Saturday, June 4, 2011

Spots: Chin Ham

Entrance to prison/tunnel #8, Chin Ham, Hue Vietnam

For this week's edition of Spots we'll be visiting Chin Ham, located 6km southwest of the city of Hue.  Chin Ham, meaning "Nine Tunnels" in English (more like prisons), is a popular tourist destination.  When I visited Chin Ham earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to be among the only person visiting at that time (there was only one other group of two people there) so I had a chance to take plenty of pictures of the actual attractions without any of the other tourists showing up in the pictures.  It was probably due to the heavy rain Hue was getting at the time.  In any case check out all the details and pictures after the break.

Chin Ham was originally built as a weapons storage base for the French in 1941.  After that it was used as a solitary confinement prison for communists by Ngo Dinh Can. After the Vietnam war Chin Ham was classified as national heritage by the Vietnam government.

Inside Ham so #8, Chin Ham, Hue, Vietnam
As you make your way to Chin Ham one of the first things you'll notice is the small building at the front of the site.  This building serves as a welcome center and parking for tourists.  Inside you'll find pictures detailing the site's history and a very friendly worker/person willing to divulge information.  You'll also find restrooms in this building.

After checking out the pictures you'll want to head to the actual attraction, the tunnels/prison.  Follow a small dirt road, take a left up some stairs and you'll find a small brick road circling Chin Ham.  As you have probably guessed there are nine tunnels/prisons that you can see, most of them are merely shadows of their former self completely destroyed during the war.  Each location is marked by a small sign labeled "Ham so".  Make your way around and soon enough you'll encounter ham so #8.

Prisoner inside ham so #8, by Luu Ly
Ham so #8 is the only tunnel/prison still standing.  When I was visiting again I'll remind you that it was raining, dead silent and there was nobody around so seeing that old dilapidated building in the middle of nowhere was a really spooky sight.  The door was wide open but you couldn't see anything inside, it was completely dark.  I decided to check inside and was a little freaked out when I found three men in uniform just standing there.  I looked to the right and left and there was people in rags lying on the floor.  It took my eyes about a second to adjust and soon realized these were just mannequins.  You could go inside the building and explore (it's only about 10-15 long), take a few pictures and see how the prisoners were held in small cages.  The cages being roughly 0.9 m wide, 0.2 m long and 1.5 m high.

Walkway leading to the temple, Chin Ham, Hue, Vietnam
After that you can continue your way around the small brick road eventually coming back to where you started.  Make your way down the stairs and keep going straight and you'll be greeted to another set of stairs and a large stone walkway surrounded by bodies of water.  Half way up the stairs you'll find a statue of three men.  The statue symbolizes the, according to a rough translation, "willingness to die for country."  You'll also encounter a wall just below the statue carved with pictures of more people.  Keep going up the stairs and eventually you'll arrive at the top of the hill.  On top there is a large bell located in front of a small temple.

You can go inside the temple but there is really not much to see or do aside from looking at a few Buddhist shrines and, if you are feeling generous, you can give a donation.  You can spend time relaxing atop the hill admiring the view while taking pictures and purchase a small snack from the vendors, if you so choose.  Once you are done you can just make your way back down to the visitors center as there is nothing much else to see.
"Willing to die for country", Chin Ham, Hue, Vietnam

I would consider Chin Ham a nice change of pace if you are looking to relax a bit, do some walking and get out of the big city.  You'll probably be done seeing everything in about an hour or so.  But then you can make your way to the Princess Huyen Tran Temple as it is really close to Chin Ham.  I give Chin Ham a healthy thumbs up seeing as I wasn't charged anything to check out the sights and it was actually pretty cool seeing the run down tunnel/prison.  I'm not sure if there is a fee or if I didn't get charged one since I was basically the only person there.

Check it out if you have the time or want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

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