Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Vietnam - Chu Chi Tunnels

We availed a one day tour package from our hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. Chu Chi tunnels is included in the itinerary. Before coming here, our tour group stopped first at a local handicraft shop that employs disabled persons. The souvenir items were astronomically priced because I have seen some of the items at Ben Thanh market at much lower price. Shortly thereafter, we proceeded to Cai Dong temple to catch its noontime prayer. After the temple visit we took our lunch then raced to Chu Chi Tunnels.

Chu Chi tunnels is a part of 250 km long manually dug tunnels by Vietcong during the Vietnam War. It served as hiding ground, ammunition and supply depot, quarters and supply routes during war. It played an important part in prolonging the war and helped achieved withdrawal of American forces due to increasing cost and casualties which resulted to eventual fall of South Vietnam.

Presently, the 121 km Chu Chi tunnels have been preserved by the government and converted into a war memorial wherein the tunnels are the main attraction. Some parts of the tunnels were enlarged so as to allow heftier Western tourists while other parts were provided with dim lighting.



Initially, our group watched a video presentation about the Chu Chi tunnels. After the presentation, our tour guide narrated to us a brief history and how the tunnels were cleverly designed in such a way that the superior American forces were defeated due to these tunnels.

Walking farther, our tour guide also showed us the different weapons and traps manufactured by the Vietcong.









Our tour guide demonstrated to us how these deadly traps could maim or kill an unsuspecting enemy. I can say that those traps were simple but cleverly designed. I can't imagine the pain you would suffer in case you end up in one of these traps.










Some interesting shots inside.

a damaged American tank

one of the half-buried huts that is accessible by the tunnel at my back

The main event for the Chu Chi tunnels tour is the actual crawling of tourists in safer part of the tunnels; if you think you have the guts then you can try to crawl otherwise you can wait outside.

wifey at the entrance
going down

A brief reminder was given before the actual entrance to the tunnels. There are 4 exits which are 20 meters apart according to our guide. If we find it difficult to continue then we can simply go out at the following exit. For safety and obvious reasons, once inside the tunnels, we were told not to return to our entry point but to continue until the next exit so as to prevent chaos along the line of "crawlers".

first exit - photo shoot after everybody has exited
By the way, if you are claustrophobic then I advise you not to proceed with this activity, trust me. I realized it the hard way. Maybe I was a bit on the chubby side thus I found the tunnel too tight for my body hence I was pushing my wife when she was stuck at the first exit; I was starting to panic. To say it bluntly, it was pretty stupid for other "crawlers" to have a photo-ops at the exit point thus trapping the other who were in queue to exit. I thought I would faint inside the tunnel.

Aside from being literally small, the tunnels were dark and dank inside thus I was always pressing my DSLR flash so as to provide some lighting. My wife was obviously elated after emerging from the first exit while I was sweating hard and having mild palpitation. Knowing my wife as not so daring and adventurous like me, I vividly remembered asking her several times before we entered the tunnels whether she would come with me or wait outside thus I was embarrassed after our crawling experience. In fact, she told me that she didn't encounter any problem at all and given a chance she was ready to go farther if not for my constant bugging inside the tunnel asking her to proceed to the nearest exit. I am not sure if she was taking me for a ride or she found a chance to step on my bruised ego. Anyhow, she has proven that she can endure this activity while I chickened-out, lol.

The children and some adults in our group including the tunnel guide were able to complete the whole experience and emerged from the final exit while others were emerging group by group from the second and third exits. A scary atmosphere built up when a lady in our group decided to enjoy the tunnel ambiance for some time while her companion was nervously waiting for her outside. There was a sigh of relief when she finally emerged from the last exit. It was pretty stupid for her to do this stunt since I started imagining things on what have happened to her.

After the tunnel experience, we went to a small cafeteria and souvenir shop. Near that place is the firing range. I didn't try this live firing since I have been informed that they were providing newer guns instead of those used and manufactured during the Vietnam War era. 

with life size replicas of North & South Vietcongs
It was indeed a unique experience to visit Chu Chi tunnels. This historical place will serve as reminder how the Vietcong was able to defeat a much superior force by being ingenious and showing great determination in winning the war.

I have noticed during our tour that unlike many years back where you seldom see fellow Filipinos traveling, nowadays it is not unusual to meet them in many touristy places. More tellingly, for our tour, there were 12 Filipinos out of 24 tourists and all of us were hopping from one place to another. Filipino travelers have come of age indeed.