Crawling the Cu Chi Tunnels

Sealing Up the Cu Chi Tunnel

One of the best day trips in Vietnam is the Cu Chi Tunnels. Though nearly one thousand visitors descend into the Cu Chi netherworld each day, during my visit, I didn’t sense the crowd.

“What a crazy bunch of devils,” the narrator on the video said of the US military. Here, one must remember that the Viet Cong are seen as the “heroes.”

After the video, the group I was visiting with took a jungle path that snaked around pool-sized bomb craters and stopped at a rectangular fence that came up to our hips. Our guide leaned against the fence and smashed his bamboo stick against a trap door. The leaves shot up and a rotating door spun, revealing spears sticking straight up toward the sky. Whether it was an American soldier or forgetful Vietnamese fighter, the victim would fall about two meters before being impaled by bamboo or metal spears. Bamboo traps and the ones made from salvaged metal stripped from unexploded ordinance or destroyed American tanks were responsible for ten percent of American casualties during the war.

Trap Door Cu Chi Tunnels

A bamboo spear pit at the Cu Chi Tunnels

Booby trap at Cu Chi

“Do you notice anything?” our guide asked when we stood in a circle in the heart of the jungle. The ground was covered in leaves. When we all shook our heads to let him know that we noticed nothing, he dusted leaves away with his feet and revealed a trap door a little bigger than a license plate. He lifted it up and asked for a volunteer. I stepped forward and slid into the hole. The rectangular rim, which was made out of wood so that the entrance to the tunnel would not change its shape over time, came up to my chest. I grabbed the trap door, covered it with a new blanket of leaves, and pulled it over my head. I faced a pitch black tunnel beneath the damp earth. Like most tunnels in Cu Chi, it was 70cm x 90cm and had been dug with hoes and bamboo baskets, a testament to the talent and determination of the people.

Cu Chi Tunnel Entrance

“Foreigners be careful. Nose,” our guide warned when I resurfaced. “Asian people no problem. We have flat nose.”

Then a girl with very large hips tried to force herself into the hole, but geometry fought against her.

“Don’t push,” the guide discouraged. “You can go in easy, but get you out, we need helicopter.”

There were tunnels made beside termite mounds, which provided good cover in a shoot out and ventilation below ground.

“Dogs don’t find tunnel. Viet Cong use pepper and chilies ground together. Also American soap and American uniforms from those KIA to throw off dogs.”

Then we dropped three meters below ground into a bunker. They had been designed for fighting, storage, hospitalization, and cooking. The last one included a chamber system to spread out the smoke, making the steam unobservable from the air. In the corner of the bunker was an easy-to-camouflage trap door that led deeper into the tunnel system, as deep as ten meters, where fighters had to venture in order to avoid massive airstrikes.

When the people of Cu Chi were above ground, they were wisely deceptive. They carried the flag loyal to the South by day, and the communist flag at night, making it impossible for American soldiers to know who was a peaceful local and who was Viet Cong. They wore their Ho Chi Minh sandals, made from car tires, backwards to make trackers think they ran in the other direction.

After we learned of their strategies, we traveled 100 meters underground, crawling through cramped tunnels with bad air, experiencing the discomforts and frustrations necessary to endure in war.

“Now you have chance to fire guns,” our guide informed us. All over Asia, next to killing fields in Cambodia and historic sites of battle in Vietnam are shooting ranges. It’s ridiculous, really. But my wife wanted to fire an M-60. So like a good husband, I popped off a few rounds with her.

Firing an M60 at the Cu Chi Tunnels

Getting to the Cu Chi Tunnels

I went with TNK Travel. Our trip only cost $5/person (not including the price of admission: $4.50 each). The five bucks covered transport and we had an exceptional guide. There are many companies that offer a similar service. But the best tours really just depend on the guide’s knowledge and accent. Here’s a picture of our guide. Find this guy and you’ll learn plenty about the tunnel complex.

Our Cu Chi Guide

Posted on by Noah Lederman in Asia, Somewhere

One Response to Crawling the Cu Chi Tunnels

  1. Lester

    Sadly recalled is how tunnels harbored Viet Cong, who would appear from seemingly nowhere, to kill and maim American draftees and volunteers. Also recalled are news clips of flamethrower equipped G.I.’s toasting tunnel occupants. What a waste! This war was described in a protest song as an effort to “. . .help save Vietnam from the Vietnamese.” It seems that the war cry today should be “Save money making vestiges of war from fat tourists.”

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