Ah, Yes. The Vietnam War. That’s the one where the US goes in, a lot of people are confused as to the reasons why, there is a war, and then the US comes home. Everyone thinks there are Soviets but no one seems to be able to find one. There is long hiking trail called Ho Chi Minh where guns and ammunition just seem to grow and then there are tunnels that require the use of some kind of orange toxin to kill the plant life in order to find.
Wait, did you say tunnels?
Yes. The Cu Chi tunnels, located less than 50 miles outside of Saigon, are now one of the most popular tourist attractions of the new Vietnam. For less than ten dollars you can purchase round trip transportation with a tour guide and enter the the region that served as the southern terminus of the Ho Chi Min Trail. If you want to shoot the M-16 or AK-47 you’ll have to pay extra to purchase a clip of rounds.
The tour starts with a video loaded with, understandably, anti-US propaganda but then rather ironically finishes with a ‘California, USA’ logo, courtesy of the TV’s manufacture.
Following this, we were shown to a series of fox holes, like the one Saddam Hussein was found inside. The gist of all that we saw was just how small it was, built by and for ‘little people’ without the use of machines. The entrance to the rabbit hole was about 12 inches by 6 inches and covered with plant life.
The tunnel system itself extended all the way to the border along the Saigon river and in the Cu Chi area alone there are rumored to have been over 200km of tunnels, all dug by hand, initially to be used against the French in the 1940s. It was explained to us that there were multiple levels, allowing for cooking and for the care of wounded, as well as the dismantling of unexploded munitions to be used as land mines for protection from enemy tanks.
Termite mounts hid bamboo poles used as air vents and to keep dogs from sniffing them out, US Army uniforms were places just below the surface. The soles of shoes were put on backwards to make the tracks appear to be leading in the wrong direction. Different types of bamboo booby traps that were historically used to catch monkeys and tigers.
As US and S. Vietnamese forces grew increasingly aware of the tunnels and their role in waging the war in the south, the area increasingly began a target for US bomb attacks; according to our guide, the region was hit with 2 bombs per square meter over a several year period. The one bomb crater we saw easily had a diameter of 10 meters. Water was poured into entrance holes by helicopters but this did little to hurt the Viet Cong as the network was designed so that the water drained into the river below. There was no ‘sewer’ system inside the tunnel, however, and all excrement needed to be carried out in buckets… gross.
IF YOU GO: Book a tour from Saigon for about $5 per person. At the entrance gate you’ll need to pay an additional 80,000 VND ($4) to the site directly. Take extra money if you want any souvenirs or to shoot a gun. Tours leave Saigon around 0800 and return before 1400.