The Cu Chi Tunnels are approximately 50 Km away from Saigon, and travel time, taking traffic into consideration is about one and a half hours. The scenery is great, and the highways/roads are in good shape, so as long as you have air conditioning, its a wonderful trip, well worth the time. Again, this tour seems to be a little one sided about the ruthless Americans, however they fought back with what they had, and seemed to take great pride in the ingenuity of their people. The tunnels were originally started in the 1940’s during the war with the French. However, as the Americans moved in quickly during the 1960’s they expanded the tunnels to be used as not only shelters, but as army command posts, hospitals, kitchens, sleeping etc. The tunnels are tens of thousands miles long strung out between Saigon and the Cambodian boarder. Life in the tunnels was miserable, sharing the tunnels with poisonous insects, snakes, rats and bats. Disease was rapid to spread with malaria being a major challenge. During heavy bombing missions the Viet Cong would stay in the tunnels for extended periods of time. They would only leave the tunnels under the darkness of night, to gather food and supplies and for active battles, then would disappear beneath the jungle floor to evade the enemy, disappearing without any trace. Once the Americans discovered the tunnels they tried countless ways to destroy them, and their occupants, to no avail. The VC used numerous types of traps in, and out of the tunnels. Many of the traps were not designed to kill, but to injure or maim the soldiers. I can only imagine finding a comrades in such traps would only infuriate the young soldiers, and add to the hate and animosity they felt towards the VC as the war continued.
Walking through the area where the tunnels are, you saw signs of the war, the termite hills which were easy to dig through, and often were places for trap doors into the tunnels and great places to have smoke dispersed into the jungle from the underground kitchens. There are many articles regarding the making, and the history of the tunnels on the web. The Americans, and Australians were many months discovering the tunnels, and only then it was by chance. As the story goes, an Australian Sargent sat down, and thought he had been stung by a scorpion, only to find he sat on the edge of a trap at the entrance to a tunnel!
It was a great experience to go through the tunnel, although not recommended for anyone that might be even a little claustrophobic! Unfortunately Gary’s old knee just wouldn’t let him do the whole length, but he did about 1/4 of the way. I was looking for an excuse as well, and almost had regrets after going past each exit. There are tunnels that appear to go off to the left and right as well. The main tunnel does have lights, but they are extremely dim, and if they are around a corner or someone leaned up against one, you found yourself in total darkness! I know the photo shows it looking relatively big, and bright (flash on camera of course) however as you move through the tunnel it does get a tighter, and past the second to last exit, it got to the point where I was on bent hands and knees and barely fit, then found there was about a meter drop, and getting maneuvered to ascend was impossible as I couldn’t get my feet around to the front of me to get down, so slithered down on my belly, hands first and continued to the end! Yup….even though it was the tunnel made for big westerners, it was tough, and the size is relevant to the VC using the original tunnels! Yes the VC were tough, they were tricky and they were fighting for their lives, and duped the enemy in more ways than one with these tunnels. I found a very interesting article written by Tibor Krausz in the Washington Post of his visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels, gives a great description here.
On our return to Ho Chi Minh, we had time to go visit the Reunification Palace/ Presidential Palace. There were three presidents that served in this building between 1966 and 1975, with the likes of Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and other persons of importance visited during the short lived history of South Vietnam. It had extensive damage done to it during he war, and the building is basically used as a tourist attraction now. I have included some old photos from this website. It shows the similarities with the then, when the North Vietnamese troops seize the presidential palace in Saigon April 30, 1985 – ending the war, and now, 2017.
We went down into the palace bunkers and saw the war rooms, complete with maps on the wall, radio rooms, presidential residence etc. The architecture was stunning everywhere in he building, it was so grand. The wood work throughout was just stunning and all the carpets, colors and décor was straight out of the 70’s, a vintage decorators dream! There was always a Hue helicopter sitting waiting for the president, the heliport had been repaired several times due to bombings. The Palace was complete with its own theater as well, and the projector was definitely from that era. The kitchen was huge, as were the pots, pans and woks! On the very top of the building there was a room which the first president had designed as a “thinking” room, where he could meditate, however, another President moved in, thought it would be used better for entertaining. Had the floor redone in hardwood, a bar, a piano and lounging seats added. After going up and down all those stairs, getting lost a couple times we were hot and tired, we decided to have a beer break!
Its been a long, hot day. It was time to head back to the hotel and meet up with the rest of the group to have a s’long dinner for two of our travel partners leaving the tour. Victor was heading back to Toronto, and Daniel was going back home to Ireland. It was also a Welcome dinner for Dirk, joining us from Germany, and Frederica from Italy (living in London). Once again our CEO Minea’s choice of a restaurant was spectacular, yet again with the stairs to the dining floor I wasn’t sure!
Mekong Delta in the morning…