The sophisticated Cu Chi tunnel system is one of the few historic sites situated in South of Vietnam which helped the Viet Cong guerrillas to achieve crucial military success. The Cu Chi tunnels were built extensively in the late 1940s, during the war against the French, for over a period of 25 years. After which, it was represented as a stronghold of the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. Due to the massive aerial bombings by the US B-52 bombers, Viet Cong guerrillas have no choice but to stay underground in order to remain alive and fight with the American soldiers through the use of guerrilla tactics. This tunnel system allowed the Viet Cong guerrillas to throw surprise attacks and disappeared quickly through any one of the trapdoors.
“This is how I see humanity.
When enemies come to your country,
destroy the countryside and your village,
kill your countrymen,
your comrades and the defenseless wounded,
you have to kill them and defend your compatriots;
that is true humanity.”
~ Tom Mangold, The Tunnels of Cu Chi
Numerous booby traps were planted around the tunnel entrance to prevent the entry of American soldiers and South Vietnamese infantrymen. These booby traps consisted a variety of traps and spikes, often tainted with the faeces discharged from the wounded so as to spread infections to the enemies. The Viet Cong will also cover the trapdoors with dried leaves and add chili pepper so as to prevent the sniffing dogs from picking up any human smell. It was mentioned that at least 45,000 Vietnamese men and women have died defending the Cu Chi tunnels over the course of the Vietnam War.
There are two sites for Cu Chi Tunnel, namely the Ben Duoc and Ben Dinh. Most of the tours package will bring you to Ben Dinh which is a more touristy site and most of its tunnels have been enlarged/reconstructed to accommodate bigger tourists’ size. On the other hand, Ben Duoc is more natural in its own settings. Ben Duoc is only 30 minutes’ drive further up the road away from Saigon. I do not like the idea of having big groups of tourists which always resulting lesser time for exploration, so decided to sign up for a private tour trip instead. Luckily a jovial and knowledgeable tour guide was assigned to bring us to this war memorial park. At the first sight, I thought that he resembled the renowned Alibaba founder Jack Ma. He filled the whole trip with his jokes.
This tour had taught me the true definition of feeling claustrophobic even though most of the tunnels have now modified to accommodate the bigger-size tourists. But this tiny crawling space (ranged around 0.5 to 1-meter-wide) still provides restrictions in maneuverability in the tunnel.
Upon arriving at the first hut, a documentary video was played presenting the war histories that happened in the tunnels used by the Viet Cong guerrillas. This 200km wriggling long tunnel system consists of several rooms or sections meant for living quarters, weapon holding areas, hospitals, meeting rooms, communication and supply routes, kitchens, schools, fake rooms for trap enemies.
Indeed, it was a powerful and effective maze but imagine the living conditions that these people were residing in. It was a stuffy, hot and humid environment, which encouraged ideal infestations of the rats, mosquitoes, poisonous scorpions and centipedes, posing health issues of Vietnamese getting ill and diseases. And their mental emotions were being challenged constantly as they had to worry about the American soldiers finding their tunnel entrance and kill everyone inside. Air, food and water were also scarce, the Viet Cong can only come out at night to hunt for food and farm their corps. They can only cook their food in the early morning so that the smoke can be mistaken as the morning mist and hence go unnoticed without revealing their location.
Tried the staple food that Viet Cong ate during war time where food was scarce. It is simply a boiled cassava dipped into a bowl of peanut-salt seasonings to give its taste.
There is a shooting range nearby, known as the National Defence Sport Shooting Range, where visitors can have the opportunity to fire real rifles used by the American and Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. And of course the old school AK-47 is chosen.
“No one has ever demonstrated more ability to hide his installations than the Viet Cong; they were human moles.”
~ US General William Westmoreland
Visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels has taught me the importance of strong resilience and determination which the Viet Cong have portrayed in the Vietnam war. Will power and tactical strategies are crucial requisites to win in life.