The Viet Cong were everywhere, but never seen.
I started reading about these tunnels when researching Vietnam, and they were quickly top of my list of things that I wanted to do!
The day arrived to visit them, and as history is my thing, I was really looking forward to learning about the Viet Cong, more about the Vietnam War, and how and why this complicated maze of tunnels came to be.
We we booked a tour again – 20 USD for all our transport, tour guide and entrance fee. And similarly to the Mekong River, the tunnels are situated approx. 2hrs away from central Ho Chi Minh City.
The Cu Chi tunnels began being built in the late 1940s, during the war against the French, and were completed sometime in the 1960s. When completed, they amassed to 200km/120miles of an undergournd, extremely cramped and narrow tunnelling system that the Viet Cong went on to use to hide during their fight against Saigon and the Americans in the Vietnam War.
Although a lot of the tunnels have now collapsed, learning about what they once were was just amazing, and part of the original tunnel has been widened for tourists to go inside and wander through.
The tunnels could be entered through lots of secret entrances, that were disguised with leaves + mud, but were in fact very small secret doors. The Viet Cong used specialised tapping to knock, so that the guard on the other side would allow them in. We were able to actually climb inside one of these entrances, which was crazily small and tight, but had again been widened for tourist visits.
The Viet Cong were extremely petite & skinny and evidently could easily fit into these small entrances, unlike their enemy American GIs. They were also extremely intuitive, and adopted many techniques so that it was virtually impossible for anyone other than the Viet Cong to enter the tunnels.
The secret entrances could not be opened from the outside, only in, and so the enemy’s real only option would be to smash the entrance – however, each secret entrance, when smashed with force, had bombs behind the door, exploding on whoever was trying to break in.
Similarly, the tunnels has traps inside, and only the Viet Cimg knew how to avoid them. I won’t go into detail about how the traps were able to kill people, but as the photos show, they were intricate and very lethal.
In order for air to flow , the tunnel systems also had hundreds of secret air vents, made using bamboo, and disguised as ant hills, with moss, mud + leaves. To avoid the airways being blocked, gassed or destroyed, and to ensure they were undetected, the Viet Cong used either chilli powder (to make sniffer dogs sneeze), or American branded shower gels/shampoos around the air vents, to avoid the sniffer dogs recognising their scent.
Even the the uniforms worn by the soldiers were tailored to help prevent being discovered by the enemy. The sandals that were worn, all made from used tyres, were actually created in a shape that looks like the shoe is backwards, and designed to make any footprints look as if they’re going in the opposite direction! Male soldiers wore green, for disguise in actual combat, whilst females wore black, as they worked mostly at night and managed communications and built weapons and traps.
Entering the tunnels themselves was also really eye opening. They were built on 3 separate levels – 3m below ground, 6m below and 12m, so that bombing would not affect the whole system. Even after being widened for tourists, the tunnels are extremely small, compact and very claustrophobic. They were stuffy and very hot and even after being down there for a matter of minutes, I was more than happy to come out again. The Viet Cong though, would’ve stayed down in the tunnels for about 8hours at a time and that is pretty unbelievable.
It was a fascinating trip, and taught me so much about a period of history that I knew very little on! Big tick off my Vietnam bucket list!
Thanks for reading!
Charlotte J. X