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Claustrophobic at Cu Chi Tunnel Complex

Vietnam or Saigon specifically, is famous for its vast multilevel tunnel complexes built over a few decade of war with the military superpower of the world. Above: a man in uniform demonstrated to the group of tourists how he could vanish without a trace into a small entrance to the vast tunnel complex in Cu Chi.

Visiting Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) without dropping by at Cu Chi Tunnel Complex would just be like eating a hamburger without the ….. beef. The preservation of Cu Chi Tunnels is really about the reminder of the never-gave-up spirit of the Vietnamese people, especially in times of trouble. They have proven time and time again how they could persevere against the ‘evil forces’ trying to dismantle their communist way of life. Rightly or wrongly, they have defeated the French and the American invaders with their very unique tunnel warfare.

Cheap guerrilla warfare is often deployed by terrorists or under-sized armies but when your country was systematically carpet-bombed and flooded with Agent Orange, you will be hardened to go underground literally and fight the invaders with your very own brand of guerrilla warfare: the “whack-a-mole” tunnel warfare methodology! The tunnel warfare system was so successful for Vietnam that the United States had to quit the war in order to cut their loses. It might not be the only reason but the Cu Chi tunnel complex did play its part in winning the war for the National Liberation Front (NLF) for South Vietnam. At its height the Cu Chi tunnel complexes were rumored to be so extensive that it covered a large part of Vietnam from Cu Chi to Saigon, Cambodia and Thailand. Below is a photo journal of the day trip to Cu Chi tunnel. Enjoy!

The entrance to the vast complex. Of course you have to go through a tunnel to view the famous Cu Chi tunnels!

A large camouflage hideout briefing room will be your first pit stop. Its palm-tree roof is an excellent camouflage against the dense jungle. It's an amazing place but I would hate to be there during raining and flooding season.

The first order of business was to attend a 20 minutes briefing regarding the Cu Chi Tunnel Complex. A short communist propaganda video about the victory of the Vietnamese army against the barbaric invaders were shown to remind the visitors about the significance of the victory to the Vietnamese people. If you are an American, you will either be too embarrassed after watching the video or you will be rolling on the floor laughing yourself silly. But I do empathize with the suffering of the Vietnamese people caught in-between an ideology war between the capitalist and the communist during the cold war era. A small but significant victory for the underdog, so to speak.

One could never guessed which holes were the main entrance to the vast tunnel complex. Most if not all were cleverly disguised to protect against the invasion of the enemies. Some were real, some were traps and some were ventilation or remote smoke outlets but one thing is for sure - they were extremely hazardous to enter, especially for the XL-sized American soldiers. Even more were holes made by snakes, porcupines or even worm-hole made by aliens from another galaxy. So beware and enter at your own risk - you might be 'teleported' to another era or another life all together. 🙂

In western war movies, we always see American soldiers dropping hand grenades, shooting flames from their state-of-the-art mobile kerosene-fire-machine or spraying bullets at the 'Viet Congs' spilling out from their anthills hideouts. Fast forward that by a few decades and you have western tourists lining up to visit these 'ant-holes" for a glimpse of the Vietnam war era. What an irony! But it's an excellent reminder to the future generation, not to repeat this colossal mistake at all cost.

Tourists entering the worm hole for a once-in-their-life experience of the infamous Vietnam war.

Although this tunnel was enlarged as a 'demo' for the western tourist, it is still too low and narrow to walk upright. I cannot imagine how someone could walk this way for the next 200 kilometers to reach Saigon. Even the 3 hours bus ride from Saigon to Cu Chi was a bone-breaking experience. You really have to respect their fighting spirit and their perseverance to last as long as they did.

This is a view of the tunnel with a 14mm DSLR lens taken with the illumination from a LED torchlight. Without the touch light, it's pitch black except for some built-in red light for guidance. One word of advice: Do not go in there with a large camera bag strapped with a tripod and hand holding 2 large DSLRs. You will regret your decision and curse at your own stupidity. I know! I did just that! Half way through I suffered instant anginophobia (narrowness) and claustrophobia (closed space). In pitch darkness, you felt as if you are in a coffin. Seriously! And I couldn't wait to get the hell out of the hole and that was only about 20 feet into the tunnel. How the hell did these people move about so fast during the war? No wonder the American soldiers had to play "whack-a-mole" games with their deadly enemies! If I were their enemies, I would have packed up and gone in a jiffy and not wait for more than a decade to finally withdrew in disgrace.

Finally.... daylight.... what a delight and sight of relief!

Outside the compound of the tunnel, one could experience the daily lifestyles of the Viet Cong or more popularly know as Victor Charlie (VC) by the American.

A tourist posing with the fashion icons of the National Liberation Front (NLF) of South Vietnam.

Tourists posing with a captured American battle tank..

A 'demo' of the rolling trap door designed to maimed the American soldiers. The sharp bamboo spikes were reportedly covered with poison and human excrement to inflict serious wound and prolonged infections to the American soldiers but not killing them. This was the main VC strategy designed to burden the American with plenty of injured soldiers and destroy their morale and dignity.

On show were various type of traps designed to maimed their enemies.

On show are life-like demo of the daily ritual of the VC.

Seen here are VCs manufacturing land mines from unexploded shells and artillery captured from the enemies.

Every parts of the unexploded shells will not go to waste but instead recycled as mines, grenade, bombs, etc....

A familiar 'sinking' architecture deployed throughout the Vietnam war period.

A demo of the food production facility deployed during the Vietnam war.

A young tourist having a go at the ancient contraption for grinding rice.

Seamstress on duty producing garments and uniforms for the VC during the Vietnam war. Seen here is the armed bodyguard on duty to protect the worker.

Discarded and used tires were recycled as rubber shoes of various sizes used widely throughout the Vietnam war. Still they won the war without the used of sophisticated and expensive armor plated boots.

A typical kitchen used for the production of food for the VC. Cleverly disguised remote smoke outlets were deployed to confuse the enemies and hide one of their most important facilities to support their war effort. It's also a mind boggling feat for them to move the food and supplies logistically to feed the huge armies of underground fighters. This maybe should be a research subject for future war game strategist.

A tourist enjoying the ambiance of the meeting, dining and classroom for the VC.

Automated fresh water dispenser made by channel of bamboo pipes of the Vietnam war era.

A sample of the unexploded aerial & cluster bombs, artillery shells and rocket launchers on show at the Cu Chi tunnel complex.

Comments

  1. Thanks a lot for the shots. It’s like a brochure, really interesting and informative. I admire your skill in capturing moments and communicating the story.

    • Thanks Martin. I truly enjoyed the history and the significance of this location as much as I enjoyed capturing the moments.

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