Cu Chi Tunnels Near Ho Chi Minh City

The first time I went abroad was in the year 1995 when Kuberan was a consultant to UNDP in Vietnam. It was an experience extraordinaire and I would like to share it with you all in different postings in this site.

Vietnam is a beautiful country. The country is shaped like an ‘S’ curve, almost like Italy. The total length north to south is 1650 km and its width stretching from east to west is 600 km at the widest point in the north and 400 km in the south and just 50 km at the narrowest part in the middle. Hanoi is the capital city and has an incomparable combination of tradition, elegance and progress. Everything about the city fascinated me. But the Cu Chi Tunnels in the South was so different and exclusive that I felt it has to be given priority in my mention.
Da Nang Flower Market
A Typical Flower Market In The Morning

When we arrived at Ho Chi Minh City from Hanoi we felt that we had landed in a different country. While Hanoi was ancient and quaint this city was modern and well planned with broad roads and controlled traffic. The reunification hall or presidential palace museum has to be visited to study the war of independence.

The city was known as Saigon earlier and was the capital of South Vietnam before the union with North Vietnam. The struggle against Americans culminated here and the whole country is proud of the way the Americans were overcome in spite of their military might.

The Vietnamese were ruled by the French for over 100 years and then the Americans occupied the southern part with the help of local leaders. The people under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh had a long struggle against the Americans and managed to win the war. It is almost like David’s win over the giant Goliath. The photos of the Vietnamese tanks rolling into the American headquarters in Saigon inspired me to go through the whole history of Vietnamese independence struggle.

One Of The Tanks That Entered The Presidential Palace Complex To Drive Away The Americans
One Of The Tanks That Entered The Presidential Palace Complex To Drive Away The Americans

Cu Chi is a rural district about 30 km from Ho Chi Minh City. It played an important role in the war against Americans. It was an underground village with a network of tunnels more than 200 km. The main tunnel is from 60 cm to 70 cm wide and from 80 cm to 90 cm high, hardly enough for one person to go through. The tunnels are approximately 3 to 4 m below the ground level, under a layer of earth; able to sustain the weight of 50 ton tanks, heavy artillery, and bombs of up to 100 kg. We saw the network equipped with various rooms ranging from residential quarters to kitchen to meeting rooms to a medical clinic to control room. We have to admire the talent and determination and endurance of the communist guerillas. They have dug out and removed tens of thousands of tons of earth and stone with rudimentary tools and then camouflaged the openings so well that nobody could find them. The smoke from the underground kitchen is also made to travel through the earth for a long distance before escaping into the atmosphere, so that it is not visible to the eyes. Being big built, the American soldiers could not chase the tiny Vietnamese when they escaped into the tunnels. If you have seen the Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo movie, you will realize how difficult the terrain is to fight a battle.

One Small Made Person Can Manage To Go Through The Tunnel Network
One Small Made Person Can Manage To Go Through The Tunnel Network

The Vietnamese women are small and svelte and have good features, so they are really beautiful. The photograph of a Vietnamese woman (displayed in a museum) leading a big burly American with cuffed hands at gun point was a real pointer to the will and determination of the people of Vietnam.

he Last Batch Of American Officials Were Forced To Fly Away From The Top Of The President’s Palace In Helicopter
The Last Batch Of American Officials Were Forced To Fly Away From The Top Of The President’s Palace In Helicopter

Everyone treat India with great respect. We were one of their strong supporters during the American aggression and they really acknowledge the fact. Literacy is very high and we can show a map to a rickshawwallah to take you to places you want. Language is big problem for foreigners. Vegetarians are also in for a tough time here. In fact even non vegetarians do not find it easy either. The first time in Vietnam was a trying time for me for food but nowadays there are good Indian restaurants. There was a South Indian temple which survived the war. The pundit in the temple spoke to us in Tamil. Many Indian traders who were living in Vietnam for generations had moved out of the country after the American war.

We were able to go on a cruise down the river Saigon. The scenery was very beautiful with special visits to fruit orchards and gardens. The river side in the evenings is full of people and a nice place to spend time. Vietnamese embroidery is very exquisite and not very expensive. The Ben Thanh Market place is also very interesting.

The saree I wore was real show stopper and I felt as awkward as a mobile museum. So in subsequent visits I had to change my attire. This is only a fraction of my experience, but a longer description will be sort of rambling account.

6 Comments

  • Nandan says:

    Very interesting. The tunnel thing must be a see-to-believe kind of stuff.

    Thanks for sharing. I dont know, whether I would get to see it but I am already thinking stories on these tunnels. :)

    Looking fwd to more of Vietnam.

  • Celine says:

    I found this post very interesting and your style of narration is absorbing. Thank you for sharing.

    Which other neighbouring countries did you visit after Vietnam? Did you go to Laos and/or Cambodia?

  • manish khamesra says:

    Bhoomaji,

    Very beautiful account. It gave a good insight about Vietnam. Vietnam always attracts me and though I have not visited this gusty country I can make out Vietnam through pictures itself.
    Though I don’t suppot communism that much, but I don’t like arm twisting techniques of US too. Anyway Vietnamese will always be remembered as the one who defeated the supreme power.
    Its also good to know that Indians are welcome there. It increases your interest in possibility of exploring the country.

    I specially like the photograph of the flower market and the Tunnel.

    This is only a fraction of my experience, but a longer description will be sort of rambling account
    —————————
    Can we expect more of your experiences about this country and also any nearby place you visited ? You can give us good insight about them.

    I was surprised to see so less comment on the post as its so beautifully written that I was expecting many.

    In the end, I think this post has acted like appetizer and it has increased the hunger to know more about the country from someone who seems to be knowing about them in detail.

    Eagerly looking for more …

  • bikerdude says:

    Bhooma,

    Thanks for refreshing my memory of the Tunnels… Although I haven’t visited Vietnam, I have read much about them. I remember reading in a book the “Tunnel Rats” that these tunnels were the homes for the Guerillas who fought the American Army and that these tunnel networks span a couple of thousand kilometers… Kind of a city underground.

    The Tunnel Rats were a bunch of ill tempered misfit soldiers thrown together with a core job of clearing these tunnels and to try and capture important officials holed up in there and any intelligence documents they could get their hands on.

    Also there are live Boobytraps in the tunnels… White Phosphorus and grenades are used in creating these boobytraps… The white phosphorus, also known as “Wily Peter” burns on being exposed to air and if it comes in contact with the skin, it can burn through, till the bone… and we all know what a devastation a single grenade can do in small cramped locations…

    Although not a big fan of the american tactics, I admire the guts the soldiers showed in fighting a war which was not their own… that they lost was a given… no one can win if the locals dont favor you… Iraq seems to be another Vietnam in the making for America.

  • manish khamesra says:

    Thanks Manish (Bikerdude) for this very informative comment, though as it talks of war its full of cruelty too.

    WARS ARE RESULT OF INSANITY & UTTER CONTEMPT OF HUMAN LIFE.

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Dear Bhooma – Trust you are doing good. I am not sure whether you would get any notification for this comment. If you do then we would love to hear back from you.

    And here is a reason of this comment on such a old tale.

    I was doing some housekeeping work, trying to bring down the bandwidth usage (kind of, good problem to have, traffic leads to bandwidth usage) and found this post.

    9 odd years back, I wrote that I do not know whether I ever see myself there. Well, in Jan 2017, we actually made it to Saigon. I had an opportunity to visit Hanoi in May 2016. And we also went to Cu Chi tunnel and boy it was really hard to imagine that how can VCs (as they were called then) could manoeuvre these alleys to tunnels. There is one tunnel where tourists can go in, its 100 meters and trust me, I was kicking myself of my stamina/endurance when about 80 metres down, I had to literally drag myself. The only thing which was on my mind that only I decided to get it and that Smita and Pihu are out in open.

    So net net, keep reading travel tales, you never know when you would actually find yourself at the place you always wanted to me.

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