Cu Chi. If you’re any kind of aware of the war in Vietnam in the 1960s, you’ve heard about Cu Chi, a vast network of tunnels and bunkers in the hills north of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), where the North Vietnamese regular army, and the Viet Cong hid out. You can read all about the place here. If you want to see a Communist video about the tunnels and the war, rather than all the tourist videos, here’s your link. I had heard about them for a long time, and have been deeply curious how this placed worked. So I came up on a day tour out of HCMC, and wandered around. This is what I found – in pictures!
This was creepy when I walked up to it! Mannequins of NVA and VC soldiers reenacting what they did when they weren’t being bombed by B52s. They lived on very little food, maybe a couple rice balls and tapioca (see below). I still don’t know how the Vietnamese people, even today, can wear jackets when I’m sweating like a mafia accountant accused of embezzling. I don’t notice them sweating. Very odd. It makes a HUGE difference being in the shade though, and a when a little breeze comes up…you feel like life is worth living again.
Some of the tunnels were very deep, maybe 30 meters down, and of course they needed air down there. So throughout the system they’d dig air holes in random places. Sometimes in natural mounds like this, sometimes in mounds they made. For the most part, the holes faced east, where the wind usually came from (the South China Sea). But during an attack by the US or S. Vietnamese forces, they would step away from these holes because gas would get blown into them by the soldiers.
One of the tactics the NVA and VC would use would be to shoot at enemy soldiers on the ground, and then disappear into these trap doors, quickly covering themselves up with camouflaged lids. They demonstrated, and even though I saw where the hold had been, I couldn’t see it once the lids were in place. Sometimes they’d pop out, shoot, grab whatever weapons they could, and then jump back down in the hole. I can’t imagine how frustrating and terrifying it was.
This, I was told, is what the Cu Chi soldiers lived on. The food on the left is ground peanuts with spices, and on the left is tapioca, a kind of root. I ate some of both, and they tasted good! But 3 times a day for months on end? Still, it kept them alive, if not in great health.
I’m not sure they wore Vans, and I know for a fact that they’ve embiggened the tunnels so fat Westerners can get through, but this is what a tunnel looks like with someone in it. I knew it would be a tight fight, and not so comfortable to walked hunched over like a drunk looking for his keys. But I thought underground would be cooler. Not so much. The sweating became embarrassingly torrential in this thing. Again, how they lived in here for months, or in some cases years, I can’t imagine.
At some point, the US decided they needed to bomb the bejesus out of this place. The NVA and VC used it to stage attacks on South Vietnam targets, and that was intolerable. So they sent out B52s to drop tons of bombs. Here are a few that did NOT explode. These unexploded bombs turned out to be excellent resources for the NVA and VC to use to make their own weapons – mostly booby traps, but other kinds of more offensive weapons.
This is one of dozens of bomb craters I saw still here, made by bombs dropped from B52s In fact, the little sign on the tree says so. It turns out that these craters eventually fill with water, and locals – after the war I think – would use them as fish ponds to grow food.
This tank was blown up by a mine, and stayed here. So there were plenty of ground battles on Cu Chi as well as bombings.
Because of those ground battles, the NVA and VC put in lots and lots of booby traps. They weren’t designed to kill, just maim on the theory that they didn’t need to kill to take out US soldiers. So if you were a US soldier, or S. Vietnamese soldier, in addition to VC soldiers popping out of trap doors and shooting at you and then disappearing, you’d have all sorts of these contraptions around just waiting to skewer you with bamboo punji sticks.
Here’s one example, called a Bear Trap. It had a swinging door that you couldn’t see, because it was covered with leaves and stuff. You step on one edge of it and…..
This is what you fell into. Again, hundreds, if not thousands of these things around.
Another thing that continues to be deadly are land mines. Still around, and still blowing people up. No one knows where they are, exactly, other than “over there”, and there haven’t been enough resources to clear all of them. This is more of a problem, I learned, in Cambodia, than in Vietnam. But still a legacy of the war here.
That’s it for Cu Chi. While I marveled at the ingenuity, industry and deprivation of the inhabitants, I came away with an even deeper sense of how stupid- and utterly inhuman – wars are. (Heavy sigh….)