materials and would be practically hidden until you stumbled into them.

The tunnels themselves are really amazing. They are literally little villages completely underground. The photo below is of a diorama showing the levels of the tunnels. There were kitchens, storage rooms, bunkers for the soldiers, sleeping quarters and miles of tunnels to get from one place to another. Apparently, the concept started when a few separate families built areas to hide and store things under their own house. The village then got the idea to connect these with tunnels to provide more access and multiple escape routes.

Here you can see our guide getting into one of the tunnels. Keep in mind, these were built for Vietnamese that seem roughly half the size of us fat Americans. Brian got in next and said it was pretty claustrophobic even for that few seconds of darkness. I didn't even bother sure I would get stuck!

There was only a small section of the tunnels open to tourists. These had been widened so that we could fit through and went on for 100 meters. There were exits at 20 meters, 50 meters and 100 meters. Brian and I climbed in confident we'd make it to 100 meters and then exited breathing hard and shaky at 20 meters. You really cannot imagine how small and claustrophobic these tunnels are (and this is one that had been widened!)

After our total humiliation and even greater admiration for what these villagers must have gone through, we continued on to the shooting range. You had the opportunity to shoot an M16 or an AK47. Sure, why not?
We quickly decided that from our performance in the tunnels and on the shooting range that we would have made lousy soldiers.  In all seriousness though, it was a very interesting experience and a strong reminder of just how vicious and awful that war was. A sobering visit.

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