My Vietnamese friends have advised me to stick with green or white taxis and if possible to go with Visasun. So we arranged to have a Visasun minivan drive us to the tunnels (6 hours for 1,200,000 VND total). At 6:00 am half asleep, we all piled into the van along with our new Argentinian friends, Nicolas and Diego. It may seem a bit extreme to leave so early, but let me tell you it was worth it. When we were leaving the tunnels, busloads of tourists arrived and made the whole place just feel like a tourist trap. Our experience was greatly improved by the morning quiet and felt more authentic than otherwise.
Our tour guide is the son of a Vietcong soldier who fought in these very tunnels. He explained that during the day many of the soldiers would go back to the village and pretend that they were just farmers loyal to the South’s government, since the entire area was under its control. It is so hard to fathom that the Vietcong were able to have such a strong presence so incredibly close to Saigon. Knowing that the tunnel network was in the area the US bombed the region leaving nothing but charred earth above ground. This didn’t stop the VC. With the few resources that they had, the VC built deadly booby-traps with things as simple as folding chairs and window panes. They attacked patrolling American troops via well-hidden firing posts and when finished were able to instantly duck out of sight into the tunnel system. The tunnels were more than ammunition storage and a place from which to fight. They provided shelter from B 52 bombings, a place to sleep and eat, and even offered medical attention to the wounded in the “hospital ward”. It was possible for people to remain in the tunnels for an extended period greatly due to the presence of several wells and kitchens with ingenious air vents that allowed for cooking without emitting obvious signs of life below. The Cu Chi Tunnels are much smaller than those in Vinh Moc and thus were much more fighting oriented, but nonetheless well equipped.
We were shown the well hidden entrances to the tunnels (some were even under water), the large assortment of booby-traps, how landmines were created out of scraps of American bombs (many lost their appendages or lives in the process of learning how to do this), and mannequin VC soldiers. I found the shoes they wore to be really interesting. Their sandals were made out of used tires. They wore them “backwards”, so that American troops would follow their footprints either the wrong direction or into booby-traps. We were also shown how the tunnels’ ventilation system worked and were really impressed to see how the smoke of a cooking fire was made to look like morning mist. The tour guide explained that to hide the ventilation holes the VC would take fallen American soldiers uniforms and rub them all over the holes in order to throw off the scent of the search hounds. We were then given a traditional meal of the VC soldiers of casaba and green tea. It was delicious, yet hard to imagine eating it for every meal.
I have to say that the visit definitely gave me a strong respect for the soldiers and villagers fighting and living in the tunnels. They quickly learned how to work with basically no resources except what little they were delivered from the north via the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Some fought for the communistic ideal, but many fought to preserve their people and country from yet another imperialistic power. Regardless of your political views, a visit to the tunnels will show you that life was hard for both sides and both sides suffered greatly.
We continued the day by visiting the War Remnants Museum and going to the AO acrobatic show. The museum had a nice display of photo journalism from the war, but definitely had a strong leaning towards the victors. This is expected, but some of the language used was too propagandist for my liking. I highly recommend the AO show. It ended up costing around 24 USD and was worth the money. A troop of acrobats give an atheistically pleasing representation of Vietnamese culture over the years with the use of extremely basic props. The beautiful opera house was a wonderful end to our day.