Cu Chi Tunnels: Vietnam’s Labyrinth of War

When I went on a one-week trip to Saigon, part of my itinerary was to get lost in its subterranean labyrinth which was not known to many people – the Cu Chi Tunnels. How can I possibly not include this in my trip when I knew very well how these underground tunnels played an important role to the Viet Cong’s resistance to the American forces during World War II. The tunnels maimed the growing American military effort which claimed so many lives. And for what cause? For a cause that is now ridiculously labeled as ‘complex’ by historical analysts due to the long span of involvement between aiding France to suppress the growing Vietminh revolution to the fall of Saigon in 1975.

I wanted to be there – to see for myself if this network of connecting underground tunnels were real, to experience (ever so slightly) how the soldiers and rebels of the revolution lived, and to understand how they remained undetected long enough.

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A Cu Chi Tunnels’ tour guide demonstrated how the Viet Cong soldiers hid themselves when American troops were nearby.

If you are not familiar with the area, then it will really be difficult to detect the tunnels. All entry paths were concealed and everything blended well with the environment, even air passages were masquerading like anthills! My amazement grew just thinking about how difficult life in the tunnels would have been for those in hiding. Food and water were surely scarce, and with that kind of air filtration system, I am certain that air was too. My mind made a list of all other worries – malaria, intestinal parasites, infected battle wounds, and infestation of ants, spiders, vermin, and centipedes.

Cu Chi Tunnels

The Cu Chi Tunnels

Once you entered the tunnels, it will truly live up to what it was labeled with which was ‘black echo.’ It was bleak, musty, and suffocating. We attempted to go through the whole stretch but failed. After passing the first exit, I begged the tour guide to point me to the next one because I was already having difficulty breathing. I do not think it was because of lack of oxygen, but it was more on the idea of crawling or groping your way in a tight, dark space and not knowing where it will end. I panicked, hence, could not breathe properly anymore. As soon as I had enough air in my lungs, I looked back at the tiny hole where I just crawled from and wondered how the bloody hell did people survive underground in those conditions?

The Cu Chi Tunnels were not just used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots, or communication and supply routes but according to the guide, they also served as makeshift first aid stations for the wounded, as food and weapon cellars, and as living quarters for displaced Vietnamese and Northern fighters looking for refuge. One can even see sketches of community activities happening in these cramped spaces. I was at awe.

It was truly amazing in its own way. Camouflaged, dangerous, and was a nuisance to the American forces. When the tunnels were finally detected, it was still a feat to search out and destroy. The tunnels were built for the body size of the locals and rigged with explosive booby traps or punji stake pits.

Cu Chi Tunnels 2

I have heard so many tourists discouraging others by saying that Cu Chi Tunnels was not worth a visit, further adding that there was not much good photos you can take there. I wanted to smack those people and wring their necks. You don’t go to the tunnels so you can take picturesque photos, you go to the tunnels to understand the history and maybe, relive the stories that the tunnel walls have told to many – both locals and foreigners. These people did not know the reason why these tunnels existed and that’s probably why they did not appreciate the trip.

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