A lot of tourism in Vietnam focuses on the Vietnam war, it’s hard to get away from and you are constantly reminded of it. Here, in Cu Chi, you get to see a little more of the VietCong lifestyle and be subjected to the propaganda machine in full flow.
First the Video
We start off the tour walking through a wide tunnel before entering the compound. There doesn’t appear to be a reason for the tunnel so one can only assume it’s to try and put you in the mind-set of tunnel life. We’re all then herded into the TV room to watch a movie from when the war was actually on. It’s actually ridiculous and I couldn’t help but chortle! The sentences they use and the way they try to describe the peoples is blatantly a lie, but no one seems to mind…
“This is xxxx, she was a meek and mild child until the Americans killed her family. She picked up a gun and defended her family. Now she has the American Killer Award for killing 14 American GI’s”
“This is yyyy, he has the American Killer Award for killing 19 American GI’s”
“This is the calm and serene area of Cu Chi where villagers grow fruit and vegetables and live a simple life, but the Americans came and bombed. Now the resillent peoples farm at night when the American’s can’t see”
These are paraphrases as I can’t remember them exactly, but you get the jist. They continued as well and they were all in this vein celebrating those that killed the Americans. Others were lapping it up, where as Lisa and I were just giggling away (she kept thumping me for laughing too loudly).
Next, the demonstrations
The first demonstration we saw was how the VietCong entered into their tunnels and the size of the opening. It was tight and whilst as I’d have loved to try and get that typical picture, there was no way I’d get in, and even less chance of getting back out! Loads of people did try though, some even entering through a different opening and crawling around in the dark for a while!
We then were shown the different types of pit that where put all over the place to maim the enemy and I couldn’t get over the glee in the guides face as he described just how the enemy was injured. He repeatedly explained each one, showed the mechanisms and how this spike would rip into your leg here, this one would swing up and hit you in the crotch… Everyone around was clicking away taking pictures and yet it just felt wrong – the presentation was just odd.
The next area was a sunken room where they made their weapons and they had loads of mannequins sitting around working on various aspects of production. After explaining he switched them all on and it was funny to watch everyone dash about taking pictures of the “realistic” weapon production.
So, fancy firing a gun?
I have to admit, I’m intrigued by guns. Not what they actually do, but more how they do it. They have relatively simple mechanisms capable of producing so much force and they easily demonstrate Einstein’s third law. Of course then you have the calculations needed to hit a target at distance and the physics/mechanics of the bullet projection. For me, the gun wouldn’t provide a feeling of power and if I thought about what the weapon side of things I’d quickly loose interest. It is safe to say therefore that I was interested in firing a gun in a safe environment.
Here at the Cu Chi Tunnels they offer the opportunity for at least $1 per bullet and given the tourist attraction and the attitude of the people firing the weapons and the staff I declined – this wasn’t what I’m interested in. I didn’t want to be a “hero”, or “feel like Rambo” (wait, wasn’t he from the Vietnam war infamous for killing the VietCong?!?). I therefore declined the opportunity, eating an ice-cream whilst the sounds of AK47 and M60’s rattled behind me.
It was all rather surreal.
Down down, deeper and down
I’m claustrophobic. I panic easily when in a situation where my 6ft (182cm) frame doesn’t fit comfortably and have often ended up covered in sweat and feeling sick. My worst to date was climbing the Basilica of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. Here, I was entering a tunnel voluntarily but since I’ve been learning how to cope with fear and remaining calm I was confident I’d be fine.
I went first quickly followed by Lisa – we were the first into the tunnels as I didn’t want to get stuck behind someone who had freaked out. I crouched down, my knees next to my chin and shuffled inside. I found a rhythm quickly where I walked along like a penguin shuffling along first past the 20m exit, then the 40m, then 60m… This as going well. We climbed down the little trap door into the next level and shuffled along. We climbed back up and past the 80m exit. Things were going well, then calmly, I simply said “nope, I can’t go down there”.
Ahead of me was a downwards slope which would have seen me siding down on my back unsighted. I couldn’t have rolled over inside the tunnel, I have to do a reverse worm to continue and I knew that is where I’d panic. I therefore decided to backtrack the 5m to the last exit, but couldn’t turn around hence had to this weird crawl backwards. The guide was there at the exit refusing to let me out saying “you’ve come this far, keep going” but I still hesitated. Lisa in the end went offering to scout out the bit after the compression and seconds later called back to say the tunnel widened to the same size as before after a couple of metres.
Dang it, if a Girl had done it, I had to. The weird shuffle on my backside commenced and then I resumed my penguin stance and continued the last 15m climbing out into the hospital room and then outside.
People who had exitted the tunnels early were all there saying hot it was inside and that they were sweaty from walking the first 20m – they looked at me dripping away and I shrugged pointing out “I’m not sweaty from the heat, this is fear, I was s*****g myself”. They all grinned suddenly realising I was the one prepared to put into words what they were thinking!
One final thought
The Cu Chi Tunnels are worth a visit, but as with every other exhibit in Vietnam regarding the war you need to enter with a cynical mind and accept that rampant Propaganda will be forced upon you. You need to accept that history is always told by the victors and here you are finding out about it from the obviously biased Vietnamese.
I’m not saying that these things didn’t happen, nor that hearing it from the Vietnamese is any better than hearing from the American’s, but to simply “enjoy” the tunnels for what they are you need to have a thick skin and think cynically, otherwise, well, it’s just depressing!
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