(Aka Why I Don’t Want to Be a Communist)
About an hour and a half north of Ho Chi Minh City is the Cu Chi area of Vietnam. What was once a peaceful farming community became the centre of heated dispute during the Vietnam War in the late 1970s. For those of you who have a few gaps in their Vietnamese history (myself included), the Vietnam War was a civil dispute between Vietnam’s predominately northern-based communist regime (“Vietcong”) and the predominately southern-based capitalists. Although many of their allies took headquarters in Hanoi during the war, a group of Vietcong found shelter around the southern area in Cu Chi during the war. From this area, the Vietcong were able to set up various attacks against the capitalists. However, since this was so close to South Vietnam’s capital, this required a LOT of tactical planning (read: hiding for their lives).
The entire area is still laden with booby traps and landmines to this day, but the most notable feature (and biggest tourist attraction) is the impressive tunnel system, which claims to be over 200km long, consists of 3 levels and is full of secret underwater entranceways.
As a tourist, you can check out the tunnels on a tour, which can be booked online (I used the Sinh Tourist but wouldn’t recommend them, our guide was significantly grumpier than he was knowledgeable), or through pretty much every hotel in the city. The price of a half-day tour is about 300,000dong and can usually be paid for with 15USD.
After getting off the bus, the first stop on the tour is a brief documentary film circa 1978. Since the communist party filmed it during the war, you’d be right in guessing it’s a propaganda piece. The residents of Cu Chi (including the Vietcong) are crooned over for being happy, peaceful people, who were needlessly terrorized by “crazy devils” known as Americans. I almost began to sympathise with the civilians, then one of the 12-year-old kids they had been featuring as a cute, innocent little school girl was suddenly joining in on the armed combat and being awarded a medal for being an American-killing hero.
While at first I thought the “crazy devil” reference was kind of funny (my travel companion was American), I quickly realized the severity of the reference. You could not only feel the dripping hatred in the movie, but also got to witness them openly support the use of child soldiers, claiming youth had signed on because “they were filled with a vengeance”.
While I’d like to think they just show this movie to accurately reflect the Vietcong’s sentiments’ during the time, whenever someone would ask where me and my friend were from, I couldn’t help but to pipe in with “Canada” as quickly as I could before she could admit to being one of those crazy American devils.
Today, North Vietnam’s communist defeat over the South is still celebrated as a national holiday and while their economy is market (capital)-based, their government still holds communist-level control. For this reason, many Vietnamese refer to the political and economic situation as being “communist by name, capitalist by nature”. While citizens have few civil rights, since adopting this government regime, their economy has experienced some of its largest and quickest growths in its history.