Saturday, 2 May 2009

Cu Chi Tunnels, 25 April 2009

We three girls booked on a tour so that we could explore the Cu Chi tunnels. It only cost $5 and most importantly included a tour guide who was worth his weight in gold!

The Cu Chi tunnels are about two hours outside Ho Chi Minh and are a network of tunnels which were used by the Viet Cong during the war. The Guerillas would hide from the American Forces and Southern Vietnamese army underground in the tunnels. The network of tunnels stretched for 200km towards the Cambodian border and provided an exceptional means for communication.

We got on our mini-bus and met our guide, Hai. He introduced himself as a Veteran of the Vietnamese war. Everyone on the bus was instantly enthralled by his words. This man had survived the Vietnam War and was telling us all about it, ALL about it.

On the back row of the bus were four scouse lads. And when I say lads, I mean lads. The word rowdy doesn't cut it! But they kept asking questions, and suprisingly, they were intelligent questions. Although some of their comments between themselves were a little off the mark, the things they were asking Hai were really poignant. And he was only too happy to tell all.

We learnt about his experiences with American soldiers, how he felt about fighting for the South Vietnamese army - then and now, his feelings about Communism, how he used to feign sickness to avoid the front line in tough times, how he was affected by the death of the man who was shot dead next to him while they were mid-conversation. He was a truly fascinating man to have as a guide and made the day truly amazing.

He took us round the tunnels. Obviously as he was with the South Vietnamese Army he did not hide out in the tunnels, but he still had a lot to tell about them. He showed us the traps that were set for the enemies which consisted of concealed deep pits with metal spikes at the bottom to impale enemies. The spikes would be covered in faeces to ensure a slow death made worse by poison.

He showed us the holes which the Viet Cong sat and hid in. The holes were tiny, I sat in one for about thirty seconds and found it stuffy and claustrophobic. I couldn't imagine having to hide out in one of these holes.

Hai guided us through one of the tunnel passages, this was insanely small and I was on my hands and knees for most of it. It would have been a horrible place back then when there would have been the noise of the constant bombing.

Underground was a proper living area. There were kitchens (the chimney was strategically positioned in undergrowth so that the smoke wouldn't draw attention from anyone above. There were parts for sleeping. The tunnels had three levels of depth and each level was used for different purposes.

We asked Hai how long the Viet Cong would spend inside these tunnels at a time. The answer... "Up to eight hours". It all depended on the length of the attack from above.

There were lots of craters around the sight that were left by bombs. And we were told that all the trees and shrubs were wiped out by the Napalm that was spread so liberally across the area.

Given that the Americans pumped so much money into munitions and poisons it was an absolute wonder that the Viet Cong won. But as we learnt more about the tunnel networks, the Guerilla tactics and most importantly the mutual trust amongst the Northern (and some Southern) Vietnamese people, it became clear that the Viet Cong really were a forced to be reckoned with.

All the way back to Ho Chi Minh questions were being hurled at Hai about his experiences and everyone, including the rowdy scousers, sat, listened and learned. It was such an interesting morning that Nina, Kirsty and wanted more, and so we went to the War Remnants Museum.

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