CÚ CHI TUNNELS
The Cu Chi tunnels are a must see attraction if you visit Saigon. We organised a day trip to the tunnels and decided to pay a bit extra and go there by boat and return on a bus. It is about two hours from Saigon to get to the tunnels. There are many tour companies in Saigon hoping to get your business, but it doesn’t really matter who you book with as you will end up on the same tour anyway. If you wanted to travel both ways on the bus it was ridiculously cheap. It was 105,000 Dong ($4.88 AUD) for a trip from 8 AM till 2.30 PM with a tour guide included. On top of this was the 90,000 Dong entrance fee ($4.18 AUD). As we went on a boat we spent $15 for the half day expedition.
We were picked up outside the hotel at 8 am by a mini bus and driven to the jetty. It was not long before we were clambering aboard a boat and beginning to snake our way up the Saigon River. The boat ride was relaxing. The wind in my hair as I watched the shore roll by. There were a lot of rather large lily plants in the water and the driver had to concentrate to negotiate through to find the best route and not jam his propeller. When we arrived we alighted onto a wooden barge restaurant that hugged the shore and then a short two minute walk and we were hovering around the ticket office for the tunnels.
We bought our tickets to the Ben Dinh underground tunnel complex and then our tour guide led us to underground bunker to watch a documentary on the tunnels. The documentary was shot during the war and it was informative and interesting to see and understand a bit more of the background of the tunnels.
Essentially the Cu Chi tunnels are part of a large network of tunnels that spanned its way up the country. It was used by the Viet Cong to travel and live in without being seen by the US forces. Some of the tunnels were several stories deep and served many functions such as kitchens, field hospitals, command centres and troop quarters. The tunnels made it possible to stay in US occupied areas without being detected and they were instrumental during the 1968 Tet Offensive where they served as a military base for the Viet Cong. These tunnels were extremely small and a lot were booby trapped.
An American soldier in the tunnels at Củ Chi - source unknown
When the documentary was over we were split into our various groups of about 15 people. We were with our guide that came up with us on the boat. We followed him through the jungle when he stopped and pointed at the ground with a light leaf cover. It was the entrance to one of the tunnels. It was imperceptible. He removed the small covering to reveal a small cavity in the ground. He asked for some volunteers to enter and I gave it a go. My shoulders would not fit if I went straight on and had to manoeuvre my torso in order to fit. Getting out was even more challenging and I had to put my arms through first, above my head and squeeze out.
We were shown some mannequin mock ups of North Vietnamese soldiers with rocket launchers as well as a U.S. tank that was disabled by a mine in 1970 and left to rust where it stood. It was interesting to see what was left of the trenches that were so invaluable during the war. We were shown how the guerrillas dissipated the smoke that they used for cooking whilst in the tunnels. On display were examples of all the different types of traps used. It was quite horrendous seeing the rusty spikes and imagining them being driven into a foot or the body of an unsuspecting soldier. This was jungle warfare at its most brutal, but also displayed a level of ingenuity in their designs.
Various traps used by the Viet Cong
After about 45 minutes we are led to a kiosk area where it is possible to buy some food and drinks as well as souvenirs. There is also a shooting range where tourists were given the chance to shoot off some rounds of an AR 15 rifle or other Vietnam War era weapons. It was expensive and cost $20 for a few rounds. The guide also said the ammunition was old and had a 30% failure rate, so we decided against it. The area was very loud with the almost continuous sound of automatic rifles being shot.
A destroyed American tank
After our twenty minute rest break, the time had come to actually go into the tunnels. There were a few small sections of tunnels that we could enter and they were about 20 metres long. There was a longer 80 metre one for the more adventurous. The tunnels had been widened to cater for the tourists and had only recently been provisioned with dim florescent lighting. They were tiny, with barely enough room to squeeze through; I would hate to imagine how they were before they were widened. I am not claustrophobic but I did not enjoy crawling through the tunnels. It is tough to resist the body’s natural temptation to panic. It was also quite hot. The jungle is routinely over 30 degrees Celsius and I am sure it was much hotter underground with a distinct lack of oxygen. When I reached the light of the exit my heart jumped for joy a little bit. I was glad to be out. It makes you think of the people that had to live in the tunnels and how hard it must have been. Some of the tunnels were hundreds of kilometres long, and respect goes out to the people that had the discipline to endure them for so long.
Out of the tunnels we were led to an area with a few covered picnic tables and were given some green tea and Tapioca, which I likened to a cold potato. The food we tried was typical of what the Viet Cong fighters would have eaten. Our tour was nearing a close and we walked past a large amount of unexploded bombs and ordnance that were dropped by the U.S. army in the area and collected for display. Tired and weary we left to wait for the buses to take us back to Saigon. The tour was great value for money and taught me so much about war time conditions and what soldiers went through on a daily basis.
99 with a couple of V.C.