Scotsabroad's Weblog

January 19, 2013

Cu Chi Tunnels

Filed under: Holidays — scotsabroad @ 4:21 pm

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We ventured out of Ho Chi Minh on one occasion to visit the Ben Dinh underground tunnel complex in the Cu Chi district. Approximately 70 km from Saigon this area was a base for anti-American resistance. This  district is still referred to as the most heavily  bombed  and  chemically  poisoned  place on earth.

Are all bus tours the same? On the way, our tour bus made a strategic stop at a craft factory where people affected by (or as a consequence of) the bombing, fighting and poisoning, produce and sell a selection of things for tourist shops –  and to people on the buses heading to Ben Dinh. The place was mobbed. We walked through the factory to the large shop. Workers were glueing down tiny hand-cut pieces of duck egg, or mother of pearl, to build up mosaic pictures on lacquered boards.

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It looked like painstakingly slow work and it came as bit of a surprise to see the enormous amount of merchandise for sale in the shop. Being great Tintin fans we noticed a selection of recreated Herge book covers. We bought one for a million dong – a finished version of the ones above. It doesn’t matter that we saw them for sale in every tourist shop during the rest of our stay in Vietnam for vastly reduced prices. Shona bought a beautiful jewellery box with an inlaid dragonfly.

A t-shirt slogan in Da Nang airport read something like this: In the 1970s the United States was the richest country on the planet and had the most powerful military force on the surface of the earth… But, not under it.

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Over the years when Indochina was occupied by foreigners, the people of the Cu Chi district became experts at tunneling and surviving underground. They were the equivalent of the Gauls, resisting the invading Roman army. No magic potions, but an incredible determination to survive and resist the French and American forces – and the ability to appear and then disappear after inflicting damage. We started with a video of old footage showing some American Killer Heroes. We were then shown hidden entrances, gruesome booby-traps, burnt-out tanks, air holes using termite hills and bomb craters.

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Our guide locates a hidden door and shows us how the Viet Com disappeared into the forest floor. A section of the tunnel system has been enlarged to accommodate the larger size of foreigner. We still struggled through the 150 m section. The boys took it in their stride but I panicked about half way through and used one of the escape exits. Very claustrophobic.  Bizarrely, at the restaurant area you can fire a rifle or throw a grenade. We retire to a less noisy spot next to a bust of Ho Chi Minh himself.

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