We arrived in Vietnam after two very long flights! We originally planned on staying in Ho Chi Mihn City (HCMC) however after spending some time here we decided that it was more of a holiday place and not somewhere you want to live on account of how crazy it is!! It is hard to explain just how crazy the place is but to give you an idea, there are an estimated 7 million motorbikes in the city alone!
We decided to make the most of HCMC while we were here before heading up to Hanoi to set up shop, especially as to get from HCMC to Hanoi in the north was a 3 DAY bus ride, 28 hours on a train or a 2 hour flight- safe to say it we won’t be able to do a day trip to HCMC from Hanoi!!
There are some great, and crazy cheap tours you can buy from any of the tour shops around the city, we picked the most famous tour in the South first, Củ Chi, as our first tour . Củ Chi is famous for its intricate network of underground tunnels, traps and living quarters. We took a tour for 115,000₫ (dong-yes it has a funny name!) ($5.5/£3) which took us an hour and a half away from HCMC to Củ Chi and arrived at the tunnels, we paid another 90,000₫ ($4/£2.5) to gain entry to the tunnels and sat down to watch a weird video about the history of the area… why weird? It was all about the Củ Chi gorillas and the ‘best America killers’.
The video was so old, still in black and white and looked like it had not been updated since the 1970’s and explained the importance of the tunnels in the Vietnam war. It explained how the tunnels where used by the Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during the war as well as living quarters, meeting rooms and storage. It also gave a rundown of the top Viet Cong fighters who were the ‘hero American killers’. It was quite a strange video to say the least.
Our group was then taken to an area which just looked like an empty normal bit of ground covered in leaves. However our guide showed us how the leaves helped disguise a secret escape into the tunnels. He showed us the methods for getting in and covering up the hole so the enemy would not discover where you had went. Easy for someone of an Asian build… Westerner size- not so easy!
The hole itself was tiny and my hips just scrapped in… fine going in however when they hit the sides on the way out I will admit I did panic for a second! Once inside and the cover over the top the tunnel was pitch black however you could see the tiny crawl space where the Viet Cong would have made their escape… not one for the claustrophobic!! The guide explained that all the secret escape holes were placed near the base of a tree to make it easy for the Viet Cong to find and that the Americans soon caught onto the tunnels and started to try find and destroy them. To counter this the Viet Cong would cover the entrance to the hole in chili and pepper, fooling the sniffer dogs.
We moved on to the main entrances which were larger however still on the small side! They would use the walls of these entrances to shoot the American soldiers allowing them to slip away quickly if detected. Andy jumped down to take a picture of the inside of these tunnels and it was not until we got home that we noticed what I can only hope are grasshoppers in the corner!!
The guide explained that breathing in the tunnels was hard as there was little air however they made breathing holes every 15 meters disguised as ant holes or mounds of dirt. Sure enough once he had pointed them out you could begin to see the air holes all around! Again they would cover the air holes in chili and pepper to stop the sniffer dogs detecting their scent.
The guide then took us to some of the traps set by the Viet Cong to capture and kill the soldiers, as they did not have fancy weapons they used bamboo spikes and trap doors and even unexploded shells and bombs to create weapons and booby traps. The trap doors were something out of a horror film, some were basic like hidden spikes. However some were way more extreme such as the armpit trap which once stood on would make the person fall down the hole whilst bamboo spears swung around and spear the person through the armpits making it impossible to get out and what I gather would be rather sore! There was even a door trap which when the soldiers opened the door a giant swing of spikes would swing down! You wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end that is for sure!!!
We then came to the part of the tunnels that you were able to go in. It was 100m long and you could either crawl through 20, 50 or the full 100m. This section of the tunnels has had to be widened for the Western tourists who would have got stuck in the narrow tunnels! They have also installed small lights so you are able to see where you were going that were obviously not there before! Despite being made taller and wider the tunnels are tiny in some areas… especially someone as tall as Andy!! By the time we had finished the 100m tunnels the sweat was literally running off of us and it is hard to imagine what the tunnels would have been like before they had been widened!! Many of our tour group jumped out of the tunnels after 20m as the heat was just too intense as well as the tight dark space!
The Americans had many attempts of destroying the tunnels but they could
never fully appreciate how long and far the tunnels went for (Most of the tunnels were on three stories!) around the site you can see the craters of where the B52 bombs tried to destroy the tunnels, which was eventually successful yet still did not destroy all the tunnels. However many soldiers known as the ‘tunnel rats’ died as they were sent down the tunnels blind and caught in all different types of traps trying to explore and understand the tunnel system.
The whole time you and in the tunnel area you can hear the sound of guns which makes it a creepy feeling of what it must have sounded like during the war. The national shooting range is in the area and you can take turns on guns such as AK47’s M16’s, M60’s, huge machine guns and all different types of guns from that era. Bullets are priced at around $1.50 each with a minimum of 10 bullets, however you can share this with someone so Andy and I decided on 5 rounds each of an AK47! Whilst you are here you might as well try as where else would you get the opportunity to fire an AK47!
Andy went first and with his 3rd shot hit me with the shell of one of his
bullets… might not sound sore but it was hot! Actually burned a ring on my top where it hit then marked my arm! I went next however with sweat dripping in my eyes and being a bit too small for the height of the gun I was WAY above the target! Was quite good fun… just remember the kick back from the gun!! Luckily the man watching over us clearly had no faith in me and kept my shoulder pressed into the gun! If you do this make sure you grab a pair of safety earphones as the shooting range is LOUD! Especially when someone has a go of the machine gun! Also before anyone asks… the guns are actually locked into a spot so you cannot just take the gun and shoot anywhere!
The whole experience was so interesting although it was difficult to imagine the conditions that both sides faced during the war! For a tour that cost under $10 it was worth every penny!
Below is a quick video showing just how many motorbikes there are in HCMC, just how tight the tunnels were and obviously firing the AK47’s!!