Cu Chi Tunnels

27 Feb

An elderly Polish woman leans forward to see better. “They are so simple…” She looks down at an array of booby traps aimed at wounding or killing American soldiers. “Terrible”, she says slowly, looking down at a folding chair lowered into the ground, ready to snap together and pierce spikes into its victim when stepped on. “And effective!” Our guide grins.

We are at the site of one of the most famous battlegrounds of the Vietnam war. The Cu Chi tunnel network was crucial to the Viet Cong, allowing soldiers and villagers to hide and move underground as well as launch surprise attacks. 10,000 people lost their lives in the tunnels. The damage they inflicted above ground is not included in the leaflet tourists are given.

The film with footage of the Vietnam War sets the tone early on in our visit. While the rest of the guided tour resembles a visit in a theme park, the “documentary film” shows a glimpse into wartime propaganda.

“Cu Chi, the land of many gardens, peaceful all year round under shady trees … Then mercilessly American bombers have ruthlessly decided to kill this gentle piece of countryside … Like crazy animals they fired into women and children … The Americans wanted to turn Cu Chi into a dead land, but Cu Chi will never die.”

The Chinese family in our group push their way past other tourists down the narrow trail, leading the way towards the firing range. As elsewhere in the woods, a souvenir shop appears. The sounds of the automatic weapons – M16s and AK47s – make tourists jump as we look at the items on sale. Toy cars made from bullets, necklaces with bullets, planes made of Coca Cola cans, ice cream and “Cu Chi Tunnel” T-Shirts. “You now have 20 minutes to shoot or relax!”, our guide shouts.

Though only two dollars a bullet, we pass on the shooting and save our energy for the tunnels. Of the 250 km maze, a pitch-dark 30 metre stretch is open for tourists to crawl through. Those not inclined to get down on all fours or prone to claustrophobia, may opt for the XL-tunnel, specifically enlarged for tourists and with lights installed.

 

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