Cu Chi Tunnels –The Underground City in War Time

The over 25 year old tunnel system, which lies 75 km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, is always in the heart of the Vietnamese people and distinguished worldwide visitors.

Foreign tourists are very interested in the special customs of guerillas introduced in the tunnels. (Photo:T.K)

The system held an underground city with living areas, kitchens, storage, weapons factories, field hospitals, command centers. In places, it was several stories deep and housed up to 10,000 people who virtually lived underground for years.

Faced with fires from the US airforce abover, the people lived in the tunnels by day and at night, fought their war or to furtively tend their crops.

The tunnels system not only allowed the guerilla to communicate with the outside units but also launch surprise attacks, even within the perimeters of U.S. military bases. The U.S. retaliated with enormous amount of bombs, and gradually turning the region into a devastated area.

A three- level underground city

Tourists drop through a hidden trap door to the first level, 3 meters below the surface, and squeeze through narrow passageways to see bunkers, a hospital, a kitchen and the actual command room from which the 1968 Tet offensive was planned.

There are tables and chairs, bunk beds, crude cooking stoves, dummies outfitted in guerilla garb and the occasional live person to give an authentic touch.

A Vietnamese was digging the construction with hand tools.
Even with the tunnels widened, it was a squeeze, especially one serpentine stretch at the second level where tourists have to drop to their knees and crawl while the ceiling scraped their backs.

The third level is hardly 0.6 meters high and definitely would have required wriggling on tourists’ stomachs.

Learn the Vietnamese’s spirit and life in war time.

The ground here is hard clay. But even so, the planning and construction was incredible. People, mainly the Vietnamese soldiers dug all this at a rate of just one or two meters a day with hand tools, filling reed baskets and dumping the dirt into bomb craters.  

Right underground, visitors can taste the taro root and green tea like the tunnel residents in war time. (Photo:T.K)

They installed large vents so they could hear approaching helicopters, smaller vents for air and baffled vents to dissipate cooking smoke.  There were also hidden trap doors and gruesomely effective bamboo-stake booby traps.

 
 

After one last wriggle, tourists will soon be tired but then come up at a snack stand where they are offered the taro root and green tea that the tunnel residents used to eat during war time.

If tourists want to pose as a Cu Chi guerilla, they can be showed by the local guide to dress up with broad-brimmed hat (non tai beo), rubber sandals (dep rau), loose-fitting blouse (ao ba ba), bandanna (khan ran).

Besides, handicraft, such as lacquer and timber products are for sale which are cheap and suitable for souvenirs. Most impressive are a variety of items made from original war scraps.

A tourist is trying an ageing gun at Cu Chi Tunnels. (Photo:T.K)

Nearby, for a dollar a bullet, visitors can have a go at firing an AK-47 or an ageing US-made M16 after a quick training session on how to hold the gun and fire.

It is said that Cu Chi Tunnels are a traditional rendezvous for many generations of city people and neighboring local people and is much appreciated by foreigner tourists when visiting Vietnam. With yesterday Cu Chi and today Cu Chi, the will to defend the country and aspiration for peace of Vietnamese people are mingled with each other harmoniously.

With high humidity inside Cu Chi Tunnels, tourists are so dripping wet with sweat that they can hardly hold onto their cameras but will be able to have an incredible admiration for the people who lived and carried on their struggle here.

By Trong Khuong

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