Cu Chi

Introducing Cu Chi

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During the American War, the villages around the district of Cu Chi supported a substantial Viet Cong (VC) presence. Faced with American attempts to neutralize them, they quite literally dug themselves out of harm’s way, and the legendary Cu Chi tunnels were the result. Today, tourists can visit a short stretch of the tunnels, drop to their hands and knees and squeeze underground for an insight into life as a tunnel-dwelling resistance fighter. Some sections of the tunnels have been widened to allow passage for the fuller frame of Westerners but it’s still a dark, sweaty, claustrophobic experience, and not one you should rush into unless you’re confident you won’t suffer a subterranean freak-out.

There are two sites where the tunnels can be seen – Ben Dinh and, 15km beyond, Ben Duoc, though most foreigners get taken to Ben Dinh.

Begun by the Viet Minh in 1948, these tunnels were later expanded by the Viet Cong and used for storage and refuge. Between 1960 and 1970, 200 km of tunnels were built, containing sleeping quarters, hospitals and schools. The original tunnels were only 80 cm high and the width of the tunnel entry at ground level was 22 cm by 30 cm. The tunnels are too narrow for most Westerners, but a short section of the 250 km of tunnels has been especially widened to allow tourists to share the experience.

Cu Chi was one of the most fervently Communist districts around Ho Chi Minh City and the tunnels were used as the base from which the VC mounted the operations of the Tet Offensive in 1968. When the Americans first discovered this underground network on their doorstep (Dong Du GI base was nearby) they would simply pump CS gas down the tunnel openings and then set explosives. They also pumped river water in and used German Shepherd dogs to smell out air holes, although the VC smothered the holes in garlic to deter the dogs. Around 40,000 VC were killed in the tunnels in 10 years but, later, realizing the tunnels might also yield valuable intelligence, the Americans sent volunteer 'tunnel rats' into the earth to capture prisoners.

Cu Chi district initially was a free-fire zone and was assaulted using the full battery of ecological warfare. Defoliants were sprayed and 20-tonne Rome Ploughs carved up the area in the search for tunnels. It was said that even a crow flying over Cu Chi district had to carry its own lunch. Later it was carpet bombed: 50,000 tonnes were dropped on the area in 10 years evidenced by the B-52 bomb craters.

At Cu Chi 1 (Ben Dinh) visitors are shown a somewhat antique but interesting film of the tunnels during the war before being taken into the tunnels themselves and seeing some of the rooms and the booby traps the GIs encountered. You will also be invited to a firing range to try your hand with ancient AK47s at a buck a bang. Cu Chi 2 (Ben Duoc), has a temple, built in 1993, devoted to the memory of the dead and visited by those whose relatives are still 'missing'. The sculpture behind the temple is of a massive tear cradled in the hands of a mother.

See

At each site (Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc) a well defined walking track loops around the area, with things to see spaced at regular intervals, including examples of how people lived and what they ate. There are sample sections of tunnel which visitors can crawl through (not recommended for the claustrophobic), examples of traps used during the war, and the remnants of bomb craters. Warning: Many travellers put themselves into small ventilation holes for phototaking. It is great fun but consider your body before getting in as some had difficulties getting out and had to crawl to the exit point.

Do

Fire Weapons - choose between the AK-47, M16,.30 Caliber Machine Gun, M60, M1 carbine, M1 Garand and Russian SKS. Great fun, if you can put from your mind what these "toys" were really designed for! As of January 2014, firing an AK-47 costs 35,000 dong per bullet and you have to buy at least 10 which you can share with somene else.You do not have to go the Cu Chi tunnels in order to fire a gun, the range and tunnels are separate. It is located outside the Cu Chi complex, by walking it is 1.5 miles or take a motorbike.

Buy

There are numerous souvenir shops at the end of the walking track. Given the location there is some focus on war memorabilia, as well as the traditional Vietnamese souvenirs found elsewhere.

Eat

There are a number of stalls selling food and drinks near the entrance. Mid-way around the walking track is a kiosk/restaurant selling drinks and food and ice-cream at reasonable prices, and at the end of your tour there are samples of traditional boiled tapioca to try.

Sleep

Mekong Ecolodge, Quarter 5, An Hoa Hamlet, Dong Hoa Hiep, Tel. +84 933 449 391 (info@mekonglodge.com), [2]. US$65.  edit
You can also rent a room in any hotels in Ho Chi Minh city stay and visit Cu Chi tunnel in one day. After that you can return to the downtown and enjoy your night in the lively atmosphere.

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