During the last month of the past year, I prepared for my longest vacation so far. It was a sixteen-day trip through Indochina: Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, the latter being the final country I visited. On the first seven days, I had a friend who traveled with me to Bangkok and Siem Reap, leaving me alone on my onward journey to Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City.
It was my second day in Vietnam and I had a scheduled tour which I booked earlier through the website of TourRadar. I had credits stored on that website (I don’t remember how did I earn that though) so I technically got the tour for free. It was hosted by TheSinhTourist, one of the operators around Phạm Ngũ Lão.
The call time was seven in the morning and thankfully the hostel where I stayed is just a walk away from the place where we would meet. I arrived there 30 minutes early and checked in immediately. They asked for my ID or passport but I had nothing to show, because I left them all on our place. My bad. Thankfully, they just accepted my booking with the confirmation e-mail I showed them, and it was funny that they put in my nationality as British (I’m Filipino btw). There were a lot of us in the group and most of them were either groups of families, friends, or couples; I think I was the only person there who had no companion.
We left at eight and from Ho Chi Minh City, it was 70 kilometers and roughly an hour and a half bus journey to Củ Chi Tunnels. It was the first part of my day tour. During our trip, the guide asked us for the payment for the entrance tickets, and most of us were shocked, believing that we already paid that as an inclusion to the overall fee. We arrived there at approximately 9:30a.m. The tour guide bought the tickets, and we entered the site.
We started the tour by watching a documentary about the history of the tunnels, and how those underground networks helped them survive the war. Going back to history, there were Communist forces in South Vietnam, known as Việt Cộng (VC), who started digging a network of tunnels beneath the Củ Chi area in 1940s. Initially intended as storage for their arms, it eventually became their base of operations. This labyrinth of tunnels served as their own bomb-making factories, storage facilities, living quarters, hospitals, schools, and kitchens. It was also the place where communication and coordination were facilitated.
After watching, we walked on the perimeter and saw the tunnels in reality. The VC were very clever to think of that strategy, because it is really difficult to notice the traps and tunnels unless you are trained and are familiar of their signs. There was a demonstration where a guide hid inside a hole. That was the place where the snipers shoot and pop up and down to hide with cover of the leaves. Tourists also had a chance to try and take a picture of themselves half-hidden on the same spot.
There were also examples of booby-traps and people can see how those work. Whoever falls into those simple torture devices will surely and slowly die. Naming some of them are seesaw trap, clipping armpit trap, rolling trap, window trap, and folding chair trap.
There was also an American M41 tank displayed which was destroyed by a delay mine in 1970, which made me realize that these mines are powerful enough to get rid of such attacks. There were also areas where there are demonstrations of the tools these people used while living beneath the ground. We were even served a food like the one they used to eat; it was a cassava I guess, and it is delicious anyway!
The most exciting part of the tour was when we tried to duck walk (almost crawl, actually) inside the tunnel. The pathway is really small and almost airless. It’s also dark inside and I wasn’t able to take a single photo. It was said that the complex was made even wider in order to accommodate Western visitors. There are some exit points within some 20 meters for people to go up in case of panic and claustrophobia. There are some points that we climbed up or down a level in order to move on to another one. As I remember, we crawled around 100 meters below. It took us around 20 minutes to finish on the other side.
That activity was exhausting but I learned more about them by experiencing that significant part of their camp. After that we went to a nearby shooting range and allowed us to have some time to rest before departure while some of us tried to buy bullets and shoot. I wanted to try it but unfortunately my budget did not allow me to do so. We left at 11:30a.m. and arrived in Ho Chi Minh City at around one in the afternoon.