Backpacking South East Asia: Vietnam – Cu Chi Tunnels Tour

Last night, at the Thirstday Thursday CouchSurfing Manila meet-up, there were two CouchSurfers from Vietnam and with other Filipino CS members, we talked about Cu Chi Tunnels, perhaps one of the most visited and most popular tours in Ho Chi Minh city.

Backpacking SEA Vietnam Cu Chi Tunnels - Entry Door 4
Raising the roof, literally! This is how the Vietnamese get inside the small rectangular “door” at Cu Chi tunnels (photo taken by Sid or Sulabh)

Together with Indians-but-Singapore-based Sid and Sulabh, whom I met in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I went to Cu Chi Tunnels in the morning (it’s a half-day activity) to see for myself how the Vietnamese lived underground for years during the Vietnam War.

Backpacking SEA Vietnam Cu Chi Tunnels - The Tour Bus
Tourists on a tour bus with a tour Guide! Forgot her name but it means love!

We boarded a pre-arranged, tour-guided, air-conditioned shuttle bus which took us to Cu Chi Tunnels. I think it took about an hour and a half to get there, as we also stopped at an arts and crafts shop. While I generally don’t buy souvenirs from these places as they are more expensive, I appreciate the craftsmanship that they put in—especially since the workers here belong to families of those affected by the Vietnam War.

Backpacking SEA Vietnam Cu Chi Tunnels - Arts and Crafts
Eggshell-designed jars and vases and hand-made jewelry boxes. Actually, all were hand-made. Separate post on the painstaking process, soon!

Upon arrival at the Cu Chi Tunnels, all visitors are required to watch an orientation video to further understand the context and reasons behind this way of life for the Vietnamese. I was amazed at the Vietnamese’s ingenuity. Truly, necessity is the mother of invention. And if the necessity is a matter of life and death, I guess we will all find ways, unimaginable as they may be, for our survival.

Backpacking SEA Vietnam Cu Chi Tunnels - Orientation
Orientation First! Apart from the video clip, there’s also a diorama showing a typical tunnel lay-out

According to the Wikitravel entry on Cu Chi, “the tunnels were dug with simple tools and bare hands during the French occupation in the 1940s, and further expanded during the Vietnam War in the 1960s to provide refuge and a defensive advantage over the American soldiers.

Backpacking SEA Vietnam Cu Chi Tunnels - Art of Warfare
Art of warfare: wax figures showing weapon production, trap samples, meetings of shoulders, the amazing “reverse footprints” slippers, and, errr, two boys on a tank?! (The tank photo was grabbed from Sulabh)
Backpacking SEA Vietnam Cu Chi Tunnels - Traps
Our tour guide showed how lethal the traps at Cu Chi can be! Scary!

“Despite all the bombings in their town, the Cu Chi people were able to continue their lives beneath the soil, where they slept, ate, planned attacks, healed their sick, and taught their young. Some even wed and gave birth underground, but over 10,000 lost their lives here.” And that is the depressing part. Sad smile

There are two ways to get inside the Cu Chi Tunnels. First is through very small rectangular openings that are concealed by leaves. As far as I know, the size of the rectangular entry was preserved to show tourists how this prevented the big-boned/bodied Americans to be able to come inside if and when they find out about it. Genius!

Backpacking SEA Vietnam Cu Chi Tunnels - Secret Entry to the Tunnels
Enter, if you dare!

Another way in is through the tunnel exits and passageways. I think these were dug out and made a bit wider to allow the tourists to have a first-hand experience of how the Vietnamese used the Cu Chi tunnels to survive and thrive. Sulabh, Sid and I, along with other tourists, tried it out for ourselves.

Backpacking SEA Vietnam Cu Chi Tunnels - Into the Tunnel
See how small and crowded the tunnels can be? We were there for just a few minutes. Imagine living in it!!! (Inside the tunnel photo grabbed from Sulabh)

Though the “sample” tunnels were already made bigger, it still required a lot of effort to move around. At the beginning, we were moving through a seated, duck-walk position. Towards the latter part, we were already almost crawling on all fours! Despite Sid’s “complaining” that he’s “too big” to continue on, Sulabh encouraged us to go just a bit farther and continue on to finish the 100m passageway! It was a funny scene and dialogue exchange, and laughing our hearts out probably helped in motivating us to finish! I am proud that we were able to do so as other tourists stopped and made an early exit!

Backpacking SEA Vietnam Cu Chi Tunnels - After Crawling
Cu Chi Tunnel Conquerors! 🙂 By the way, the big black thingies behind us? Those are bombs and missiles! HAZARDOUS! (Photo grabbed from Sulabh)

As a “reward”, the tourists were fed with boiled cassava (yes, kamoteng kahoy!!!) in a mess hall after the tour. I think cassava was the staple food for the Vietnamese while living underground at the Cu Chi tunnels.

After eating, tourists were also invited to try the Firing Range activities. Of course, Sid and Sulabh fired live ammunitions in the range. Oh, boys! Me, I enjoyed ice cream and looking at the souvenirs while waiting. Hehehe. After everyone had their fill of guns, ice creams and sodas, we boarded the shuttle bus from Cu Chi Tunnels and headed back to Ho Chi Minh where my adventure with Sid and Sulabh continued!

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