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In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

CU CHI TUNNELS

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

Hotel 127 booked our Cu Chi tour. Going to the tunnels is not new; getting there by boat on the Saigon River is. In fact, this particular option was only 10 days old when we signed up for it, and the promotional fee was $9 USD each! This included air-con bus pick up, the boat ride with commentary, and either a boat or bus trip back to the touring office. (It did not include the entrance fee to the tunnels.)  The good news was that 30 years later, the mines from the war had finally, and just recently, been swept from the river.

We left from the old US Navy shipyard and began a two hour ride up river, with our Guide, Bil Le Binh (or Billy).

THE LUSH SAIGON RIVER

Bil worked as a US Coast Guard soldier during the American War, and for most of the distance traveling to the site, he told War Stories. These were fascinating, first hand accounts of characters, events, backgrounds of the War, and the tunnels themselves. We could not have had a more informed guide.

MOCK UP OF THE TUNNELS WITH SAIGON RIVER ON RIGHT 

Upon arriving at Cu Chi, Bil collected the 65,000 dong ($4.33 USD) entrance fee from each of us. This money goes to the Vietnamese Army, as well as for the upkeep of these passageways and to pay the workers there.

 

"The Communist Army is quite wealthy now," Bil explains, and points to the tennis courts in front of us.

The Cu Chi tunnels were built over a 25 year period beginning in the 1940’s, and became an underground city. They housed up to 10,000 people who rarely saw daylight for years at a time, choosing to live, get married, have children and then teach these children, all underground. In the evenings, they would leave this subterranean existence, and furtively tend to their crops.

WHERE ARE THE TUNNEL ENTRANCES????

At the height of their usage during the war, this subsurface network stretched over 250 kilometers, from Saigon, to the border of Cambodia. Initially used to terrorize the French Colonizers, they were already in place when the Americans arrived in the 1960’s. In fact, the Americans unwittingly set up camp on top of these tunnels at Dong Du. The Viet Cong were able to appear and disappear rapidly, causing havoc inside these headquarters. The Americans never knew when or how. It was a huge fear factor.

WATCH YOUR STEP!      

Before viewing the tunnels we were shown a movie and a mock up of the system, explaining how they had been created decades ago. Cut into the clay soil by hand, using reed baskets to dump the earth into the Saigon river, these interlinking corridors are a tribute to the prolonged resistance of the Vietnamese, the undaunted will, persistence, intelligence and resourceful character of the Cu Chi people.

HERE THEY ARE! (SPIDER HOLE)

This is holy ground to the Vietnamese, and the tunnels are a popular, albeit strange, tourist destination.

 

Ingeniously planned, with many levels, escape routes and booby traps, the Cu Chi people even had the smoke from their underground kitchen vented many meters away so as not to bring attention to their entrances. Even if these “spider holes” were found, they are so small, that it was difficult for a western man to fit inside. Segments of these tunnels infested with cobras or scorpions awaited any enemy that managed to enter, ensuring their demise. As for the Viet Cong themselves, they could always escape via a route opening to the Saigon River, and swim away, or hide in the lush covering there. These tunnels have been bombed, gassed, and flooded, but still remained functional and inhabited.

GUIDE WEARING VC SANDALS DEMONSTRATING ONE OF MANY TYPES OF BOOBY TRAPS

With these brooding thoughts in mind, we begin our personal view of the famous Ben Dinh Tunnel, deep into South Vietnam. These are only 60 kilometers N.W. of Saigon, and belong to the Cu Chi tunnel Network.

Before descending into the complex itself, we were shown trap doors, small camouflaged entrances, fox holes, trenches, a myriad of different styles of booby traps, a captured US Army tank, and huge vegetation reclaimed bomb craters. The subject matter is grim to say the least, and one certainly gets the idea of what life was like for everyone, on both sides, during these wars.

Today, some openings have been expanded to admit larger foreigners.  We were allowed to creep through them, and were reminded of a few things before entering. They were 100 meters long, descending three levels, to about 10 meters below the surface.  If anyone panicked, there were also two separate exits along the way, allowing us to leave at any time. Electric lights were added as well, so it was easier to see. In the “real” tunnels, there were only torches or gas lamps.

 

On this hot, humid day, some chose to enter, and some, for reasons of their own, didn’t. These tunnels were narrow and winding, dropping down, squeezing, and rising again through the different levels. Moving slowly, for fear of getting stuck, we take our time, in these tight spaces.  Exiting via an area that was used for sleeping and living, we are once again above ground.  A model room was then shown where the Viet Cong manufactured their weaponry - knives, bullets, traps made of bamboo, even bombs. The VC make-shifted forges using US ordnance, and collected snakes and scorpions to use in their booby traps.

EXPANDED PASSAGEWAY (50cm by 100cm)

Left with these menacing thoughts, we were then herded into a dining/kitchen room area, again a mock up, where a staple of the Cu Chi Viet Cong people was served; tapioca root dipped in a mixture of salt, sugar and ground peanuts. This was accompanied by herbal tea.

Commentary continued, explaining the intricacies of Viet Cong strategy. It was emphasized that no one, not even the local South Vietnamese, knew who the Viet Cong were. “There was confusion everywhere”, Bil Le punctuated. “Only the Viet Cong knew who the 'enemy' was. Everyone looked the same.”

The VC men infiltrated the South as taxi drivers, teachers, doctors. The women would go into town daily, penetrating the social life at the markets, buying food, sitting on corners, listening.

BILLY IN ONE OF THE ENLARGED SECTIONS

They married into the ranks of the officers of the US military, having their children. They did this both for the money, and to obtain information to give to the VC back at the tunnels. Many US military men were lonely and homesick, and did not know this was happening to them; only grateful for what they considered to be the comfort of a warm and caring companion.

The women who stayed at the tunnels had four crucial jobs. First was cooking, done once a day at four in the morning. The smoke from the fires went through different filtering layers of the tunnels and out many meters away from the kitchen. The smoke would be dispersed, so that no one knew exactly where the Viet Cong were.

The next job of the VC woman was to make the uniforms for the guerilla fighters. This they did in the safety of the underground tunnels. The VC uniform consisted of what they owned, clothing they could sew, backpacks, and items picked off dead soldiers on the battlefields; guns, belts, hats, bullets, fabric from the US uniform, or any useful equipment.

MR. BIL LE DISCUSSING THE DIFFERENT WEAPONS USED DURING THE WAR

Another noteworthy accessory was the famous “Ho Chi Minh Sandals”. These sandals were made from US tires, stripped from wreckage, and were lightweight when wet, so the VC could easily run. This is important in a country that gets many meters of rainfall a year. The Western military boot, although an effective protection from snake bites, once wet, were very heavy and cumbersome. The GI could not run quickly, and soon became tired. With the rubber sandals, there was no problem with water weight. They would wear them to leave tracks in one direction, then put them on backwards and return to where they came.  This confused the “enemy”, making it look like there were more VC in the area, than there actually were.

The third job of the VC woman was to “fight like the man”. There are several hero stories of how these diminutive women lugged heavy weaponry around, sitting in foxholes or the trenches, and shooting at the enemy side by side with the men.

FOR ONE DOLLAR PER SHOT YOU CAN FIRE ANY OF THEM!...AND THEY ARE LOUD!

The last, and very important job of the woman was to make the maps for the local men, showing where the treacherous booby traps were laid, and also the deadly landmines. The VC men “let the women go first” to check everything out, and then they marked the safe route on their maps.

Pondering all this persistence of the Viet Cong, we then moved on to a “hospital room”, where it was explained to us, the Viet Cong doctors would operate on the wounded. Since there was no morphine, the doctors would tie up the injured soldier first, and then they utilized acupuncture to stop the bleeding and induce pain free sleep. This is where the patients were mended, hidden until the cover of darkness, when they could be whisked away by boat to their headquarters in Cambodia. Many died along the way, and Bil explained that these men and women were then buried along the Saigon River, with no identification, no marker. To this day, the Vietnamese government still looks for the men and women buried along the river, hoping to find human remains. “It is sad they have no cemetery”, Bil says. “They are lost forever. We have nothing to give their mothers to show them that they are dead or only just missing. Their families continue to wonder where, and how they died.”

The final stop on the tunnel tour was the firing range. This is a unique and unusual feature in that you are able to fire any number of weapons used during the war. They charge one Dollar per bullet, which allows you to fire, in a controlled and monitored setting, Russian made AK 47’s, American M 16’s, and machine guns, to name a few. The sound is deafening, and ear protection is provided.

This tour is Highly Recommended

Saigon Tours can be reached at:

187A Pham Ngu Lao Street,

District 1, HCMC, Vietnam

(848) 8368542

Email: sgn@deltaadventuretours.com

Email: sgnkimcafe@hotmail.com

Website: www.deltaadventuretours.com

 

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About the Authors

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.

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