On Wednesday none of us had work so we decided to visit the Cu Chi Vietcong tunnels. Work on these started in 1948 during the French Indochina War and took twenty years to complete. To get there, however, we would have to get a tourist bus, or motorbike it. Of course we chose the latter. Chu Chi is about 40km outside of Ho Chi Minh City. The tunnels are about another 17km. The journey took about 2 hours and involved a lot of stopping to read the map and 6 very numb bums. I feel like I worked very hard sitting on the back as a passenger giving a running commentary of the view and pretending to understand Vietnamese road signs. It was great seeing the high rise buildings and traffic disappear and give way to water buffaloes, rice paddies and copious amounts of never ending foliage.
We eventually got there half hour before it closed and were given a ‘whistle-stop’ tour buy a grumpy tour guide who clearly wanted to go home. This was fine, until we got to actually going through the tunnels. Firstly, he was a lot shorter than us, and could crouch and walk through the tunnels. Secondly, this was his job and he was suitably apt at getting through the tunnels quickly. The rest of us however, were on hands and knees. He had a torch, but in his haste to get home he essentially ran off leaving us in the dark in very small, dark, damp (mixed together those words make ‘dank’ which is also appropriate!) and muddy tunnels. We fumbled through, up and down slopes, around corners and eventually found the end. We climbed out of the tiny whole covered in dirt with grazed knees but feeling triumphant. How people lived in those places for years I do not know! The holes we climbed through had been widened to accommodate ‘western frames’ (In Vietnamese this is pronounced ‘fat-pee-pal’) but we did try one of the authentically sized holes, which was even tinier.
Here are some photos!
After reading so many first hand accounts during the last year from men who’d been injured or watched friends die because of places like this, it felt chilling seeing it all right in front of me. To be honest it still didn’t really seem real, like it was just from a scene in Platoon or Apocolypse Now, not a war that robbed so many on both sides.
On another note, there’s a restaurant around the corner from my guesthouse. It has a vegetarian menu, delicious cheap food, a friendly waitress who teaches us Vietnamese and very cute puppies. To top it all of, there’s also a pregnant cat.