Cu Chi Tunnels

We wanted to get one more perspective on how the Vietnam War was fought.  We chose to visit the Ben Douc tunnel section of the Cu Chi Tunnel complex.

Located only two hours and just 48km outside Ho Chi Minh City center, the Cu Chi Tunnel complex was more than just a few tunnels.  It was over 200 kilometers of tunnels built over 20 years and were one to five meters below ground.  These tunnels were very close to the front line of fighting.  Areas above and near the tunnels switched hands regularly during each 24 hour period.

On the way we stopped by An Ha Lacquerware.  This was a factory setup by the government to train and give work to disabled people including those affected by Agent Orange.  Their wares were on display for sale.

An Ha Laquerware is a factory that produces goods made by the disabled that benefits the disabled.

The Tunnels

Alyssa ponders a war skeleton: A battered Patton tank with bullet and blast holes.  What happened to the people inside?  How many people did this tank kill?
Kylie enters a remade entrance to some tunnels.
The tunnels were narrow and short.  I had to turn sideways to squeeze through and crouch down.  Most passages were no more than 1 meter high.  Alyssa had to do Aikido duck walk to get through them.

We spent a solid two hours navigating tunnels, learning about the architecture, how the Viet Cong evaded the US military and defended their land.

Most of the tunnels had enlarged openings for tourists, however there was one stretch that had been preserved.  Alyssa and Sharleen tried their luck at navigating a 10 meter stretch.  The directions seemed clear, however the people who went in after Alyssa came out and Alyssa didn’t.  The guide went in looking for her saying she took a wrong turn and probably went to Cambodia.  Alyssa popped up 50 meters away sweaty and insisting that directions were not correct.  Sharleen also popped up 50 meters away.

Entrances to the tunnels were well camouflaged.  Do you see it?
Sharleen squeezed through the opening and closes the door over her head….only to get lost in the tunnel maze below.

The tunnels were not straight but zig zagged to prevent gun fire from traversing the length of the tunnel.  There were also all types of traps inside and outside the tunnels to prevent US incursions from making progress.

The tunnels were home to many Vietnamese communities.  They cooked, sought refuge, had hospitals, and made weapons in these tunnels.

Steamed cassava with sugar and ground peanuts was delicious for me as a tourist, but I can only imagine if this was a staple food in a war zone day-in and day-out.
Do you see the smoke rising from the underground kitchen?  This specially designed kitchen had 4-5 chambers that captured smoke, only releasing a small plume.  They cooked during the morning so it blended with the mist.  This made it difficult for foreign troops to identify where the tunnels were.
This replica shows how the Viet Cong frequently harvested and re-purposed scrap metal and gun powder in a tunnel bunker.

Kylie asked a question before the tour started.  Our guide Khoa anxious to get the tour going didn’t seem to understand or respond to the question.  However, when everyone was mulling over souvenirs at the end of the tour she approached him again with the same question:

“If the USA had more weapons, more money, more technology, why did they lost the war?”

Khoa smiled and thought a moment and then gave the following response:

“The situation was very complicated,  but we were fighting for our country.  The Americans and French before them were told to come here and fight.  We knew the landscape.  We knew the territory and plants.  We also had neighbors, the Soviets and the Chinese, nearby willing to support us and send us supplies, while the United States had to ship supplies from very far.  We also were more resourceful and resilient than the United States troops that did not really want to be here.”

Khoa answer’s Kylie’s question with sincerity and dignity.
A light artillery brigade from the Cu Chi Tunnel area poses for a picture.  This war was not just fought by young men and boys.  All types of Vietnamese people were drawn into armed conflict.

This sounded very much like two quotes from Ho Chi Minh that I heard from school:

“You will kill ten of us, we will kill one of you, but in the end, you will tire of it first.”

“You can kill ten of our men for every one we kill of yours. But even at those odds, you will lose and we will win.”

In the final analysis, his numbers were off.  It wasn’t 10 to 1, it was 50 to 1, but he was proven right with the determination of the Vietnamese people.

2 comments

    • Thank you! It was amazing to work our way through these tunnels and learn about how a people determined to live found a way to survive.

      Like

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