TBT: Crawling through the Cu Chi Tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

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There are some experiences you can have when you’re travelling that really get to you. That get deep down within you and make you think. This was one of those.

Before sibling and I visiting Vietnam this time last year, I ordered a copy of Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam: A History; I’ve always been a history nerd and found military history the next most interesting after Egyptian history in high school. I knew that Vietnam’s history was quite multifaceted and complicated, and I was interested to learn more, so I devoured the almost 800 page volume in the weeks leading up to the trip; by the time we arrived at the Cu Chi Tunnels, I was pretty keen to finally see if all first hand.

History crash course (because long winded blog posts can get a bit boring): The Cu Chi Tunnels are an absolutely enormous network of interconnecting tunnels underground in the Cu Chi region of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). The tunnels were used by the Viet Cong soldiers in the 1960s as communication and supply routes, as well as hiding spots and living quarters, which the area above ground was being bombed and razed.

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These tunnels are beyond tiny, with our bigger Western frames crawling through hunched ad on all fours for the most part barely getting through. And it was pitch black darkness, too – if it weren’t for the few small lights that had been installed for the sake of us tourists, we’d have been in big trouble. Oh, and those smiles? Nervous ones – we’d just been swooped by a bat. Yup. There are bats in there, FYI.

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The area around and above the tunnels has also been turned into a tourist/educational site, which typical scenes re-created so that visitors can get an inkling of an idea of how it really was…

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An unexpected highlight was getting the change to shoot an M16 machine gun – I’m not at all one for firearm-related violence, I’m horrified by the lax gun control laws in America, and am incredibly grateful to live in a country where you can’t just pick up ammo at your local K-Mart. However, being able to pick up one of these pieces and fire away in the controlled environment of the shooting range was an absolutely unreal experience!

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Another highlight was ending the trip with our tour guide over green tea and a simple snack of boiled taro with the most incredible salt/sugar/crushed peanut side. He told us that this was common for Vietnamese people to eat in war time, as it was the only thing they could really afford – he actually didn’t eat much, nor did he enjoy it, because he said he ate so much of it growing up and it didn’t bring back the best memories…

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I know a lot of people give this a miss when they visit Ho Chi Minh City because they’re there to holiday and relax and have fun, not to be depressed and educated about shit that happened in the previous generation. But it’s really worth the visit. Especially if you get a great guide, like we did, who can teach you so much along the way. I’m also really glad I read that book beforehand now – knowledge is power, and being able to see if first hand after reading about it, learning about the past and seeing the ramifications of the decisions and mistakes that the world made that brought Vietnam to that point should empower this generation to not make the same mistakes. Maybe more people should be reading about history and visiting “depressing” sites like this when they travel…

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8 thoughts on “TBT: Crawling through the Cu Chi Tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

  1. You know, I’m not really one for history, but when I went to Munich — with no plans of delving into its Nazi history — I was able to join a walking tour and I was surprised how fascinating history actually is, especially when you’re in the exact place where it happened. I think it’s the same thing with the Cu Chi Tunnels. So much happened, so many lives and deaths involved. You’re right it deserves more attention and appreciation.

  2. We missed out on doing the tunnels when we were in HCMC and this post makes me wish we had prioritised it. We did go to the war museum which was pretty harrowing, but the tunnels would have hit home in quite another way I think. Great post Jess!

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