kogatravel

Katja and Arne's travel stories

06.06.15 Cu Chi tunnels

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Katja was so inspired by the ladies in the park the other day she has to go out and play in the morning.
She runs out the door at six and come back an hour later. She’s been doing aerobic, tai chi and other stuff she has no name for. 

After breakfast we’re down at the reception waiting for pickup. We’re going to see the tunnels used by the north Vietnamese during the war. The guide is good and funny. He tells stories about the war and put a few things in perspective. As the rest of the world talk about the Vietnam war, the Vietnamese talk of the American war. Sounds about right to me.

The American presence was almost twenty one years. That’s more than four times the total length of world war II. All this for trying to contain the spread of communism in Asia. Given the fact that Vietnam still is a communist country I say they failed.

First stop on the tour, that was not previously informed to us, was a place where disabled people produce art and crafts. Lacquer ware is popular around Asia and here we could see the whole process. We’ve not bought anything like this before and didn’t today either. It was a close call, but it wouldn’t have been used back home.

Most excitement at this stop was Katja’s close encounter with cockroaches. “Happy room ” is a term used here in south Vietnam in stead if toilet. Katja was happy to go, but came out with arms flailing and a voice suitable for long distance communication. Two large cockroaches had taken up position on the ring, and had just run underneath it to hide when she arrived. Happy room had to wait.

"They were in there. Cockroaches as big as BMW's!"

“They were in there. Cockroaches as big as BMW’s!”

It’s a fairly long drive out to the tunnels. We learned later that day it’s possible to take a boat out there, and that might have been a less bumpy ride. I don’t know the cost, but it might be an alternative if you’re thinking of doing this tour.

When we arrived at the sight we first went through the ticket system and came into a room full of weapons. There were lots of different AK47’s and M16’s, the two most know weapons from this war. A wide range of other weaponry was exhibited also ranging from smaller machine guns to rocket launchers. For a guy who’s seen one too many war movies this is a place with a lot to offer.

The tour started with a video presenting the heroism of the north Vietnamese army. The title of “American killer hero” was awarded quite often it seemed. This place is among the must visited off the tourist attractions in this area so one would believe they had the funds to have a decent tv and sound equipment. They don’t. If you’re ever there get up front to both see and hear the video. I think it’s worth watching, but sitting I the middle of the chairs made it hard to catch all the details.

The screen in the middle show the video

The screen in the middle show the video

The small TV is surrounded by a big map and a model with a cross section of parts of the tunnels. Our guide talked about the shear size of these tunnels. A total off 250 km of tunnels in the area that’s the end of the Ho Chi Minh trail from north to south. With entrances in the jungle as well as secret ones inside the American bases. The cross section of the tubes showed three layers of tunnels. The upper approximately 3-4 metre below the surface, the lowest from 10-12 meters. Inside you could find living rooms, booby traps, dead ends, kill zones, kitchen and wells. The kitchen was smokeless by filtering the smoke through several smaller chambers before letting it out a long distance away from the kitchen itself. To ensure drinkable water there were wells inside to provide water and the kill zones were areas designated to lie in and trap American soldiers. Parallel tunnels separated with a wall with as lot of holes served as a kill zone. The holes were not used for shooting, but for stabbing through with sharpened bamboo stick. This way you saved the cost of the bullets.

A cross section of the tunnels

A cross section of the tunnels

As we walked into the jungle we could hear machine gun fire. During this visit it’s possible to fire different kind of guns it rifles. More on that later.

The first stop in the jungle was a hiding hole used by the Vietcong. A grumpy looking park employee showed us how to do it before we could try. Katja was the only one who did it correctly, while I got stuck in trying to get my shoulders down through the hole. This hole was even modified to accommodate tourists, but still made for smaller guys than me. When we looked at a fox hole with an entrance to the tunnel system I don’t think I could even get my head in there. Small from the start and then starved and under fed for a while these small Vietcong guys could squeeze through holes the size of mid sized watermelon. We also learned that the tunnels had sections where they were narrowed on so the Vietnamese could squeeze through, but an American GI would get stuck. Not something that sounds tempting. To be stuck ten meters under ground, in the darkness with your enemies moving on both sides of you. Gives me the shivers just thinking about it.

The creativity and will to survive in a people fighting an invading force is enormous. The Vietnamese made a lot of their traps from metal from the undetonated bombs. Explosives were used to make land mines and the shell used to make spikes. The spikes used to make traps. Several of these traps were on display. Oh, the horror. The traps we saw were not ment to kill, but to inflict massive pain and to scare. If running away from enemy fire could get you stuck in one of these guess you would walk more slowly. But then again, someone is shooting at you. I can see how they used this to create fear.

At the shooting range I paid for shooting with the AK47. I don’t know where else I might get that opportunity again. It was a bit of a bummer when it turned it they have fixed the guns. With my height that meant crouching like a hunchback to get the stock to my shoulder. I got the feel of the rise when I fired a couple of rounds on automatic. The first shot was pretty accurate on fifty meters, the second ended up 4-5 meters higher in the sand banks. Guess that explains why the hero never get hit on the movies no matter how many bullets the bad guys fire.

Me and an AK47

Me and an AK47

From the shooting range, where the noise was unbearable because someone was shooting the biggest gun of them all fixed to the back of a jeep, we walked over to see a lady making rice paper. The white paper used to make spring rolls. She looked like she had lost today’s draw for position and could easily have been a face model for the evil stepmother in Snow white.

Rice paper drying in the sun

Rice paper drying in the sun

Now we came to the tunnels. A hundred meter tunnel with exits every twenty meters for the faint of heart. First in went our guide then a older lady from Singapore with family. Soon after the Singaporeans came backing out and called it a day. Katja first then I. The tunnels are made in concrete and almost twice the size as the original. Katja could “walk” hunched over, I had trouble. Without scraping the top of my head along the roof I had to walk like a duck. It hurt so bad in my thighs I had to go down on all four and walk like a bear. The air was stale, it was hot and one section was without lights. It wasn’t scary, but tiresome. I heard people behind me and thought the next guy was breathing down my neck. Turned out Katja and I were the only two going the distance while everyone else in the group had opted out in one of the exits along the way.

Sweat was pouring. I took of my singlet and could wring out a stream of sweat. Hadn’t really thought of that possibility before we left this morning. Gonna be cold in the car on the way back with a wet t-shirt.

We got served a taste of jungle life with tea brewed on leaves from a tree and tapioca root to eat. The tea was good, though. Then we almost ran back to the car as the weather shifted and it looked like rain.

This place was a great place to visit to see a part of history. Getting this history presented by the victor and not by a sore loser also gives an interesting perspective. I mentioned the “American killer hero” award. If you killed one American by a trap, you would get it. If you used explosives you needed to take out five of the enemy to be awarded the title. The Vietcong were given weapons and training by the Chinese and Russia, but not free. The Vietnamese foreign debt were high after the war. And did you know Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand had troops in the war? Even a tribe of Chinese were on the Americans side.

We drove all the way into the city without stopping. We came back around 14:30 and had had no lunch. We just dived into the first and best place we found. it happened to be a French bakery and we enjoyed good food and decent coffee.

Best French baguettes in town

Best French baguettes in town

After the tunnel crawling we were pretty dirty and a shower was very welcoming. A short rest later and Katja went to the gym for a dancing class. I came to the next class and we did a yoga session together. A good class, but the instructors here are not the best. They are good practitioners but seem to forget that some of us needs the easy alternative to the poses. They dive into poses that demands years of practice to master without giving alternatives. I’ll manage on my own, but I’m glad I have the number of classes in the bag so I can do alternative moves and not be disheartened. After the yoga we found a burger joint that’s highly recommended on Tripadvisor. Well deserved. Chucks burgers rose to the occasion.

Then we walked and looked at the life in the city a Saturday night. It’s the champions league final tonight and several places advertise it. The match starts at 01:45 local time. Guess I’ll be sleeping by then. My own team took a loss on home ground in a top match tonight. To bad, I was hoping for a better outcome. I do look forward to going to the stadium and see them live upon return. It sucks getting updates every few minutes on a web page. Football is best live.

 

“Too bad Americans can’t export Awesome, because I have boxes and boxes of the stuff just lying around in my attic.”

― Jarod Kintz, At even one penny, this book would be overpriced. In fact, free is too expensive, because you’d still waste time by reading it.

Author: arnber

Humongen! The big guy! The man, the myth, the legend! And then theres' me. The nice guy in the house. The man without cooking skills, but with five stars on the Playstation. Boss at work, relaxed at home. What you see is what you get. Life is good. I choose it to be.

2 thoughts on “06.06.15 Cu Chi tunnels

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