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.