Waking up at 5am this morning, Shelley and I left the hotel aboard our Minsk – hoping for quiet roads out of the City. No chance! There were thousands and thousands of scooters on the road, at times there were bikes coming at you from all directions (I kid you not!) Locals pointing and laughing at the white guy trying to look ‘cool’ on his Soviet made relic, billowing grey smoke behind him! Cars/buses/trucks hooting their horns – fully observing that well-known rule of the road – we’re bigger than you, you move!
It was bedlam though thankfully we made it to the tunnels in one piece though a little shaken!
The tunnels of Cu Chi are located 70km north-west of Ho Chi Minh City and was the Viet Cong’s base for operations during the Tet Offensive in 1968, plus numerous other battles and resistance. A vast, sprawling network of tunnels, some 200kms in total, all at differing levels; including fighting areas, hospitals, accommodation, kitchens and factories – it’s pretty impressive. As ever, the tour started with the obligatory ‘heads-up’ or propaganda piece – I enjoy this part the most as invariably there’s an American or four who get quite wound up hearing about the poorly equipped ‘peasant’ army taking the fight to US, and winning. Surely, they must know that any victor in battle will tell their side of the story?
Over the course of an hour or so you’re shown various stances with the most interesting being the ‘booby-traps’ piece – mostly primitive in their construction (before the War they were primarily used to kill tigers) though lethal and psychologically terrifying if operating in such areas, it was sobering and impressive at the same time. Also of interest was the ingenuity of the VC in making use of all the unexploded ordnance that was dropped on country, not only did they utilise the unexploded material, they also used the scrap metal, which they heated up and forged into barbed spikes which they then used in the above mentioned booby-traps. Other little things appealed; they recycled car/truck tyres to make sandals – interestingly the tread was always the opposite direction to give the impression to anyone tracking that they were walking in the opposite direction.
We also got to fire some weapons; we opted for the AK47 – weapon of choice for the Viet Cong – there was also several other weapons, mainly American M16 and M60s. Of course, I hit the target 5 times out of 5 – which is more than I hit whilst in the Corps (and more than my good mate Sooty!)
The tunnels themselves if truth be told, were a bit of an anti-climax – for starters they’d been made larger to accommodate the fuller figure of westerners (I assume they meant everyone else, not me!) and were only 100 or so metres long. Disappointingly, no booby traps! Though having ‘stuggled’ through little more than 100m of very wide tunnel, I was suprised at the amount of whinging from some of the group – ‘it’s claustrophobic,’ ‘it’s too hot,’ ‘crikey, it’s tighter than a gnats chuff…’ The VC sepnt months down there, suffering all of it – no wonder they kicked ass.
At the end of the tour you have the opportunity to purchase various souvenirs, the majority of which are GI Zippo Lighters – where ever you go in Vietnam, theres thousands of them, probably more lighters than there were Americans/VC combined. My mate, Tony T sums it up nicely:
Re tunnels, I bet it’s like the Berlin Wall, which would stretch twice around the world if you gathered up all the bits that have been sold to tourists – tunnels are probably the same – you’ll have had every post-war farmer out digging one while his missus is engraving original ‘air cav’ zippos, as used to torch our villages…
It’s been a great day out and pleased to have made our own way there on the bike.