Visiting the Củ Chi Tunnels

6/2/11

Okay, really brief history lesson on the Vietnam War: The American War, as it is called in Vietnam and other countries, was fought between North Vietnam and The Republic of Vietnam (a.k.a. South Vietnam). The North was communist; the South was not. The US fought with South Vietnam to keep communism out of the country. 

The war escalated in the 1960's, especially under Lyndon B. Johnson's presidency and during the Tet Offensive. The war ended on April 30, 1975, when Saigon (the capital of South Vietnam) fell/was liberated* to the North. This led to Vietnam's eventual reunification as a communist country.

During the war, the Viet Cong (guerilla soldiers on the North's side) developed an intricate series of underground tunnels to hide from the American forces in the Củ Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City. In a ballsy move, the VC even dug tunnels under the American Army's base at Củ Chi.
An entrance to the tunnels.

The tunnels were used during combat, but also served as a place for VC guerilla soldiers to live, hide, and communicate with each other. The tunnels are small, some as small as 80cm x 80 cm in size. Underground rooms were built and used for meeting rooms, kitchens, a hospital, and school rooms. One woman even gave birth to a little girl during the war years in one of the tunnels!

Life underground was not an easy feat, though. The VC had to deal with ants, centipedes (we saw tons of them while we were at the tunnel site), scorpions and snakes. The air in the tunnels was hot, smelly and stagnant and dwellers found it hard to breathe at times. Food was also scarce, especially when crops were destroyed.
An American tank abandoned at the C Chi tunnels.
A look down a tunnel's entrance.
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Jeff trying to fit through a tunnel entrance. He couldn't get much further than this.


Visiting the tunnels is not for the claustrophobic. We crawled through 20m of tunnel and were so eager to get out. For the more daring, you can continue onwards through about 100m of tunnel. Some of the tunnels have been made larger to accomodate larger tourists, but even these were teeny! Jeff and I were crouched down as we scooted through and our backs scraped the top of the tunnel. 

At the Củ Chi tunnels, you'll be shown entrances to the tunnels, as well as underground rooms which were used for meeting rooms, hospitals, and schools. At the beginning of the tour, an anti-American video is played to give you a sense of what it was like during the war. It didn't bother us, but for some I can see how it would. The war is still a sensitive subject for some people on either side of the line.

Also on site is a shooting range, where you can also shoot guns and rifles like those used during the war at the shooting range. There are several places to buy souvenirs and enjoy a cool drink, too. 

Travel tip #1: If you are coming to the tunnels from Ho Chi Minh City, as many visitors do, leave HCMC at 7:30 am to avoid long lines and hoards of tourists. We left our hotel in HCMC at 7:30 am at the wise suggestion of our guide and were one of the first groups to arrive. We had the Củ Chi tunnel site practically to ourselves.

Travel tip #2: At the souvenir shops here, they sell a lot of stuff made out of empty bullet shells and hand grenades including lighters, jewelry, and kitschy art objects. If you are coming back to Singapore after your trip to Vietnam and have purchased these souvenirs, mail them to a non-Singaporean address! Do not bring them into Singapore! It is illegal to bring bullets--live, spent, or modified--into the country. Let's just say we found out the hard way.

*fell/was liberated: Sometimes you hear it referred to as the "fall of Saigon" from people originally from the South or from Americans. Those of the communist persuasion tend to call it the "liberation of Saigon." 

9 comments:

  1. It was amazing to see how they could fit into such small tunnels. Great writing Flora!

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  2. Fascinating as always. Thank you so much for sharing your adventures and perspectives.

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  3. so did you have to toss your goods or were you allowed to mail them from the airport to another place over here? thats kinda silly that you cant keep spent bullets- theres no harm :o/ remmy when i battled the korean airport for the gecko drink- hahaha! did you buy any anti-american stuff? there are posters around viet with the slogan "down with the americans" see any? love the pics! and thanks for the history pieces too :o)

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  4. @nlo: Jeff's parents had a bullet turned into a lighter confiscated at the Singapore airport when we arrived. The police came and filed a report. The funny thing is, his parents were the first ones searched and they were almost the last ones out of the airport!

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  5. that is pretty fascinating to read about - although, i don't think i could crawl in those tunnels...that sounds really scary!

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  6. I am totally claustrophobic....could never do it. You guys are brave. The photo where Jeff is trying to fit through the opening blows my mind! Amazing photos as always.

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  7. I went through the 100m one in hot summer. Quite an experience and left me breathless, though I am NEVER ever going to go through that again. :)

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  8. @Daniel props to you. I could barely handle the shortest part of the tunnel. And like you, never again!

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