One thing I defiantly wanted to do whilst in HCMC was a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels which were around 35km from town. The Cu Chi Tunnels earned legendary status during the American War. A massive network of underground tunnels and chambers, Cu Chi, in its entirety, stretched for over 250km from Saigon all the way to the Cambodian border. Few sites bear stronger testament to the North Vietnamese and VC will to defeat the Americans (and the French) than these tunnels.It’s a little realized fact that the Cu Chi tunnels predated US involvement in Vietnam, with the first tunnels being dug after the end of World War II in the late 1940s.
In the following decades the system became more comprehensive and the tunnels and chambers more elaborate. As with the Vinh Moc tunnels in the DMZ, the tunnels were more than just a means to get from one place to another undetected. Facilities included medical centres, meeting rooms, theatres, storage rooms, sleeping quarters and even kitchens. The kitchens in particular were problematic as the smoke from the cooking needed to be dispersed both to avoid suffocating the Vietnamese and without giving away the position above ground. The tunnels were used for infiltration and planning — the Tet offensive of 1968 was both planned and launched from within the tunnels.Our Tour guide for the day was a gentleman who called himself Mr Bean! He was very well versed on all the rudiments of the war due to the fact that he had served with the American Army against the VC during the Nam war. He was a very witty if not perverse guide due to the fact that he liked to talk about “titties” and “ass” a lot, but I guess this was his American upbringing!
All in all he was a very coherent and well eloquent guide. The US tried first to attack the tunnels from within — sending soldiers down into the tunnels to fight their way through. These brave soldiers many of whom were Mexican (due to their size advantage (or lack of)– operating under dual disadvantages of their size and not knowing the territory endured a horrific fatality rate. When that was shelved, the generals decided to attack the tunnels from the air — first defoliating masses of land then bombarding it with heavy bombs, including weaponry specifically designed to collapse the tunnels. Through all this the tunnel networks survived. It wasn’t until the late 1960s when American B52s carpet-bombed the area that substantial sections of the tunnels were finally destroyed.
There were 3 levels to the tunnels the first 1, 3 and 5 meters deep and each of the tunnels got smaller and narrow than the ones above. Each of these levels were designed to escape the infiltrators and also to protect themselves from the bombs that rained down.Around on the surface there are also small exhibitions to show you various sniper holes, man and dog traps and various war remnants. There was also the chance to fire the choice of weapons from a Thompson Machine gun, AK, M16 and an M60. I opted for an M60 (Rambo’s gun for those not well traversed on guns) and at a dollar a bullet I ordered a whole magazine! The magazine was a very short and quick one as I managed to unleash the whole lot in less than 2 seconds but the power and the noise of the gun was frightening. I almost felt like Rambo for about 3 seconds!
After the target practice we then made are way down to some of the tunnels we were allowed to negotiate through. Now I’m not the smallest of guys and to say it was a tight fit is an understatement. At times I thought I was never going to get through due to not only the size of the tunnels (approx 1 meter high and 80cm across) but due to the sheer heat. It certainly made you realize the cramped and horrible conditions these freedom fighters lived in. Once through the tunnels it was a quick wash (as I was pouring sweat) and back on the bus and off to the airport where it was Thailand and Koh Tao here we come!!!! I was glad to be leaving the mad hustle and bustle of Vietnam and HCMC to enter Paradise and a small island off the east coast of Thailand to get some serious diving done. I had now been on the road and never in one place for more than a 4 days after leaving home 5 months ago.. Luckily I would be in Koh Tao for a least 2 months, long enough to unpack my bag fully.