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The Underground Warfare: Vietnam’s Cu Chi Tunnels

The Underground Warfare: Vietnam's Cu Chi Tunnels

When somebody asked me if the Cu Chi tunnels worth visiting while staying in Saigon  – definitely yes! It is one of the best day trip options from Ho Chi Minh City, and makes for a great history lesson in combination with a visit to the War Remnants Museum.

Well, for non-Vietnamese, chances are good that our general impressions of Vietnam are influenced by the Vietnam War. After all, it was one of the biggest conflicts of the 20th century, having had a profound impact on not just Vietnam but also the United States and other countries. As a result, those who are interested in visiting Vietnam like me might want to check out some of the sites that are connected to the Vietnam War, with an excellent example being the Cu Chi Tunnels.

Visiting Rubber Tree Farm on the Way to Cu Chi Tunnels

On the way to Cu Chi tunnels there is a chance to visit rubber tree farm. Did you know that natural rubber is made from a runny, milky white liquid called latex that oozes from certain plants when you cut into them?

In the wild, the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) will grow to heights of 100 to 130 feet, and can live up to 100 years. The trees need to grow and mature before they can be useful however, needing nurtured and grown for seven years before they can be carved for rubber. The trees are carved from the bottom up, allowing access to a white liquid-like substance, similar to sap in other trees. Instead of sap though, it’s rubber! The trees on this farm usually live for about 30 years before they can no longer be useful, in which case they are then cut down and sold for lumber. A new tree will replace the old, and the process starts all over again. It’s actually quite remarkable if you ask me, and I’m really grateful to have seen it for myself!

The Underground Warfare: Vietnam's Cu Chi TunnelsThe trees are carved from the bottom up, allowing access to a white liquid-like substance
The Underground Warfare: Vietnam's Cu Chi TunnelsThis milky white liquid called latex

Interesting facts: First discovered by the ancient Olmec, Maya and Aztec, the latex sap from the rubber tree was once used to make rubber balls, to waterproof clothes and even to form homemade shoes. Today, the latex sap from the rubber tree is still used in the modern processing of rubber and is often a substantial source of income for indigenous populations.

Why Should You Consider Visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels?

In short, the Cu Chi Tunnels are a small section of the tunnels that run throughout much of Vietnam. Said tunnels saw extensive use by the Viet Cong in the Vietnam War, serving as a combination of living quarters, concealed hideouts, transportation routes, and even medical facilities. Something that was necessary because American forces possessed overwhelming superiority in open combat, meaning that the Viet Cong had no choice but to hide if they wanted to remain capable of fighting. (read more)

Unsurprisingly, the Viet Cong had to put up with horrible conditions in the tunnels, which weren’t exactly built with luxury in mind. In part, their problems came from the perpetual shortage of not just food and water but also air in their underground surroundings. However, it should also be noted that the tunnels were infested with centipedes, mosquitoes, and a wide range of other vermin, which is why huge percentages of the Viet Cong were infested with intestinal parasites. Combined with the fact that stretches of the tunnels could be bombarded for days and days by American firepower, I think it is clear that the conditions of the tunnels said much about the resolve of the Viet Cong.

The Underground Warfare: Vietnam's Cu Chi TunnelsSome entrances are really very small, offering no room to turn around at all

With that said, the tunnels weren’t exactly a pleasant experience for the American forces either. Close-quarters combat has always been horrible, but tunnel fighting has a well-earned reputation for being a special kind of hell. Furthermore, it should be noted that the Viet Cong put considerable effort into protecting the tunnels from American forces, as shown by the use of trap doors, punji stakes, explosive booby traps, and specialized tunnel designs that reduced the effect of American efforts to flush out their occupants with gas, water, and even hot tar.

The Underground Warfare: Vietnam's Cu Chi TunnelsA booby trap with bamboo spikes

Travel Tips:There are different levels of tunnels, starting with shorter stretches which you can walk through bent over, and gradually progressing to longer and narrower tunnels which you have to crawl through parts on all fours. If you are claustrophobic, then I highly advise not going through the tunnels.

The Underground Warfare: Vietnam's Cu Chi TunnelsEntrance into tunnel adapted fro tourists
The Underground Warfare: Vietnam's Cu Chi TunnelsAfter crawling inside of the tunnels

The Underground Warfare: Vietnam's Cu Chi TunnelsThere is a shooting range at the Cu Chi tunnel complex, where you can pick your weapon of choice and fire off a few rounds. I tried M-16 and my wife chose an AK-47.

Travel Tips:You must be in a good health condition and at least 16 years old to be able to partake in this activity (shooting). The bullets are sold in sets, and each set has around 10 bullets of the same type. Enjoy the experience of the firing range but make sure you are prepared for the loudness of the guns.

Summed up, those who are like me in that they want to get a better understanding of the Vietnam War should check out the Cu Chi Tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City. There, they can crawl through the tunnels, sample the sort of food eaten by the Viet Cong, and otherwise see the infrastructure that proved so influential in the Vietnam War. I would not go as far as to say that it will help interested individuals understand the conflict in full because nothing can do that besides actual participation, but it should nonetheless provide interested individuals with that much more insight into the conflict.

The Underground Warfare: Vietnam's Cu Chi TunnelsDefused ordnance on display at War Remnants Museum
The Underground Warfare: Vietnam's Cu Chi TunnelsCages where Vietnamese war prisoners were kept. War Remnants Museum

Travel Tips:While visiting Cu Chi Tunnels better to wear an item of clothing that you do not mind getting dirty as you will be going underground, also a comfortable pair of sneakers is a good idea as you will be walking around quite a lot onsite. Oh, yes, don’t forget to take insect repellent with you.

Photography © Gurcan Sarisoy

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