Friday, March 19, 2010

A Visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels

Aimee is here!!!!
So this morning we set off bright and early to check out the network of tunnels in Cu Chi that the Viet Cong used to elude the American forces during the “American War.” Strategically, Cu Chi was very important during the war because it was right in between the end of the Ho Chi Minh Trail and Saigon.  It was the Viet Cong’s launching point for attacks on the capital city of southern Vietnam.
The Vietnamese communists actually started building their vast tunnel system in 1948 when they were still at war with the French. The network of tunnels covered an area of 100 square kilometers.  According to the documentary we watched during our visit, the Americans were dropping bombs on the area of Cu Chi like “a band of crazed devils.”
bombs that were dropped by the Americans on the Cu Chi area

The tunnels were up to 8 meters below the earth at some points.  Bunkers that were 3 meters below the ground served as kitchens, meeting rooms, hospitals, and living quarters for the Cu Chi people.
diorama of the tunnels

There was an escape route that led to the river and bamboo stakes that provided ventilation for the 20cm x 80 cm tunnels. They even built their own underground wells that extended 13 meters below the ground. It really is a testament to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the Vietnamese people.
Aimee crawling down into the tunnel

Although most of the tunnels were only a couple of feet tall and wide, the tunnels that we actually crawled inside were “king sized” especially for the tourists. Nonetheless, it was still pretty fun to crawl through and try to imagine what it was like to be down there during the war.
Nick in the tunnels

The “super-sized” tunnels were claustrophobic enough but I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be Rambo-crawling through these tiny, pitch-dark tunnels during a bombing attack - knowing that at any moment a bomb could collapse the tunnel and bury you alive.
In addition to building this vast tunnel network, the Cu Chi guerrillas laced the area with land mines and booby traps. The traps were mostly adaptations of traditional animal traps and they sure didn’t look like too much fun to get stuck in.
Scene depicting VC guerrillas sawing open an unexploded bomb to harvest the TNT for making land mines and grenades.
Our guide, Slim Jim, demonstrating how a booby trap works

Even though lots of people hate on the Cu Chi tunnels as “super touristy” and not authentic, I thought they were pretty cool and definitely a worthwhile thing to see while in Vietnam. Just like when we were in Tup Duc, I found myself saying “no wonder we lost” (and wondering what the hell we were doing here in the first place). But I also found myself sympathizing with the American soldiers who fought in Vietnam. I can’t imagine how terrifying it must have been to be surrounded by an invisible army out in a jungle littered with booby traps and land mines.
watch out for me!!

Our trip out to Cu Chi also included a stop at the “Holy See” which is the holiest temple in the uniquely Vietnamese religion of Cao Dai. Cao Dai (meaning High Temple) is a mixture of Buddhism, Catholicism, Taoism, and Confucianism and has 2 million followers here in Vietnam.
 the Holy See temple
the inside of the temple
the holy alter in the temple – a globe with the “holy eye”
A picture of the three saints of the Cao Dai religion: an ancient Vietnamese poet, Sun Yat Sen, the founder of the KMT nationalist party that fled from China to Taiwan after WWII, and the famous French poet Victor Hugo!

While we were there, we watched one of the 4 daily services. There was no preaching or anything like that (not while we were there) just some music, prayer, and singing.
worshipers in the temple

Nick and I were especially interested in checking it out because we both read a book called “The Girl in the Picture.” The book was is about the subject of the most famous picture from the Vietnam War (a young girl running naked from a napalm attack) who also happened to be a member of the Cao Di church. She talked a lot about this area and the Holy See in her book, so it was pretty cool to come and actually check it out in person.
All in all we had a fun and informative day! 

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