Saturday, 8 October 2011

The Cu Chi Tunnels

Another Travel Indochina trip I pre-booked was to the Cu Chi tunnels about 65km northwest up highway 22 from central Saigon. The 250km network of tunnels at Cu Chi are an unbelievable feat of bucket & spade engineering - so unbelievable that the Americans never really understood how just how vast & complex they were.

They're not simply tunnels, its more like an underground town on three levels - 3 metres, 9m & the deepest at 18m. There are bunkers, kitchens, storerooms, meeting rooms, sleeping quarters & armouries, all interconnected into a vast warren. There are lots of ventilation shafts & disguised smoke outlets as well as many sealed doors to prevent gas & water entering the system.

VC soliders in the tunnels were kept supplied via the Ho Chin Minh trail & would regularly launch attacks on Saigon. Dozens of US military Operations tried to clear the tunnels using CS-type gases, flooding them, setting mines & sending in dogs but because there were endless escape routes & doors to seal off separate sections, they were never more than marginally successful.

The area around Cu Chi was also riddled with horrific & deadly bamboo mantraps & it became notorious as Deadly Ground. After using bulldozers to ineffectively dig up some of the tunnels the Americans resorted to widespread bombing & there are still B52 bomb craters at the site.

Not surprisingly the Cu Chi tunnels have become a bit of a theme park with tour groups, a shooting range & souvenir shops - except its not imaginary, its a real place & a key part of Vietnam's history & one they are very proud of. There is also an old black & white propaganda film that visitors are shown that includes a 'hero school girl'. She is commemorated for being an 'American killer' because of her bravery in blowing up tanks helping the farmers who were battling the military power of the 'American invaders'.

The tunnels themselves are terrifyingly small and entry routes are no more than 12 x 18 inches - way too small for the average American to access. Some tunnels have been enlarged to allow visitors to get a feel for what they were like but even these brush your shoulders & require you to walk bent double. Just a little way in I decided to settle for the concept rather then the claustrophobic reality.

1 comment:

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