Sunday, 1 March 2009

Cu Chi Tunnels

examples of bombs dropped by the Americans

We were all eager to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels, a site of the Vietnamese resistance during the Vietnam war, and now a museum, so we booked a tour with the famous Sinh Cafe. We had an unscheduled stop on the way at a shop selling ‘traditional Vietnamese crafts handmade by the handicapped’. There was no evidence of anyone disabled (or actually, anyone at all) at the ‘workshop’, and the finished goods looked identical to the mass produced tat on sale in a lot of the Saigon shops we had visited the day before. We didn’t purchase anything, needless to say.
an American tank that was abandoned and then used by the VietCong

The Cu Chi Tunnels museum starts off with a brief film describing the lives of the Vietnamese fighters, and how the hidden underground tunnels, linking kitchens (with craftily disguised chimneys), armouries, factories and living quarters, were vital to the resistance. We then went for a wander around the jungle, visiting a few huts demonstrating what went on in the tunnel factories and mannequins dressed up as fighters. Then we got to the firing range, where you could if so moved, fire off an AK 47. I found this a tad disturbing, and instead sat around getting a headache until the tour was ready to move off again.
We were also treated to a gruesome display of the different traps used by the VietCong: it made me appreciate why so many American soldiers became horrifically paranoid. When I showed my Senior 2 students photos from my travels, this one of an man trap undoubtedly attracted the most interest!

VietCong man trap

At this point, I was really not impressed with the museum. But then we came to the centrepiece: the opportunity to go down into an original tunnel. Part of me was tempted to pass as I can get a bit claustrophobic, but it seemed stupid to spend my time and money trolling all the way out of Saigon, just to chicken out of doing the most interesting thing there.

So, full of trepidation, I crept down the narrow stairs of the widened entrance. And found myself in a pitch black space so tiny that I could only get along by bending double (I’m five foot four), and that kept getting smaller and smaller until I was creeping along almost on all fours. There were unexpected twists and stairs, and I anxiously kept an eye on the person in front of me.
I could feel panic bubbling, and struggled to keep my breathing regular and even, as my hands scraped along the rough walls, feeling my way. My brain was reduced to the short circuit of ‘Get Out! Too small! Get OUT!’. Every second lengthened. I was so, so glad when at a sudden turn there was a dim shaft of sunlight. When I was back above ground I realised that I’d traversed five metres at the very most. How people managed to adjust to spending a large amount of their lives in these tunnels is beyond my comprehension.
original tunnel entrance - thankfully the one we took to get into the tunnels was a bit bigger than this!

In case I wasn’t feeling panicky enough, we had an extra few moments of anxiety when we realised that one of our party hadn’t emerged from the tunnels. I had a few moments of horror in case W had somehow managed to wander off into a tunnel he shouldn’t have and was lost under the jungle, but just as we were going off to alert our guide, he emerged.

Our last stop was at a mocked up dining room, where we ate some of the tapioca sticks dipped in spicy flavourings that much of the population subsisted on during the war. Most people didn’t take more after their first bite, but we all had a couple of sticks. It wasn’t great, and I certainly wouldn’t have wanted the stringy slightly dry blandness to be my main food stuff, but I’ve definitely eaten worse.
chowing down on tapioca

I’m glad I went, but it is a frustrating experience when it is clear that with some work and investment this could be an amazing world class museum, and much more informative about the experiences of the people who lived and fought here. Although perhaps in this respect the uniqueness of the Cu Chi Tunnels works against itself, as there is perhaps not a great incentive to invest in the site when you know that people will still come even if it is not a good as it could be.

I have been delighted to receive this lemonade award from Emily, thank you so much. I feel very honoured that she is enjoying my blog so much she wants to give me this. The award is for blogs that demonstrate great attitude and/or gratitude.

Rules for the award:

1. Put the logo on your blog or post.
2. Nominate 10 blogs that show attitude and/or gratitude.
3. Be sure to link to your nominees within your post.
4. Let them know they have received this award by commenting on a post.
5. Nominate your favorites and link to this blog

I am passing this along to a wonderful selection of blogs that I've stumbled upon in the last few weeks:

An English Girl Rambles

Granny Smith

Jane and Steve's Utah Trails

The View From This End

Wit's End

Ishtar News

Poetic License

Woman in a Window

Teen Gravid

Riverdale Ramblings

Thanks to you all for writing such interesting and thought provoking blogs.


  1. J, thanks so much for the Lemonade Award. I'm quite honored.
    I'm also enjoying your trip through Vietnam. To think many of the young men of my generation were there fighting in the jungles, fearing those horrible man traps, makes me a little ill. However, when it's all said and done, both sides were probably fighting for what they believed was right. Like all wars, it seems so ultimately pointless.
    Anyway, thanks for sharing so much of your world and making me think.

  2. Thank you so much for the lemondade award...I'll post it and pass it on soon. Like Janie said, I was a middle school student during the Vietnam years and it left a tremendous imprint. Thank you for sharing your travels.

  3. Thanks for you comments. My three friends that I was travelling are all American (I'm British), and before we went to Vietnam I was wondering if we would encounter any animosity from the Vietnamese. But everyone we met was very friendly, and it was a really positive experience to see this after what is a relatively short period of time.
    I studied the Vietnam War in high school, which it was presented in a very pro-Vietnamese way, so until I actually went to Cu Chi I hadn't realised the full extent of what the American soliders faced every day, and how blurred the boundaries were between civilians and combantants. I feel that I have a much more balanced view of what the war was like for both sides now.

  4. Thank you very much for the lemonade award! =) I'm grateful you feel my blog is worthwhile to read! Much appreciation.

    Ps All your photographs are so beautiful and poignant! Thank you for sharing them =)