Bill and Sue-On Hillman: A 50-Year Musical Odyssey
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HILLMAN INDOCHINA ADVENTURE
PART 3

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PAGE 34: CU CHI TUNNELS I
Vietcong Tunnels and Displays

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The Cu Chi Tunnels are about 75 km NW of Saigon in a forested/jungle area close to the Saigon River. The digging of the Cu Chi Tunnels was started by the Viet Minh in 1948 during their fight against the French colonial forces. Originally each village in the area would dig its own tunnel -- by hand -- and over time the tunnels were eventually connected.  During the "American War" of the '60s and '70s the tunnels were taken over and expanded by the Communist North Vietnamese and the Vietcong as part of their offensive against the South Vietnamese and US in Saigon 

As described in the brochures: "This is a unique architectural structure, a system of deeply underground tunnels having several floors nd alleys and branches like spider web more than 250 km long, with places for dining, living, meeting and fighting."

Our local tour guide on the bus and around the Tunnel complex was Mr. Hai. His family name was Phat and his middle name was Manh. He had a great sense of humour. He explained that there was another guide named Hai, so the boss gave him a nickname: Hai Phat Manh! The other guide was a skinny one. He asked us to make sure we tell him in good time if we need to go "pissing" -- luckily we all made it to the W/Cs at the Cu Chi entrance ...LOL!

Mr. Hai was a Vietnam War veteran. He was a communications soldier with the South Vietnamese and American forces and was at the Cu Chi district for eight months, as well as eight years at another location close to Hue. Even before he told us about his work with the South, we could tell that he was pro-South, while the guide yesterday was pro-communist. Mr. Hai was about 70 years old, while Mr. Law from yesterday was in his thirties. Both spoke fairly good English. They presented us with an amazing string of facts -- obviously after doing these spiels for so many times it comes automatically, just like singing a song.

We walked down a long entrance ramp past security and Mr. Hai paid our admission. The hike along the jungle trail was quite tourist friendly and we saw numerous displays along the way. The name Cu Chi is derived from a small bush -- about two meters tall. It produces small fruits like cherry pits and is poisonous. If eaten, death occurs in about an hour. These tunnels were dug by the North Vietnamese guerillas and Viet Cong soldiers and were originally quite small in diameter since most of the Vietnamese from that time were much smaller than those of today. Soldiers even had to crawl on their stomachs through many of the tunnels. At one entrance, we were shown how the soldiers would go down the hole, then pull the camouflaged lid over the entrance. Some of the entrances and tunnels have been widened for tourists and we bravely entered and made our way through the darkness to a far-off exit in a stooped position. The tunnels now even have panic exits for those who become claustrophobic.

As seen in the accompanying diagram the tunnels were on many levels with hollowed-out caverns. Soldiers, and even entire families, lived in this darkness for years. Newborn babies were quickly taken away to the more remote northern areas, as they posed a security risk. Offensives were planned in war "rooms," there were hospital areas, storage cavities, sleeping dorms, and bomb making rooms -- where unexploded American ordnance was carefully opened and the explosives recycled into land mines and smaller explosives. Clay excavated from the tunnels was dumped in existing bomb craters to avoid detection. Cooking was done mainly in the early morning hours when smoke would blend in with the jungle mist and fog. Observation, ventilation and smoke outlets were hidden in rock and ant mounds. Smoke was piped via hollowed bamboo some distance from the actual tunnels. Air, food and water were scarce and the tunnels were infested with ants, poisonous centipedes, scorpions, spiders and vermin. Fresh water was drawn from wells dug from the lower level tunnels. 

Click for larger full-screen images


Our entertaining local guide: Mr. Hai Phat Manh


Entrance through security and along the jungle trail


Method of using the camouflaged entrance to the tunnel.
Evidence of footprints had to be brushed away . . .
Often sandles were worn backwards to disguise the spoor.
.


Tourist entrance to the tunnel -- somewhat widened.


Mr. Hai points out disguised ventilation and smoke vents in ant mounds and rocks


Bomb crater where excavation clay from the tunnels was once dumped.


Display dugouts replicating underground activities:
Sleeping ~ Bomb and Weapons Making ~ Crafting Spikes for Traps ~ Hospital

 

See more photos in the Annex pages

CU CHI CONTENTS

1. Tunnels ~ 2. Weapons ~ 3. Displays ~ 4. Annex I ~ 5. Annex II


TO MAIN INDOCHINA PAGE

TO VIETNAM CONTENTS

Copyright 2015
Bill and Sue-On Hillman
hillmans@wcgwave.ca