CU CHI TUNNELS
Billy and Akaisha
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
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
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
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.
You can imagine what it must have been like for the
US Army "Tunnel Rats" to go into the darkness of these tunnels armed
with only a flashlight and a .45. These soldiers didn't have powerful
x300 B Turbo lights to help them see and were constantly in danger
from Viet Cong booby traps and poisonous snakes or insects.
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
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
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
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.
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
This tour is Highly Recommended
For more stories and photos
of Vietnam, click here
About the Authors
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are
recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on
topics of finance, medical tourism and world travel. With the wealth of
information they share on their award winning 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 available on their website
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