Saturday, 8 September 2012

Ho Chi Minh City Part 3: Cu Chi Tunnel

“My Vietnamese name is Mr. Tung. Tunggg! (mimicking the sound of a Chinese drum). So my English name would be Mr. Drum. I was born in Cu Chi. But not in the tunnel.”

Mr Tung, Tour Guide Cu Chi Tunnel

Most of us laughed at his humorous introduction. Little did I know that he was one of those people who had fought in the war and endured pain in the Cu Chi Tunnel. His command of English is fair, not an excellent speaker, but no one else deserve to narrate the story of the war other than him because he was there, when everything happened.

“Thank you for choosing Vietnam as your destination. We are not yet a civilized community like you. If you are queuing up to buy something, some of our people will simply cut your line. But the war made us realise that we need a better life and better education. So that the mistakes won’t happen again. And we would stop hurting each other again.”

Upon arrival at the hotel, I immediately asked for the receptionist’s assistance to get a tour package to Cu Chi Tunnel. The trip cost 7 USD (bus trip) and 4.5 USD (admission). It may not be the cheapest deal, but I believe it is fair enough.

From architectural perspective, one may be impressed by its construction and design. From historical perspective, one may be able to understand the political and philosophical differences of the disputing parties. But going to Cu Chi is not merely about the tunnel. It is about appreciating the determination of the people to survive and to live despite the limitations they were facing. And the war left wounds and scars for both sides. Thousands of heroes, from both sides, had fallen on this land.

Construction of Cu Chi
Inspired by rats, who dug into the ground and steal crops, the Viet Cong and the inhabitants built the tunnel as shelter during the war with French. In fact, each village built their own tunnel and afterwards, arising of the need to communicate and assist each other in battles, the tunnels were linked to form a sophisticated and complicated system.

This 200 km tunnel consisted of three stages, stage one about 3 metres depth, stage two about six metres depth and stage 3 about 9 - 13 metres depth. The tunnel is not merely a shelter, but a community centre, housing hospitals where children were born, schools where children learned, kitchen where wives cook, individual spaces, store rooms, meeting rooms etc.

The tunnel used to be so small that it can only allow Vietnamese to be in it. Some parts contained bobby traps for the enemy, designed to severely injure the enemy but not to kill.

Useful Tips Seven: How to Get to Cu Chi
Cu Chi is located roughly about 70 km from the city centre. Hence it is reasonable to expect that the trip would cost you half a day of travelling. Traveling duration from the city centre to Cu Chi is one hour and half to two hours.

Option One: Various travel agents located along Pham Ngu Lao District 1. Take a walk and make your own survey. Choose the best deal you can find.

Option Two: Upon arrival at your hotel, immediately ask the receptionist on tour package to Cu Chi Tunnel. They would be happy to assist.

Scam #1: Some quoted price does not include admission fee. Check reasonable price from the internet and compare with the quoted price.

Make sure the weather is good and you are in the appropriate outfit for an adventure before you head to Cu Chi! =)

Cu Chi Tunnel Tour
The local inhabitants were poor people who did not have that much for daily life and definitely not much for battles. To survive, they maximized whatever was available all around them to their advantage and endured as long as they could.

Bamboo sticks were carved and used as deadly weapon and bobby traps. Termite mounds inspired the Viet Cong to build man-made termite mounds to hide the air holes, and they were so neatly done that it was difficult to distinguish which one was constructed by termite and which one was fake. Despite limited knowledge and experience, Viet Cong studied unexploded enemy missiles and make their own land mines. Even though the river was polluted, Viet Cong digged the ground for water.
The entrance point for the tunnel, covered with a rectangular piece of wood, is neatly camouflaged. Mr Drum demonstrated how Viet Cong used the entrance, by removing the piece of wood, descended down and placed the cover over his head. No matter how skinny you are, there is no way you can fit into the entrance without lifting your arms up in the air and descend down. No wonder the US army went through hell to locate the tunnel.

Punggungku besar. Saya khuatir nanti tak lepas nak keluar. Jadi saya tidak mencuba. Maka para peserta Biggest Loser tidak dinasihatkan mencuba ya. Tengok sahaja orang lain buat. Pernah ada kes Mat Salleh obes tersekat di pintu masuk tersebut sehingga dibantu dua tiga orang kerana keyakinan untuk mencuba.

Even though the US had launched a ground operations against the tunnel, it claimed hundreds of US casualties. Hence, the US resorted to massive firepower, turning Cu Chi into "the most bombed, shelled, gassed, defoliated and generally devastated area in the history of warfare" (authors of The Tunnels of Cu Chi).

We were also led to shooting range on site. I could not stand the sound of it so I stayed away as far as I could. Mr. Drum asked whether I would like to join the shooting activity. I said no due to my ear problem. Then he said:

“When the machine guns were used, I was almost deaf. When the bomb fell down, I could not hear a thing.”

Imagine the sound the Viet Cong and the inhabitants had to deal with everyday.

It was funny, the way Mr. Drum illustrated the sound of each weapons. He made them sounded so differently. Perhaps, the sounds of the weapons still linger in his memory. And they were not as funny as the way he made demonstrated them. Moreover, he was shot twice. One on his shoulder. Two, his leg.

Nearby the shooting range on site, there was a hut where paper rice was made traditionally. It is a popular snack in Vietnam, but I did not have the chance to get any while I was there.
Finally, we headed to one portion of the tunnel. Mr Drum explained that the US bombs destroyed 80% of the tunnels. I believe that this is one of the surviving portions. The tunnel was in fact adjusted to accommodate the size of westerners. But still you have to bend down while walking. 20 metres length. With three exits. If you are claustrophobic, physically large in structure, having the medical history of athma (or anything like it) or having any knee problem, it is not advisable for you to go in. I went in. Passing by the first exit, my knee was aching so badly that I had to exit at the second exit. But it was a remarkable experience. If you want to enjoy the view better, make sure you bring a torch light.

Immediately after the tunnel we went to the café to enjoy tapioca and tea. In fact, tapioca and tea were the diet for the Viet Cong. I was never a fan of tapioca before, and I never knew that eating tapioca with blended nuts is so delicious!
The tour ended with a video screening of a documentary on life in Cu Chi during the war. Viet Cong and the inhabitants had to hide in the tunnel throughout the day and only go out at night to work at the paddy field or search for food and to attack the US army based above the tunnel. It was difficult moment for the Viet Cong and the inhabitants.

Cu Chi, despite becoming the most bombed, gassed and defoliated area in Vietnam, it is a symbol of pride for the people of Vietnam. However, chemical effects still remain in the water and in the ground, affecting the crops yield and deformed younger generations of Vietnam.

Until we meet again, 

Hairi Tahir

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1 Nukilan:

hue danhbai said...

your photos of Cu Chi Tuunel are very nice. can I use some of the your images put in my website :

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