The Cu Chi Tunnels.
After hitting the Mekong, our next touristy side-trip was to the Cu Chi tunnels. And yes, "Cu Chi" is pronounced "coochie," for those of you (AKA all of you) who were wondering. As I've mentioned before, the official name of the Vietnamese currency is the dong, and if you suspect that might have led to some jokes about the number of dongs it took to get into the Cu Chi tunnels, well, you'd be right.
But moving on. What are the Cu Chi tunnels, besides a source of continuous amusement for my apparently not-very-sophisticated sense of humor? They're the network of tunnels outside Saigon that the Viet Cong used as a base of operations for planning and carrying out things like, say, the Tet Offensive and stuff of that nature. And they're not just tunnels to crawl around in (although crawling would definitely be required. It's actually a whole underground city, complete with kitchens, operating rooms, meeting rooms, and all that stuff. Which sounds sort of cool, until you realize that, what with being underground and in Southeast Asia, tunnels were also full of snakes, bugs, and other insects, so most of the tunnel dwellers had malaria along with a whole host of nasty parasites (waste disposal being something of a problem, one would suspect.) So there's that whole downside to tunnel-based living as well.
If you want to know more about them, you can look at the Cu Chi entry on Wikipedia. However, the short version is that despite bombing the hell out of the tunnels, the US never managed to destroy them because they were built too deep. And since the US Army couldn't go into the tunnels themselves--they were mostly too narrow for Westerners to go through, plus going in was basically the same as committing suicide--so they never actually managed to defeat the tunnel-dwellers. In fact, I think the army actually built a base over a section of the tunnels at first because no one knew they were there, if you can believe that. (Side note: the tunnel-people stole most of their supplies from US bases. Big surprise ...) Military intelligence, indeed! But then again, I think some of the people involved in the Vietnam War are some of the same people involved in the current (not civil) war in Iraq, which makes the entire thing much more understandable.
Anyway, moving on to the tunnels themselves. This was actually the one place in Vietnam I started to feel uncomfortable, mostly because--prior to going on the tour--you have to sit and watch a video about how many Americans the VC in the tunnels killed. (They even had medals for the best "American Killers.") Apparently the people who changed the name of the "Museum of American War Atrocities" to the "War Remnants Museums" haven't gotten to the Cu Chi tunnels yet. So rather than watching the video, I spent most of the time trying to take a good picture of this tunnel diorama. With limited success, obviously. But it does give you an idea of what the tunnels were like, and why it was suicide for the American "tunnel rats" to go down there, what with the booby-traps, choke points, and trap doors:
After watching the American Killer video, you go on this weird educational tour about the Cu Chi complex, which actually features a lot more than just tunnels. Why weird? Well, for one, because our first stop featured this picture. And yes, in case you are curious--or just slow, as they say--those are American soldiers ...
Here are some of the booby traps in question. This one was kind of on its own, which you'd think would present some liability issues, since it actually was hidden pretty well, but in Vietnam they apparently don't have that sort of thing. Luckily. Or not, I suppose, depending on if you're the one being speared or the one doing the spearing:
Another happy-looking contraction. These spikes came out once you were in the hole. I have one word for this, and that word--not surprisingly--is ouch:
Still more happy gadgets. (Really, as far as gadgets go, I prefer cell phones, but different strokes, etc.) That cross-like contraption on the left would swing down from above if you hit the trip-wire. And you wonder why soldiers in Vietnam did so many drugs:
After seeing this stuff, we went on to the tunnels themselves, which was ... well, not fun. They were really hot, really small (even crawling on my knees, my back scraped the top), and really dark. Granted, that last one is a bit obvious, but I was following our guide (who had the light) and Holly, and when they went around the bend it was a bit freaky, since I couldn't tell when the bend was coming. The entire thing was about 100 meters long, but there were exits that had been cut-in every 20 meters or so. When we came to the first one, the guide asked if we wanted to keep going. Not surprisingly, we declined. But not before I had the guide take a picture of me, since a picture of just the tunnel doesn't really give you a sense of what they were like. So while I don't generally put pictures of me up here (except for this awesome one), here's me in the tunnels. Two things about this picture: I'm six feet tall, and these tunnels have been expanded for tourists. Oh, and I'm smiling because I can see daylight. So three things:
Here's a good propaganda picture. It's hard to read, but the caption basically says this is a photo of the US army people running away from the Cu Chi rebels. I would say it's more likely a random picture of some soldiers running into their helicopter, but maybe that's just me. Another good one had a Vietnamese woman looking sad and said something about how she was sad that the Americans invaded or something like that. Sometimes, apparently, the 1,000 words a picture is worth needs a little more explanation:
One of the big problems for the rebels was apparently the fact that the US had things tanks, and they didn't. So what did they do? They gathered up all the unexploded bombs the Americans dropped (and they dropped a LOT on Cu Chi) and turned them into booby traps. Bombs like these, presumably:
The VC, hard at work making the bombs into booby traps. The best part about this display? Those figures are all animatronic, so with the flip of a switch, they start going through the bomb-making motions. Just like Disney!
Actual non-animatronic people! Since the Cu Chi rebels didn't have access to a lot of stores what with living underground and all that, they had to make everything. Apparently they used tires from blown-up US vehicles to make rubber sandals, like this guy is doing. It did not, for the record, look like fun work:
This pile of brush in the foreground is actually a stove vent. They would pipe the smoke from the stove out through multiple vents that were a long way from the kitchen itself. Also, they apparently only cooked in the morning, when it's often very foggy in Cu Chi, so no one would see the smoke. And even if they did, it wasn't coming from anywhere near the kitchen, so it didn't do any good:
That's all well and good, but the best part of the tour was at the end. That is, the part where you can go to the shooting range and practice with ... well, pretty much any sort of gun you want: M-16, AK-47, M-60, all the classics. All you have to do is buy the bullets:
Naturally, I couldn't resist. Being a good American, I went with the M-16. Which, for the record, is surprisingly loud in real-life when you are holding it next to your ear. Louder than I thought it would be. (Also, for the record, that gun is mounted in the front so you can just go crazy with it and point it anywhere.) I was convinced I would be a good shot on account of all the video games I've played that involve shooting things, but apparently I was wrong since I didn't hit the target once in five shots. Or at least the guy helping me said I didn't hit the target. I think maybe I hit it every time and he was just too bitter about how good a shot I was to tell me the truth. Either that or the sights were totally off. And it was way, way windy, of course. Seriously. (Why only five shots? I didn't have much small change, and while I was tempted to plop down a hundred and go to town with the M-60--even the Vietnamese guy loading the gun for me said "like Rambo!" which was just bizarre, all things considered--but I guessed Holly might not have considered that the best use of funds.
Anyway, here I am, looking quite fit after almost three weeks of vacation. (It's the camera angle, I swear!) Apparently I should have gone with the fruit plate instead of the "creme brulee sampler" in Hanoi. But please, ladies, no emails--I'm taken:
Up next: weird religious cults!
Previously, on my vacation:
- The Mekong Delta.
- Saigon: the Random.
- Saigon: Reunification Hall.
- Saigon: the War Museum.
- Saigon: the Streets.
- Hoi An: The River.
- Hoi An: My Son.
- Hoi An: the People.
- Hoi An: the Streets.
- Hue: Zoom, Zoom.
- Hue: the River.
- Hue: the Imperial Tombs.
- Hue: the Imperial Palace.
- Hue: the Streets.
- Halong Bay: the Videos.
- Halong Bay.
- Hanoi: the Random.
- Hanoi: Water Puppets.
- Hanoi: the "Hilton." '
- Hanoi: the People.
- Hanoi: Zoom, Zoom.
- Hanoi: the Streets.