Before visiting Ho Chi Minh, we had been reading up on what to do in the area and came across the Chu Chi Tunnels. A mind-boggling 200 kilometer network of underground tunnels, used by the Viet Cong in the Vietnam war. Visiting the tunnels couldn’t have been easier. In the backpacker area of Pham Ngu Lao in Ho Chi Minh, we were tripping over people wanting to take us on a tour. Usually, we try to do things as independently as possible and are not fans of tour buses but from the research we had done, this seemed like the best option for this one, so that was that.
The next morning, things got off to a pretty good start. Our tour guide, Jackie, rolled up and was like someone caught in a time warp. He had big bushy, long hair and a friendly but weathered face. He was the kind of guy that you knew had a few stories to tell. As soon as the bus got moving Jackie jumped on the mic and started to tell us all about the history of the Vietnam War, Saigon and how Vietnam is the motorbike capital of the world. He wasn’t joking either; there are about three million bikes in Ho Chi Minh alone. That’s a city with a population of around 7million, take out elderly, children, sick, etc and well, you do the math. It’s A LOT of bikes!
After about an hour we were out in the countryside and the bus pulled in at the Chu Chi Tunnels. We followed our faithful leader as he guided us through the area. We weren’t really too sure what to expect but the theme of the day seemed to be surprises. The first one was the tunnel entrance. Buried under some leaves was a trap door which lead down to one of the remaining tunnels which was actually used back in the war. When they asked for a volunteer to go down I jumped at the chance. One guy had already volunteered but then backed out when it came to following through. At the same time I volunteered another guy in the group did too and so the two of us would go together.
I was second into the tunnel and it was a tight fit. The square entrance was just big enough for me to drop into. Raising my hands above my head, I dropped lowered down into the tunnel and almost immediately the light from outside was gone. I had Jackie’s phone to use as a light and had his directions in my head. Go straight and take the second right. I definitely didn’t want to get lost down here.
The guy who had gone first was nowhere to be seen. On my hands and knees, I crawled through the dark tunnel, there was no sugar-coating down here, the walls, the ceiling and underneath me was just dirt, it was cold and damp. It was hard to imagine that people lived in these conditions for so long, they would have been a bit shorter than me but this couldn’t be comfortable for anyone.
As my mind wandered, I kept crawling along and then all of a sudden a long, thick shadow appeared around the corner. “What the f%&$?!”, I was positive it was a snake. I had caught up with the guy in front of me. He had decided to go back and his leg was what I had seen, thankfully my imagination had gotten the better of me. I told him we should keep going and so on we went, we passed the first turn off and then came to a second. Just before we turned, we looked down the tunnel ahead. Hanging from the ceiling were loads of bats, thankfully we didn’t have to go that way! Soon we saw light creeping in and came up out of the tunnel to our group who were waiting for us to arrive. It had felt like we were down there forever but it was just a few minutes. I couldn’t imagine being down there for months like as people did during the war.
There were plenty more surprises as we continued through the forest. The Viet Cong were a mean bunch and had some crazy imaginations when it came to inflicting pain on the enemy. Traps were hidden everywhere and they were pretty gruesome. Designed to injure or kill, the traps were simple in design and constructed using very basic elements. The outcome was a series of traps that wouldn’t look out-of-place in a ‘Saw’ movie.
After navigating through the woodlands, we eventually reached another section of tunnels. This leg of the tunnels is the ‘tourist friendly’ section of the tunnels. There are some lights dotted through the tunnel but the tunnel itself is still very small and uncomfortable. As it continues on, it gradually gets tighter, giving you an idea of what it must have been like for the Viet Cong guerillas. They have broken the tunnel up into sections, so that you don’t have to do the full length of it if you don’t want to. We would definitely recommend sticking it out though as there are different rooms along the way that you get to see. The kitchen is the end point, complete with a smoking fire. Once everyone had cleared the tunnels we were ushered on to the next stop.
Adding to the atmosphere was the sound of gunfire ringing around the woodlands. The obligatory snack and souvenir shop had a firing range attached to it. If you wanted, you could fire anything from a pistol to a bazooka at the targets. We decided to give it a skip, as I had done it before in Thailand a few years back and had no want to do it again.
After the short break the tour continued with a stop at a tank, which had been blown to bits. We stopped for a look at some of the ammo which was used during the war and then it was into one of the bunkers for a documentary before it was time to get back on the bus and leave the Chu Chi Tunnels bound for Saigon.