|A great half day trip out from Saigon to the Cu Chi tunnels which are now becoming world famous for showing how the Vietnamese countered the firepower of firstly the French and then the Americans - by going underground, and pretty much in this area (end of the Ho Chi Minh trail) they did it right under their noses.
This was a Viet Cong area from the start and the tunnels were to a large extent already in place when the US army arrived. The US put a very large army base close by to counter the VC resistance this close to Saigon (60kms away) But first they had to find them, and it proved pretty much impossible. They actually built their base on top of the tunnels! and the VC even managed to enter the US base during the war many times.
And even though, this is probably one of the most touristed places in Vietnam, it was still a very educational way to find out just what lengths the Vietnamese went to.
A tour around the jungle area (the jungle has finally started to grow back after napalm attacks 35 years ago), firstly shows us a very propoganda video of the VC in the tunnels, and fighting the Americans. There were lots of exhibits of how they survived, not only under attack, but how they made do with cooking, eating, making weapons from left over US bombs, and making pretty vicious booby traps for any unfortunate person who stood on them. And there was an old US army tank lying blown up in the jungle also left as a reminder. We even got to play with some of the weapons. Both Nancy and I tried the AK47. Boy was it loud and incredibly powerful, but perhaps most amazing was how accurate we were even with our first shots. We could not remember when we last fired a weapon (probably as kids), and yet these powerful guns are not that hard to handle, which probably explains how they could throw youngsters from both sides straight into war. They also had M16s, M60s and plenty of hand guns to fire if we had wanted. Incredible to think that anyone would want to fire these at another human being.
Last but not least was our venture into the tunnels themselves. They have 90m of tunnel open to the tourists on 3 different levels. The deepest is about 8m underground. You would not believe that they have actually widened these for tourists when you look at the photos attached. Many people on our tour took one look and could not go in, and many who went in, only made it to the 15m emergency exit, or the 30m first main exit. Nancy and I proudly made it to the other end, but not before really feeling it ourselves. I have never suffered from claustrophobia before, but these were really tiny tunnels, and it certainly does not help at the beginning when people start having panic attacks around you. It was better once they cleared off, but the last 30m, there was one gap which was so tight we had to literally crawl through. We came out the other side to the applause of our guide - a dripping sweaty, dirty mess!
We left back to Saigon having a very full realisation of just how incredibly dedicated the VC were. To survive in those tunnels for months on end was extraordinary. Only half the 16,000 fighters from Cu Chi survived the war. Many died in the tunnels when the US carpet bombed the area with B52s, around 1970, with the only weaponry that would go deep underground. But this time the war had turned against the US.