Ciarán & Elaine's Travelog

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Cu Chi Tunnels, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

The next day we headed 60km out of town to the Cu Chi tunnels that were a Viet Cong stronghold.

On the way we stopped at Handicapped Handicrafts! Strange name but all the goods there were handmade by people that had been affected by Agent Orange. The stuff was absolutely gorgeous so we picked up a really nice duck eggshell picture - we get something nice to keep
and they get some money towards their cause.

When we first got to the Cu Chi tunnels we were shown this propaganda video that constantly referred to the Americans as 'the enemies' and how the Vietnamese were only poor ordinary farmers. Maybe it's true, I think I've been brainwashed! In all the scenes that showed the Vietnamese people helping the Viet Cong, they all had these strange smiles on their faces and the background music was something out of Bonanza - very weird!

The Viet Cong were quite ingenious with their tunnels. All the entrances were completely hidden and they had underwater escape routes into the Saigon river. There were 16,000 people living in these tunnels and they had sleeping areas, dining areas and the kitchens had smoke vents that dispersed the smoke from a cooking fire far away from the entrances. During the height of the war there was a network of 250km of underground tunnels in this Cu Chi area. They were spread over 3 levels ranging from 3 metres deep up to 10 metres deep. Bombs from the B52 bombers were the only ones that could destroy the lowest tunnels. Only 8000 people survived the war in the tunnels.

The tunnels were tiny, only 80cm wide by 120cm tall - and those were the newer, 'bigger' ones! We crawled and hunkered our way along a 90 metre stretch, but by the time I got to 30 metres I had to get out, it was just so small and my legs were so tired from having to walk at that angle - I suppose there's not a lot of 6 foot Vietnamese men!

Our guide Kon was a translator against the French and then the Americans during the war and spoke with this weird Vietnamese/American accent told us that the Viet Cong would be able to travel up to 10km in these tunnels in 1 day. I don't know how they managed it, apart from being cramped it's pitch black down there and they just had kerosene lamps to light their way.

They showed us some of the traps that the Viet Cong used on the Americans - they were so vicious it would send shivers up your spine to see them. There were sharpened bamboo poles sticking straight up from a covered hole in the ground to two rollers with huge nails sticking out so that when a person fell in the hole their body fell through the rollers and was pierced all over. As Kon told us - you don't need a medic after that trap. Many other traps though were designed to maim and not kill though so the Viet Cong could take them as POW's and interrogate them, then trade them for their own soldiers back.

While we were there I couldn't resist the opportunity of going to the shooting range and I had a few minutes with an AK-47. The main thing I would say about this is that it is sooo bloody loud. Even with ear protection I still thought my eardrums were going to burst. The
recoil from it wasn't too string but the bullets fly out of it so fast. 1 second on the trigger and about 5 rounds have gone off - with me completely missing the target of course!


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