After being exposed to a bunch of Cu Chi-communist propaganda, it was now time to learn a bit more about the actual tunnels. They consist 3 levels, with kitchens and eating areas on the first level, sleeping areas on the second, and bunkers and artillery storage on the third. In order to hide kitchen smoke, “chimneys” were built to funnel the fumes up to 200m away from the actual kitchen in order to throw off American soldiers. Passageways connecting each of the areas take dramatic turns, drops and often result in dead ends. Basically, I learned the tunnel system was going to look something like this:
Now, I’m guessing the Vietcong must have all been midgets because that entrance was tiny!! I have to say that I was actually kind of surprised that even I fit.
With that, I was even more shocked when our guide then urged the biggest German tourist in our group to try to squeeze into the tunnels right after me: the man’s hips appeared to overextend the entryway’s area by over an inch on either side. This didn’t deter him, however, and he proceeded to jump into the hole.
Well, kind of. He got about halfway in before getting jammed and the group stood in horror as he began to struggle, seemingly stuck halfway in.
As the German fidgeted awkwardly, our guide began to explain that the Vietcong designed the tunnels to be this narrow in order to slow the American soldiers, should a chase ever occur. He finished the explanation, and for a few brief moments, the entire group stood in horror, realising the German was still stuck in the entryway.
Soon enough, however, he popped himself and took a bow to everyone’s applause.
Our next activity was a full 50m hands-and-knees crawl through the tunnels. Although the German barely made it in the entryway alive, he was the first to volunteer to crawl through (he must have been hired by the tour company, or really drunk, because he seemed to have no fear at all)!
One by one, we all followed his lead through the tunnels, turning and diving in seemingly random directions. As it was pitch black inside, our group tried to send messages back to each other like “watch out, we’re dropping down a meter” and “check out that cute little lizard on the ceiling”, but like all games of telephone, these warnings got pretty jumbled by the time they made it to me, and if I had listened to them, I would have encountered endless free-falling abysses and evil 7-headed dragons. Instead, I channelled my inner Hamtaro hamster skills and scurried on through.
Returning to face the sun, I moved on to learn how rice wine (sake) and paper is traditionally made. Having worked in an upscale Japanese restaurant (despite not being Japanese somehow), I’ve been able to try some pretty good sake, and have to say the production process has some a long way in the past couple hundred years, as the traditional variety is comparable to rocket fuel.
The last stop on the tour was a look at the various traps the Vietcong used during the war, along with several tanks and bombs. All in all, the Vietnam War was vicious, with many weapons being designed not to kill the enemy, but to seriously main them.
Altogether, while the tunnels were fun to crawl around in, they come from a pretty dark time in Vietnam’s recent past. Together, it makes the tunnels a place that’s definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area.