Simon woke me up at 8.30 and I asked him to get the Hobnobs from Mum. They must have been knackered, all still asleep! We have our breakfast and make some plans for the day. We have decided to visit the Cu Chi tunnels.
The village of Cu Chi was of massive strategic importance during the war due to the closeness to HCMC and more importantly the massive network of underground tunnels that stretched 250km from Cu Chi almost to the Cambodian border. When the Americans arrived in Vietnam they set up a base camp at Cu Chi completely unaware that the tunnels were just below.
We get a big taxi and pay 35 dollars for our trip. We arrive at the Cu Chi tunnels and after paying 65 000 dong each make our way to the movie room. The movie showing is interesting and informative and we felt demonstrated that the Vietnamese are maybe not quite as forgiving towards the Americans as they would hope or have us believe when we have spoken to them about the war!
The guide that shows us around is really good. We wander over the tunnel complex and are amazed when we are shown the first tunnel entrance. It’s absolutely tiny and so well hidden we would have had difficulty finding it even if given the rough location. It’s easy to see how the American soldiers never stood a chance, especially in the dark with gunfire and explosions all around.
Next we are shown a tank that came to rest in this spot. It was blown up by a landmine. The Vietnamese were extremely resourceful and despite a lack of guns made some vicious weapons out of bombs that were dropped on them. The guide shows us the bamboo trap, the doortrap and the see saw trap amongst many others.
We continue on and are shown lots of underground bunkers including dining areas, hospital room and kitchen. I think we all felt a huge amount of respect for the resilience and toughness of the Vietcong. The conditions they lived in underground must have been horrendous, the tunnels sometimes collapsed and were plagued with pests like rats. To avoid detection by “war dogs” that were sent down the tunnels the Vietcong would place the uniforms of dead US soldiers around the tunnel network to confuse the dogs. They also took to smoking American brand cigarettes.
There is a shooting range at Cu Chi and Simon, Paul and Ali all have a go shooting an AK 47. I talk to Ali beforehand as I was quite reluctant to let him shoot the gun and explain again to him the importance of recognising how dangerous guns are. I remind him of how many Vietnamese and American soldiers died here. In the end I don’t think he really enjoyed it anyway.
Next comes our opportunity to go down the tunnels. Even though we only make our way along a 40 metre stretch its quite scary. Pitch black and so narrow, the roof is so low I’m almost bent over double. We had read that many tourists find it too claustrophobic and I could see why.
Lastly we sit and have a cup of green tea with cooked tapioca. This is what the Vietnamese survived on and it’s so disgusting. I don’t think I could survive a month on it let alone years. The guide explained that the vents to the kitchen were over 100 metres away to avoid detection and only the minimum cooking was carried out.
We make a donation, give the guide a tip and head for the café. On the way we stop and look at some photographs of children injured by Agent Orange. Once the Americans realised the tunnel network was virtually impenetrable the entire area was blanket bombed with napalm and Agent Orange as well as blasted with huge B52 bombs. There are a number of massive bomb craters at the site also. The long term effects of the chemical weapons are that the fields still yield poor crops. In fact we only saw rubber plantations on the way and wondered if the ground is still too contaminated to grow food in.
After a quick drink we go back to the hotel. It has been a really interesting and informative visit which we all enjoyed. We agreed it has been very good to see the Vietnamese view of the war also as we felt previously we had been much more aware of the American version of events.
Mum, Maisie and I go to the health club and check out the facilities. We have a sauna, steam bath and Jacuzzi and emerge looking red and wrinkled! We wander up the road for dinner and have some decent Vietnamese food. Simon chooses snails and we all have a taste. I didn’t like them much though a bit tough and chewy!
Tomorrow we are leaving HCMC for the beach. We have booked to stay at the resort of Mui Ne on the east coast. Going to go to bed now, leaving at 11am. Bye bye luxury sob sob !