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The Tunnels of Cu Chi

I read a book about these tunnels many years ago, and I ripped off the title. It was written by Tom Mangold and you can buy it at Amazon. So there, I really did not rip  it off.

Now I am going to rip off Wikipedia. I really did know all this stuff myself but I tend to get long winded. WP stuff will be in bold,ok?

The tunnels of Củ Chi are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Củ Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Củ Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and were the Viet Cong‘s base of operations for the Tết Offensive in 1968

This is as far as I was willing to go. I spent a half hour in some tunnels near the DMZ and my back ached for hours. Even though they have been widened and made a bit higher for tourists, they still left them just miserable enough to get the idea of what it was liketo be a freedom fighter.

American soldiers used the term “Black echo” to describe the conditions within the tunnels. For the Viet Cong, life in the tunnels was difficult. Air, food and water were scarce and the tunnels were infested with ants, poisonous centipedes, scorpions, spiders and vermin. Most of the time, guerrillas would spend the day in the tunnels working or resting and come out only at night to scavenge for supplies, tend their crops or engage the enemy in battle. Sometimes, during periods of heavy bombing or American troop movement, they would be forced to remain underground for many days at a time. Sickness was rampant among the people living in the tunnels, especially malaria, which was the second largest cause of death next to battle wounds. A captured Viet Cong report suggests that at any given time half of a PLAF unit had malaria and that “one-hundred percent had intestinal parasites of significance”.

Today the tunnels are a major tourist attraction. being about 90 minutes north of Saigon, oops  HCMC, they are besieged by tourists from everywhere mostly arriving in hordes on buses. We were lucky enough to be by ourselves and arrived before two buses of  Japanese.

The 75-mile (121 km)-long complex of tunnels at Củ Chi has been preserved by the government of Vietnam,[2] and turned into a war memorial park. The tunnels are a popular tourist attraction, and visitors are invited to crawl around in the safer parts of the tunnel system. Some tunnels have been made larger to accommodate the larger size of Western tourists, while low-power lights have been installed in several of them to make traveling through them easier and booby traps have been clearly marked. Underground conference rooms where campaigns such as the Tết Offensive were planned in 1968 have been restored, and visitors may enjoy a simple meal of food that Viet Cong fighters would have eaten.

Above-ground attractions include caged monkeys, vendors selling souvenirs, and a shooting range where visitors can fire a number of assault rifles, such as the M16 rifle or AK-47, as well as a light machine gun like the M60.

We did all the above except I never saw a caged monkey.

We were just standing around when all of a sudden "Charlie" popped up out of the ground! My fat gut could never have gotten through this hole in the ground

He walked over to join his comrades.

This is a demonstration of how the VC made footwear. If you are as old as me, especially if you lived in SoCal, you probably remember these sandals which some of us wore in some show of support for the VC. Besides, they were comfortable. Ours were made in Tijuana, but...

Remember now?

Oh yes, I did not forget to go to the firing range! Committed pacfist that I am, there was no way I was going to pass up a chance to fire an M16 and an AK47. Call it experiencing history.

"Take that commie"

"Take that imperialist war mongering running dog lackey of the imperialist forces"

Obviously I was not the only tourist yearning for a hands on history lesson. They charge US$1 a bullet for the experience, so I did not fire the M60 machine gun!

I policed my shells, and asked if I could keep one as a souvenir. No problem. However, I put it in my back pack and did not think about it again before I went through security at the airport. I was walking away when the guy who runs the xray machine noticed it. They yelled "Sir, Sir". I ignored them thinking it could not be me they want! Finally I went back to the inspection line and the smartly uniformed Vietnamese guard started saying "empty uchsch, emptu suhch". I had no idea wht he was saying besides empty so I dumped the contents of my backpack on his table. He grabbed this shell and said "empty bullet, no go." Well, of coursei I was dissaponted but more mad at myself for not packing it in my suitcase. However, when I got home I read another blogger who said he packed his in his suitcase, and he was paged to come to security, where they proceeded to go through his bag until they found the shell. He thinks Cu Chi souvenirs are illegal, I just think bullet casings are.

My wife and I bid farewell to the freedom fighters.

In all it’s touristy glory, the tunnels are a must see if you are in Vietnam and have any interest in contemporary history.

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My next post will be titled “Where Victor Hugo is a Saint.” And yes, it is also from VN.

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