About a two-hour drive outside Ho Chi Minh City are the Cu Chi Tunnels where the Viet Cong defended Vietnam from American invasion from the 1960s. A bizarre attraction, with a wealth of reconstructed bunkers, tunnels, artefacts of torture and an AK47 shooting range.
The ingenious, hand dug tunnels on three levels between three and 10 metres deep, ventilated by bamboo holes at 20m internals were often booby-trapped and had their own wells to supply water.
Very narrow (crouching room only), dark and damp – up to 16 people lived there at a time for months on end. Following instructions from our guide the curious among us climbed down and shimmied along all three – sweating profusely, beetroot red and mildly claustrophobic. It was impossible to imagine how people had lived within them, let alone built them by hand in the pitch dark, sweltering conditions.
Returning to the surface, batting off the dirt and letting the shakes in our thighs subside after 20 minutes of crouching, we ate a typical snack of tapioca with ground peanuts and sugar dip and rehydrated with hot tea.
Among the ‘attractions’ were homemade instruments of torture including booby traps made from nine-inch nails, door swings to impale unwanted visitors and my personal favourite, the ‘fish trap’ also known as the ‘Souvenir’, as when someone stood in it they got a nail through their foot and the protruding nails around the top stop them pulling it off their leg, so had to hobble back to where they came from with the contraption still attached.
If you are so inclined you can shoot AK47s for 30,000 Vietnamese Dong per bullet (minimum 10 bullets). Most of these are high quality replicas provided by China during the Vietnam war. The originals were supplied by communist ‘big brother’, Russia!
A private bus from Saigon with a guide was US$15 – you can do a local bus trip, but it takes longer and not a lot cheaper.
Understandably, it is not an uplifting place. As you hear the shots fired, take a walk through the forest, look down in the tunnels and see some of the weapons you can only imagine the horrific conditions endured during the war. It is however, a very insightful and interesting place that should be part of any Ho Chi Minh City/Vietnam visit.