Monday, August 1, 2011

Spots: Cu Chi Tunnels

Man squeezing himself into one of the secret tunnel entrances, Cu Chi Tunnels, HCMC.
One thing about living in Ho Chi Minh City is that we are so close to the famous Cu Chi Tunnels.  If I remember correctly it was a short 40-60 minute bus ride from a tourist office near Benh Thanh Market this was including the time needed to get out of the big city.  As you may or may not know the tunnels were used during the Vietnam war to funnel food, supplies, soldiers, weapons and played a big role in the Tet Offensive of 1968 serving as the Viet Cong's base of operations.

Cu Chi Tunnels booby trap.
When we first arrived at the tunnels I didn't know what to expect.  It really felt that we were out in the middle of nowhere.  The weather was humid (natch!), hot and a bit cloudy.  We were escorted down a tunnel and when we emerged we were confronted with jungle.  Our first stop was one of the many hidden tunnel entrances and believe me when I tell you that the hidden entrance was small, too small for your average American.  To give you a better idea of the size of the hole check out the picture to your bottom right.  That's right the tunnel must have been about a foot to a foot and a half in length and about half that for it's width.  Our tour guide who is kneeling in the picture must have been about 5'6"-5'7".  After a quick demonstration and spiel of how people really actually were able to use these hidden entrances (man in the green shirt at the very top of the article) we were off to our next stop.  (Oh and by the way if it wasn't obvious already we were on foot the entire time.  There are no trolleys or cars or anything like that.)  We stopped in front of what seemed to be harmless jungle.  That is until we were shown it's true intentions.  We were in fact in front of a hidden booby trap, a pit with deadly spikes at the bottom.  It sure looked freaky and a bit scary just thinking about the poor unfortunate people that died in this manner.  Forgive the blurry photo but it's the only shot I have of this particular spot.  Again after a short spiel we were off.

Our guide uncovers hidden entrance.
We occasionally encountered "scenes" during our hike.  By scene I mean dummies arranged in certain positions showing the way of life in the tunnels.  I must admit that the first time we were coming up on one of these scenes I thought the dummies we real people.  But once we got closer it was pretty obvious that they were in fact just dummies.  We stopped to take a few pictures with the dummies and continued our hike.  Then we came upon something really interesting, an American tank that was incapacitated during the war.  I've never seen something like this before so it was really interesting seeing the aftermath of a tank being blown up.  A few photographs aside we were again on our way when we came upon a small structure made of wood and palm trees.  It wasn't the structure that was the attraction but what was inside.  Our tour guide lead us inside where we were shown all the different kind of traps the Viet Cong employed during the Vietnam War, it was a pit and spikes free for all.  Instead of trying to describe each one I'll let the pictures do the talking.

Two Viet Cong soldiers relaxing on hammocks.
We kept going and came upon another structure, however, this time it was just a tourist center, firing range, and gift shop.  We stopped to rest a little bi... wait did I say firing range?  Actually, yea you read that right.  There was a small firing range to the right of the building where you could shoot a honest to goodness Ak47 provided you pony up the cash to purchase the bullets.  I forgot how much each bullet cost but I do remember them selling individual bullets or a whole magazine at a discounted price.  Needless to say I couldn't say no and explored my inner Rambo.  I have fired weapons back home (my best friend is a L.E.O.) but never an Ak47.  I purchased some bullets and walked down to the firing range where a gentlemen in uniform loaded up the weapon for me.  I put on my protective ear muffs and after a short speech on safety I began to fire the weapon.  I do remember the gun didn't have as much kick as I thought it would and that is because the guns were attached (bolted) to some railing.  The sound however was not suppressed at all; the Ak47 was LOUD!

A couple minutes after we were on our way again.  This time reaching our destination, the actual tunnels.  There were many entrances and exits to the vast network of tunnels.  We came upon one of them and our tour guide tells us if we would like to explore the tunnels.  Of course I eagerly said yes, however not everyone was so enthusiastic.  Our tour guide informed those of us who choose to continue into the tunnels to be careful, it's dark, to keep moving forward and that he'll meet us on the other side.  I entered the tunnel and man how to say this... it was difficult to move forward.  I'm not a very tall or big person standing at a mere 5'9" but for the life of me I had a hard time moving forward.  The tunnels are a couple feet tall and wide so as you could imagine...  Then after a couple feet of walking into the tunnel it got pitch black.  I literally couldn't see my hand in front of me.  Luckily I had my camera so I used my flash to see where the heck I was going.  If you are in the slightest bit claustrophobic I HIGHLY do not recommend you enter the tunnels.  Anyways, after overcoming my movement difficulties (I found it easier to move forward using the Asian squat) I made my way through and emerged on the other side.  It was fun, exciting and would definitely do it again.

Inside the tunnels.
For the rest of our time at the tunnels we were treated to more "scenes", a Viet Cong house and another gift shop.  I found the Cu Chi Tunnels to be a nice change of pace from shopping and dining in the big city and I highly recommend you check it out.  If not for the history but at least to get out and get some exercise.  The whole trip took just a couple of hours as we were back in the city before sun down and the price was very reasonable and included lunch.  If you would like to share your experience at Cu Chi or if you have any questions or suggestions please don't hesitate to post them in the comments.

Definitely check it out!

More pictures:

Destroyed American tank.

Backside of the tank.

"American M41 tank was destroyed by a delay mine in 1970."

A swinging trap.

One of the many types of spike pits.

Yet another style of spike pit.

The entrance to Cu Chi at the beginning of our tour.

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