Saturday, 26 June 2010

Cu Chi Tunnels and One Hell Of A Rainstorm

This morning we were all hanging a little bit. Rather too many Beer Hois last night - far too tempting for 25p a pint.

Anyway, we got on a bus to the Cu Chi Tunnels around 8 and settled down for the 60km to the outskirts of the city (it's a big city). Actually we couldn't settle down for long - we had a tour guide who was intent on welcoming us with a song - if you've heard Vietnamese singing, it's not great at the best of times, especially with a hangover. Luckily after she was done with her serenading, she told us some very interesting history of the city.

We stopped off at a factory that was set up for the people that were affected by Agent Orange and the genetic problems that the Dioxins caused. Although it was good that the people had some employment as we were able to watch them at work, it was debatable whether the items on sale were in fact their produce, as there was a warehouse of cardboard boxes that looked suspiciously like imported cargo. So, none of us bought anything, but we welcomed the stop at least.

We got to the Cu Chi Tunnels and were led into a short film cinema. What we were shown what was possibily the most anti-American propoganda film that I have ever seen; quote: "The crazy devil warmongers that bombed our innocent village". It wasn't exactly a balanced viewpoint, but would have made an interesting history source to show the hatred of the Americans caused by the war.

The tunnel network at Cu Chi is mindblowing: there are 200km of tunnels in total, that took 26years to build (started during the French occupation), at times there were 18,000people living in the tunnels! The entrances were so well concealed under leaves, and the airholes (made from hollow bamboo tubes) covered by termite mounds; that the Americans could barely find the complex despite it being only 5km away from the main South Vietnam/American Military base, with 15,000 Americans living there! The infastruture that the Vietcong had was tremendous and they were clearly well supported by the local South Vietnamese peoplel; suggesting that the south actually wanted Vietcong victory; so the USA were fighting against the whole country and not just the North Vietnamese!

However you have to see a balance in the argument when you look at the examples of the traps that the Vietcong left for the Americans: hidden trap doors that swing open when you step on them, sending the victim down into a hole full of barbed bamboo spears! In any other context I think that would be classified as torture, just as much as the use of napalm etc!
We looked a a few of the other graphic weapons - one of which was landmines made from unused TNT from stolen American bombs - talk about turning your weapons against you! Then we proceeded to the worlds most unsafe firing range - people could stand behind any stranger and watch them fire an AK47 or a semi automatic rail gun for about $10! It's pretty obvious that health and safety does not exist out here - in the CCF you have to be 400yards away, not 4yards!

The last thing that we did at the tunnels was actually getting down in them and crawling through a series of very dark (pitch black at times) and deep (10metres underground at times) network. Ben bailed after 120meters or so and Jess, Rosie and I after about another 60metres more - it was literally like a sweaty, dark Playzone underground...very crazy, but very cool, I don't understand how the Vietcong spent up to a week down there though; 5 minutes was enough for us!

Back in Saigon (the area at the centre of Ho Chi Minh City), Ben and I had the best Pho Noodle soup that we have had in the whole time that we have been out here - and they were huge portions; considering going back there for dinner! Then when we came to pay for the meal Rose realised that she had lost her money belt - passport and all! Very panicked she and Jess ran back to the tour operators - luckily they confirmed that it had been left at the shop at the tunnels and they can send it through to her on tomorrow's tour - thank god! Meanwhile, Ben and I were paying for the meal and got stranded in the restaurant by the biggest tropical storm that I have ever seen. We are talking bucketfulls - the street was flooded a foot deep within 5mins and was still rising. without waterproofs we decided that we had to make a frantic dash back to the hotel - Soaked!

This evening is going to be an early nighter I think - potentially meeting up with John from work who is in Saigon this evening.

One interesting morning and one crazy afternoon. More markets and monuments tomorrow as we finish off the walking tour of the city.

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