Ho Chi Minh city is a place that always earns a bonus while playing ‘Atlas’ but when I discovered that I was actually going to the city, I actually felt my bragging rights shoot up cause now, whenever I play Atlas, I can say that I have been to Ho Chi Minh city.
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect before going to Ho Chi Minh city but since our trip to Vietnam was a literal flash tour with 24 hours per city, the only thing on our itinerary in Ho Chi Minh was the Cu Chi Tunnels.
The Cu Chi Tunnels are a significant part of a large network of tunnels that used to operate at the time of the Vietnam War. Before I begin the tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels, here’s a bit of info on the Vietnam War.
The Vietnam War, which lasted nearly twenty years, was fought between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. It was based on the terms of the US-Soviet Cold War i.e a conflict between left wing and right wing countries. In the war, North Vietnam fought on the Communist side while South Vietnam fought on the Capitalist end which led to a number of foreign countries supporting either side depending on their political beliefs, for instance, North Vietnam was supported by the Soviet Union and China while South Vietnam was supported by the USA.
The North Vietnamese side had a front in South Vietnam and the army fighting on this front were called the ‘Viet Cong’ and they specialised in guerrilla warfare. In 1968, this army waged a battle called the ‘Tet Offensive’ against South Vietnam and the USA and the Cu Chi Tunnels were the base for this battle.
The North Vietnamese soldiers not only fought but also led their lives in the network of tunnels. Each tunnel had a well camouflaged entry and the maximum height of people that could commute through these tunnels is five feet flat.
The opening of the tunnels used to be enclosed by a heavy “lid” of stone, covered in dry leaves so as to remain concealed. The picture below shows an opening which leads to a small flight of stairs leading further underground. Now, it’s one thing to stand in the tunnels and fight but establishing a full blown settlement in a cramped space without a ray of sunlight is a feat I simply can’t imagine. The soldiers had kitchens underground as well as “rooms” for planning the battle strategy, makeshift bedrooms, first aid and infirmary, as well as an ammunition room.
In this picture of the tunnel plan, there’s also a soldier drawing water from the ground water table. Sometimes, some of the soldiers even got their families along as they had nowhere to escape, and there’s been instances of children being born underground. A setup such as this really makes one feel grateful to have a proper roof over our heads and accessibility to all basic facilities and it shows how war changes the very fabric of a person’s lifestyle. It’s very humbling and chilling to think of how the soldiers survived in the tunnels.
This is a tunnel showing one of the kitchens. The one drawback that would arise by having underground kitchens was the smoke that would easily give away the soldiers hide-out if released and would suffocate the army if left in. So one of the soldiers actually came up with an idea of “smokeless” cooking. This included digging underground vents with openings far from the soldiers’ location which directed the smoke away and kept the soldiers safe from danger of suffocation and revelation.
There’s one tunnel which is accessible to tourists. It allows you to actually close the lid on yourself which gives you a minuscule experience of what life was like under the tunnels. I actually did get into one of the tunnels and it was quite an experience. There’s also a tunnel crawl that you can do where a guide leads you through the tunnel for about 100 metres. There’s an opening to come out at intervals of 10m, 20m and 50m. I came out at 20m cause I get really claustrophobic. Two guys from our tour actually made it the whole 110 metres and well, it was impressive. I wouldn’t recommend the crawl to people who are claustrophobic or even very tall as the tunnel accommodates a max height of like 80 cm and crawling is hard if you’re above five feet tall. However, for those of you who can do it, go for it. It’s probably a surreal experience.
After exploring the tunnels, we saw some tanks used in warfare. War tanks are things that fascinate as well as scare me. The tank exhibits are used as resting spots for tourists owing to the cool shade and often, children are seen climbing the tanks and taking pictures. In fact, I was lucky to get this one picture of a tank as the children were literally queuing to get onto it. Crazy war machines, I tell you.
After resting a while with the tanks, we saw a series of cleverly and brutally laid booby traps.
This one is called a Punji Stake Trap and it is concealed beneath a flip board covered with grass. These stakes are made of bamboo and often covered in snake venom which makes this an instant device for killing or irreparably maiming someone.
These traps are called ‘Cutting Armpit Traps’ and ‘Rolling Traps’ respectively. Some other traps included pits filled with venomous snakes and spiders. When I look at these traps and the torture that they induce, it truly makes me lose faith in humanity and makes me wonder whether humans are actually the civilised ones. I mean, I get that everything’s fair in war but we are the only living species that harm each other without necessity, on the basis of differences, be it in culture, race or beliefs. We are also the only species that harm other living species for sport. It’s honestly laughable that we call wild animals ‘savage beasts’ cause they only hunt for prey while we hunt to satisfy our abysmal egos. I mean, how else does one define war?
Moving on from the gory parts, we stopped at a small souvenir shop which sells relics relating to the war, as well as Vietnamese art in general. Word of caution here: Souvenirs here include keychains shaped like a bullet and a type of a lantern and if you’re travelling by air, it’s better not to buy these things as they will put you in a tight spot with the airport authorities as the keychain is made of a real bullet and the lantern resembles a weapon.
However, there’s other souvenirs you can buy.
The green car is my favourite. It’s a toy made out of beer cans and is a lovely way of recycling. The other souvenirs include a miniature of traditional Vietnamese sandals and a magnet of Cu Chi tunnels. I also bought a pen that looked very fancy as it has a tiny false stone on it’s end.
At the end, we saw some ammunition used during the war, now kept in an exhibition shed.
And that was the end of our tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels.
All in all, I learnt a LOT about the Vietnam War during this trip. It was quite an enlightening, knowledgeable, yet a melancholic and chilling experience. I can’t honestly imagine the horrors of war and a lot of the stories are truly heart-breaking. While the horrors of war still linger slightly, there’s always a lovely sense of hope in the Vietnamese people. I love how everyone strives and works to move forward towards a more peaceful and happier time and that sure restores ones faith in humanity:) I’d definitely recommend a visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels as it does have an unreal and deep vibe to it.
And that is a wrap.
Until Next Time,
Paka and Happy Halloween in advance:)