We visited the Cu Chi Tunnels, which were absolutely fascinating. Our local tour guide was a fairly young guy, but no less knowledgeable than any of the other guides that we had met. He took us around the site, explaining the tunnel network, the ventilation system, the lethal booby traps set for the US soldiers and he was ready to answer questions at any time.
The Cu Chi Tunnels are a massive labyrinth of increasing complexity of connecting underground living spaces that were developed by the Viet Cong during the later years of the war effort. The tunnels were unbelievable small, barely accommodating the tiny Vietnamese soldiers, let alone any US or French who dared enter.
We had the opportunity to get into one of these tunnel openings that was a rectangular hole in the ground, maybe just over one ft. across and just less than a ft. wide and approximately four ft. deep. The cover was made from wood, and you littered it with leaves as camouflage and literally disappeared from sight. As soon as I got into the tunnel opening, I knew I would have problems getting out. Let me paint you a picture, I’m just over five ft. tall myself with zero upper body strength and it was so embarrassing attempting to lift myself out. One of the lads from our group got behind me and helped me out by grabbing me by the boobs. Cheers hun! Worse than that? It was all captured on GoPro. Jeez.
The tour continued with a recreation of some of the tunnels for tourists to actually go into. There were stairs in and out of these tunnels, so I was happy enough to go have a look. These tunnels had been widened and heightened for western tourists, but still a few people sat out due to claustrophobia and there were exits at points where we were warned the tunnels would get smaller. There were three levels and each did get progressively smaller. I managed to get halfway before I decided that the increasing heat levels plus lack of fresh air and light was a bit too much for me, so I ducked out, but respect to a lot of the guys especially, who were pretty tall who made it, crawling through the last stretch.
One of the cleverest parts of the tour was the working kitchen. Naturally, cooking will generate steam and very much give away the location of people underground, so the tunnels incorporated an extended chimney that released the steam up to 20ft. away. When it comes to bombing, 20ft can mean the difference between life and death.
Unfortunately, the complexity of the Cu Chi tunnels running under Saigon and connecting to the river were probably the primary reason that (bio-)chemical were used in the US war effort. The elimination of the jungle/wilderness infrastructure that the Viet Cong were using was completely eradicated, making it near impossible to live off the land and continue their underground resistance.
Our tour of the tunnels finished with a taste of taro chips and green tea just before lunchtime; we thanked our guide and headed back to the main city in order to locate some decent grub. A bunch of us decided to hit the Street Food Market as we’d skipped over it the evening before in order to eat at a local seafood restaurant. This place was pretty amazing during the day – there was a brilliant mural painted on the wall, so what did I do…? You really have to think about it?
We were due to board our first sleeper train that evening, so the afternoon was spent exploring the city, or catching up with friends and family back home and grabbing some food prior to boarding the train. The experience was not as bad as we’d been lead to believe, but it was incredibly cold. They cranked the air conditioning up to what felt like minus figures! I took the top bunk in our little cabin of four, which was even worse because that’s where the A/C unit was blasting the cold air from. For the first time on the trip I slept in my hoodie. With the hood up. We had been provided with a fleecey blanket, but it didn’t look particularly clean. Good thing a lot of us had brought sleeping bag liners or our own sheets. I’d brought a single duvet cover and pillowcase. It was a pretty good trick as it doesn’t take up too much space and provides a nice bit of padding inside your suitcase too. Win-win!