The museum visit of the day before was impressive and for this day we have booked a tour to the tunnels of Cu Chi. We slowly drive out of the city through the rush hour traffic for the almost tow hour drive, half way we make a stop at a government supports handcraft by handicapped shop. A short walk along the area where the handicapped create arts we are led to the gift shop where each of our group is shown around by one of the employees. We give in and purchase a small painting as a souvenir to decorate our new house.
During the remainder of the bus ride we were shown a video giving more information about the Cu Chi area during the war. Offering insights on local war heroes that led attacks on the American forces and taking out soldiers and tanks. Our guide followed with more information about the oppressors of Vietnam in the past, the geographical location being a main reason for the Chinese to oppress Vietnam for a 1000 years after which the French took over for a 100 years until the country was in war for 20 years. When the war was offer and north had won the US embargoed the country until 1995 until the embargo was lifted by President Clinton, at this time 60% of the population was living in poverty. With the embargo lifted and communist regime allowing capitalism in Vietnam the country started to prosper with the the growth of tourism and foreign investments. Currently only 26% lives and poverty and this is number is still decreasing.
When we enter the complex at Cu Chi we walk through the jungle under which parts of the vast intricate tunnel system are still intact and where many people have lost their lives. The shooting range where tourist can fire AK47s is used by many and the sound of gunfire continuously rumbles through the jungle giving the slightest idea of what the jungle was like during the war. We start with a demonstration of the entrance to the tunnels, tiny square holes in the ground covered with a wooden board and hidden with leaves. Almost impossible to see even when you know it’s there. With a little flexing I find myself in small cavity underground covered by the wooden board, the Vietnamese where about half my size and wait but packed with a gun and ammunition it was also a thighs squeeze for them. The three layers of tunnels at 3, 6 and down to 10 meters deep had ventilation shafts of bamboo and chimneys with multiple chambers to cool down the smoke to prevent it from rising up through the trees and being seen by the US planes.
As our group gets ready to actually enter the tunnels my first look into the tunnel makes me turn around as they are not only small but also zigzagging in many corners to make it almost impossible to shoot anyone in the tunnels at wartime. Also this zigzagging made it even more complicated for the American tunnel rats to map the tunnels. The effect of not seeing the start or end of the tunnel had me freaked out. Attempts of the Americans to attack the Vietcong in the tunnels by filling them with water or toxic gas had no effect as all tunnels lead to the Saigon river and many hatches prevented any gas from reaching the Vietcong soldiers. Even modern engineers are intrigued by the complex design of the tunnel system.
The jungle still shows other reminders to the war with huge craters still being visible although nature has filled them with plants and trees. A number of the many bombs didn’t explode and the Vietcong found ways to dismantle these bombs and use the parts to create mines to destroy US tanks and with success. The shrapnel of exploded bombs was used for smart but cruel boobytraps where metal pins would strike on the least protected parts of US soldiers. The drive of the Vietcong to protect their land, their families and their own lives made them the more motivated and more effective soldiers compared to the Americans who where fighting beach use they where told to fight. But as our guide had putt it, in the end it’s just humans killing humans and the governments and weapons sellers that benefit. As the army of the north bought ammunition from the Russians with a single bullet costing three kilos of rice the Vietnamese are still paying of their debt.