Tuesday 12 September 2017

Travel Tuesday: Cu Chi Tunnels

During last year's visit to Vietnam, I went on a day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels, from Ho Chi Minh City. These are a three-layered maze of tunnels where the Vietcong hid during the Vietnam war.

I was interested to find out that the tunnels led to the nearby river for ease of escape. The network was extremely substantial, and included schools, hospitals, entertainments - all kinds. They were very ingenious about it. 

The whole thing did make me feel slightly sick, it must be said. I have a creeping dread about being stuck in a cave somewhere, which I attribute mainly to my size, so peering down these tunnels made me feel decidedly strange.

Vietnamese people are considerably smaller than fat English history teachers.

I'm not convinced my foot would fit down this one, let alone the rest of me.

We were taken down a set of tunnels, which had been specially widened by 40% to accommodate tourists who like their cake. I decided I would press on and experienced what must be my closest ever brush with a panic attack at the opening to the tunnel. I really, for a moment, thought I would not be able to go in, but there were three people behind me, including a faintly racist NZ tourist who kept whinging about how difficult it all was (there were other things that marked her out as a racist, not this whinging) and my pig headedness would not allow me to go back, so I managed to force myself forwards. At one point my hips were briefly wedged in the tunnel, so I crawled on my hands and knees, seeing stars and sweating, until we were out. I wouldn't repeat. How they all lived down there for months on end, in tunnels even narrower, is beyond me.

They were pretty ingenious with the panji stakes, too.

When I teach about the Vietnam war I always point out that Vietnamese people with sticks beat Americans with state-of-the-art weapons, partly because they were fighting for their home. They set a lot of booby traps like this one, filled with sharpened bamboo stakes. Apparently villages used to make them together in some kind of bonding exercise. This beats any team building event I've ever been to. They indicated to each other where these traps were using leaves with sticks stuck in them. The mind boggles.

They were up against some big old weapons.

But they had AK-47s, which could be stored under water until needed (!) and thus trumped the M16. We were invited to shoot AK-47s for a small fee. I declined. I was pleased to see that it was no longer possible to pay a bit extra and shoot a cow, as it apparently was when my friends visited 10 years ago.

Interesting place. It felt a bit dark and sinister, but I'm not really surprised about that.

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