Vietnam still bears a heavy burden and countless scars decades after the end of one of the 20th century’s most vicious and violent conflicts. A remarkable, uncanny ability to bounce back from oppressive violence – yet again – and emerge resilient proves however, just how special a place Vietnam is.
Conspicuous, physical reminders of the Vietnam War linger everywhere throughout the country. From elusive, still-active land mines to survivors, the horrors of war never seem too far away – despite the harmless, mindless fun millions of tourists now enjoy on the Nha Trang coast.
The Cu Chi Tunnels
Ho Chi Minh City, once Saigon, is home to a plethora of Vietnam War-era landmarks. The Cu Chi Tunnels certainly rank as one of the most extraordinary.
Excavation first began in the 1940s by the Viet Minh to evade and combat French troops. The prodigious construction effort went on under the city. A virtual underground city was built, complete with barracks, kitchens, field hospitals, weapons caches and command centers.Â Incredibly, the tunnels grew to a total length of more than 200 km.
To the average structural engineer then, the Cu Chi Tunnels are an absolute marvel.Â Hard clay was almost entirely dug by hand and a somewhat sophisticated ventilation system was eventually added to alleviate pervasive smoke. False floors were built to lure enemy soldiers into elaborate and deadly booby traps.
In some areas, tunnels plunge underground to remarkable depths, with enough total room to house up to 10,000 soldiers and civilians.Â Life was far from rosy below earth however, with a veritable certainty of intestinal disease and malaria throughout the course of the war.
The Cu Chi Tunnels as a Combat Zone
The underground tunnels gave the Viet Cong a manifest strategic advantage.Â Despite the obvious hardships of daily life underground, over the course of years no less, soldiers could (and did) launch surprise attacks against U.S. troops with great initial success.
The famous U.S. response was, of course, to carpet bomb the tunnels, the city and indeed, most of Binh Duong province.
The Cu Chi Tunnels Today
Today the tunnels are a popular tourist attraction in Ho Chi Minh City.Â Over 1,000 people line up to experience what life was like under ground for soldiers decades ago. Hysterically, some portions of the tunnels have been dug to greater widths to allow Western tourists to walk through.
As you enter, you can rent clothes representative of those worn by former tunnel inhabitants.Â You can even carry guns (sans ammunition) with you as you crawl through the labyrinth.Â The experience is what you might call, “immersive”.
There are attractions above ground as well, with none more popular than the AK47 and M16 rifle range.Â You can see displays of booby traps, climb aboard vestige U.S. tanks and examine mannequins of guerrilla soldiers.
Before you visit the wonderful metropolis of 7 million people, check out some awesome Ho Chi Min City hotels. From there, experience the chills and thrills of the Cu Chi Tunnels and get a real sense of their significant and historic role in the Vietnam War.