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Visit to the tunnels of Cu Chi

VIETNAM | Friday, 9 April 2010 | Views [306]

Entrance to a tunnel at Cu Chi

Entrance to a tunnel at Cu Chi

Some people come to Vietnam for the warm weather and beaches. Others come for the hand-tailored clothes that can be purchased for very little money. As a history buff, I was most excited about my trip to the tunnels of Cu Chi. A coworker at Gateway had told me about them many years back and they had captured my interest as being a subject of human endurance, survival and warfare. I was able to book a tour that would get me to the tunnels and back for $4 and would last from 8:00am to about 2:00pm. I also had to pay the $4 admission fee. The tunnels weren’t too far from the center of town and I wondered why it was going to take six hours.

They told me to be waiting at 7:45, but I was there at 7:30. My first night in town, I had purchased a copy of The Tunnels of Cu Chi from a roaming book salesperson. (That’s gotta be tough on the lower back) I was happily reading when the tour bus came for me at 8:10am. I climbed into a van that smelled like corn chips. I was one of five, but after a few more stops, the van was full. I found out why they blocked six hours for the trip. After sitting in Saigon traffic for an hour, they take you to a government-funded arts and crafts shop that employs people who suffer from Agent-Orange poisoning. I wasn’t pressured, but the tour guide recognized me as American, and he wanted to talk about Obama and what he was going to do about all of the Agent Orange victims. He had introduced himself as Joey, like the baby kangaroo, and he told me that he had six brothers and sisters living in the U.S.. A call on his mobile phone came to my rescue. I didn’t think I would be so happy to see the Frito van, but I was. Joey actually turned out to be okay. On the trip out he told us all sorts of things that would have been frowned upon if he had gone to tour-guide school. For example, in Vietnam is okay to say “merci”, but not “merci beaucoup”. Apparently in Vietnamese “beaucoup” means…..servicing a man orally. He went on and on about that. His candor had me laughing so hard out of shock and incredulity that I felt like I got my $4 worth right there.

It was 10:30 by the time we bought our tickets. We were rushed through the tour, although we were all invited to crawl through one of the actual tunnels that hadn’t been enlarged for westerner’s use. I declined this offer. While the others went through Joey got a kick out of lighting firecrackers so he could watch us jump when they popped. Joey got a lot of cheap thrills out of his job. We went through a section that had examples of traps that the VC would set for the American G.I.s, and he loved to describe what happened to the soldiers when they fell into them. There was also a section that had mechanized soldiers building weapons out of what the Americans left behind. Bombs that had not detonated when they hit the ground were cut open for the explosive material. Pieces of metal from exploded tanks were melted to be used in different capacities. The Americans wanted the Vietnam war to be fought from the air, but the VC took it underground. Joey turned on the power and the mechanized soldiers sprang into action. For some reason, I thought of the big mechanized puppets at Chuck-E-Cheese. The song, ….they say it’s your birthday……it’s my birthday too came into my head and I had a hard time keeping a straight face.

We got to crawl through an enlarged section of tunnel. I took my backpack with me because I didn’t trust anyone else with it. This made things 10 times more difficult. I had a hard time not panicking in the dark, but I made it through. Only, I dropped my water bottle. I couldn’t believe that people actually lived down there for years. By the end of the war, there were nearly 200 miles of tunnels. There were also underground hospitals, shelters, munitions factories, kitchens, and weapons holds.

They had a firing range where you could fire an M-16 or an AK-47 if you purchased the 10 rounds of ammunition (live rounds) at a price of 260,000 Dong (USD14). I was tempted. I was still deliberating when Joey called us to go on to the next section. He liked to hustle us through anywhere that they were selling souvenirs and I thought that to be rather odd. On the way back to the hotel, I discovered why he was so hasty. He had a contract with a souvenir shop in Saigon. He would bring in the tourists and the saleswomen would hard sell tea, dried fruit, and coffee. I should have seen it coming. It’s pretty diabolical when you consider that it was close to 2:00pm and none of us had eaten lunch yet. All of that aside, it was a good experience and I would recommend the tour to anyone. Just pack a little bit of food so that you don’t buy overpriced tidbits at the souvenir shop.

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