Vietnam: Cu Chi Tunnels

3 Apr

Towards the end of my trip to Vietnam, I joined a group tour of Saigon and Cambodia.  On our last day in Vietnam, the group headed about 70km North West from Ho Chi Minh City to the Cu Chi tunnels.  The Cu Chi tunnels are an underground network of tunnels built in the 1940s when the Vietnamese fought the Japanese during World War II and the French afterward.  They were used during the Vietnamese War (or the Americans War as the Vietnamese call it).

Tunnel structure (Source: bbc.co.uk)

Tunnel structure (Source: bbc.co.uk)

At its peak, the tunnel network covered up to roughly 250km from the Saigon river to the Cambodian border. The tunnels are usually built on three (or sometimes four) levels (see diagram above).
Level 1, the level closest to the top, is the entry level and was used by snipers, who would pop up and shoot at “the enemy” and then disappear far down into the tunnels.

Now you see him......

Now you see him……

Now you don't.....

Now you don’t…..

Level 2 is for living and cooking and Level 3 had several meeting rooms, hospitals and even theatres. It was possible to build these tunnels because the earth in this area is very hard (reddish clay, very hard due to the presence of iron oxide) giving a stable structure.
The tunnels were of significant strategic importance as they crossed the main land and river routes, allowing interception of American supply routes.
The tunnels were shallow and narrow and, apparently during the “American / Vietnamese” war, Mexican soldiers were tasked with entering the tunnels because they were the only ones that could fit. However, if soldiers managed to get inside, they were met with several different styles of booby trap to ensure that if you managed to escape one, the others would surely finish you off. The booby traps were nasty and included planks of swinging nails, collapsing trap doors with foot-long spikes.

Watch your step!

Watch your step!

The floor trap collapses, trapping the leg with spikes

The floor trap collapses, trapping the leg with spikes

A basic floor trap

A basic floor trap

Biting Jaws

Biting Jaws

Easy in, not so easy out

Easy in, not so easy out

The spikes themselves had barbed endings ensuring that they created more damage on the way out than on the way in. Frustrated with their ability to penetrate the tunnels, American troops resorted to bombing. As a result, Cu Chi is the most bombed, shelled, gassed and exfoliated area in the history of war.
On the third / fourth levels of the tunnels, there were workshops where un-exploded American bombs, seized by Vietnamese soldiers, were broken apart and re-constructed into several smaller scatter bombs and re-used. Shoes were made from truck tyres and so on.

Vietnamese "soldiers" cutting unexploded bombs to extract the explosives....

Vietnamese “soldiers” cutting unexploded bombs to extract the explosives….

To create smaller "scatter"  bombs

To create smaller “scatter” bombs

DSC_0040
Our guide, who fought in the Vietnam war, spent 15 days hiding in the tunnels.  I could barely spend 15 seconds inside.

The tunnels had been widened to allow “visitors” to fit more comfortably. I entered from the living area, in which the coal pot was going.

Cooking took place in the tunnels

Cooking took place in the tunnels

It was hot outside and even hotter inside. The “smoke” from the cooking caused my eyes to burn and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. (Smoke from cooking underground was channeled and extracted, at night, from the tunnel in several areas resembling termite hills which were far from living areas.)

Termite Hill?

Termite Hill?

The tunnel ceilings are low so that most people cannot stand upright and must crouch in an uncomfortable position.

The widened tunnel is still  small and narrow.  The Vietnamese did not have torches either.

The widened tunnel is still small and narrow. The Vietnamese did not have torches either.

Although smaller visitors to the tunnels find walking through the tunnels not too difficult, it must be remembered that they have been enlarged. Moving through the tunnels would have been a pretty nasty experience for even the smallest individuals.

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