Just a half day tour and only two hours from Saigon, this place was one of the first on my vietnamese to-do list.
Cu Chi is where the Viet Cong dug 200km of underground tunnels that went up to 3 levels and 10 meters deep, were often rat and snake infested and contained bamboo spike booby traps for any of the US soldiers sent into them.
Vietnam in general is a funny place – most of the war memorabilia serves mainly as tourist traps – we even found a market that specialised in ‘genuine’ military kit that the Americans had left behind. Strangely though, some of the 50yr old equipment look in surprisingly good nick…
All the time the Vietnamese are happy to earn revenue from their war legacy, their museums and displays are highly anti-American and, in some cases, outrageously unbalanced in their portrayal of the Viet Cong.
Having endured the propaganda and listened to the genuine veteran guide, who got through two cans of beer and three fags during the tour (despite the no smoking signs everywhere) we headed over to the shooting gallery and bought some live ammo for an M16 and an AK47. The weapon safety training consisted of the dude in army uniform loading a gun, then waving us toward it..
The Cu Chi tunnels themselves were crazy though – built by hand and with many ingenious features, you really felt impressed at the people who built, used and fought in them. This is an admiration that trebled once we’d actually got into and gone through them!
Evidently (propaganda again?) they’d been widened for the tourist-frame, but even so, the tunnels couldn’t have been more than four foot high. My shoulders bounced off the walls and it was pitch black apart from people’s lighters or torches ahead.
The tourist tunnel went down three levels and was 120m long, with escape corridors off to the sides every 20m or so in case you really, really wanted out in a hurry. Each level that went down meant you had to climb vertically down into a hole inside the tunnel floor and with every successive layer, the air was thicker and more humid. There was one point where the tunnel narrowed for a few metres, forcing you onto your hands and knees (if you weren’t already).
We both did the full length and exited with screaming thighs, dusty knees and shoulders and gasping for clean air. Can’t imagine any prolonged time in there..