Nice to Meet You, Ho Chi Minh City [Part II]!
To get to learn more about Vietnam history and culture, RC, LY and I spent the afternoon at the Cu Chi Tunnel. The extensive system of underground tunnels served as a hiding place, living quarters and barracks for soldiers during the brutal Vietnam War. Today, this site has transformed into a popular tourist attraction.
On the way to the tunnels, we stopped at an eggshell lacquer factory. Using pieces of egg shell, the factory worker carefully pieced the design together. It is quite a labor intensive process! Who knew eggshells can turned into such beautiful artworks! We truly admired these workers’ concentration!
After 1.5 hours bus ride through motorbike swarmed streets and unpaved bumpy country roads, we arrived at the entrance to the Cu Chi Tunnels without any bruises. I literally almost hit my head on the roof of the bus during one of the bumps! First time experience of the rural land!
Our tour guide is a 67 year old war veteran. He served as the second lieutenant during the war. During our walk through the site, he recounted personal experiences of the war and shared intimate details of Vietnamese tackles against the Americans. To capture and inflict pain on enemies, a number of traps, such as window trap, folding chair trap, swinging up trap, clipping armpit trap, sticking trap were set up. While these devices are strategically creative, it is also horrifying.
Soldiers would swing this torture device at the enemies. The spikes are designed to rupture man’s most sensitive area. Our tour guide picked a guy from the group to demonstrate. “You be ladyman after this? Do you want to be lady man?”, our guide asked, “You go to Thailand and be lady man.” HAHAH! Slightly inappropriate but definitely lightened the mood. 🙂
We were lead to an underground trap door used for hiding. The door was built for small petite framed soldiers. A soldier slided in the small opening, shut the top and it is completely camouflaged by leaves. I volunteered to go next. I was a bit nervous because I had no idea how deep the hole is! Once the top shut, it was absolute darkness inside. I can’t imagine living underground for so long. After the top is shut, our guide would yell “go back to your country!”, “go back to China!, “go back to America!”. His language shocked us, but also made everyone laugh in a I-Can’t-Believe-He-Said-That kind of way.
Some part of the tunnel was actually expanded for tourists. Even then, it is still very tight. I don’t think I can fit in the original tunnels. The left leads to the Saigon River and the right leads to the American base.
For the first time, being short finally comes in handy! 🙂 We had to half-kneel/half-stand to crawl through the stretch. Inside the tunnel is very stuffy and hot. With only dim lights to guide us, we made it the first exit without getting lost.
The network of tunnels is so impressive. Some tunnels were built to conceal smoke from their cooking and other tunnels leads to the first aid station and meeting room. Although staying underground was a safer option at times, it also caused permanent eye damage to many men. Their eyes were accustomed to the dark for so long that the light exposure blinded them.
When we walked passed an original American tank was on display, our tour guide challenged some of the Thai guys to lift up on cannon opening 10x. The guys struggled to lift up a few times. Our tour guide teased them for being so young and weak and proceeded to show us how to do it. With one arm, he effortlessly pushed the cannon open up 10x! Everyone were impressed!
The last stop is the shooting range, the liveliest section of the site. RC, LY and I bought some bullets and had a go at it! We were nervous but very excited. I actually screamed a little after I pulled the trigger. Although my intention was to hit the target…I actually have no idea where the bullet went. Regardless, it was definitely a highlight of this Vietnam trip! 🙂 Funny how I am from America, the land with rights to bear arm, yet I shot my first bullet in Vietnam.
A trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels was well worth it. To be in a place where a momentous event in recent history took place makes it an intriguing experience. With our war veteran guide, the tunnels come to life.