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The American War, as it’s known in Vietnam, was perhaps the defining conflict of the late 20th Century. Where the little guy stood up to the big guy and won, rural backwater against massive superpower. A real life David v. Goliath, that resulted in a monumental shift in world affairs.
Since the war ended in 1975 the country has largely rebuilt and moved on. But the tunnels of Cu Chi are a vivid marker of the past and provide a powerful insight on any adventure holiday itinerary.
Dug beneath the jungles of South Vietnam, the tunnels of Cu Chi served as the underground fortress of the Vietcong during the Vietnam War. Covering an area of some 250km at its peak, the maze-like complex is a very real reminder of this guerrilla war, and encapsulates the will power and determination of the Vietnamese people like nothing else.
1. Crawl through the tunnels
As you enter Cu Chi there is a sign that invites you to be a Cu Chi guerrilla, together with the option of wearing the black pyjamas and pith helmets of the Viet Cong. You can even carry old rifles to recreate the combat experience while you’re in the tunnels.
The entrances to the tunnels are through the tiny trapdoors you may have seen in films like Apocalypse Now. Sweep back the leaves and minute holes are exposed leading down to the undeniably impressive tunnels.
If you suffer at all from claustrophobia steer clear. Although the tunnels have been widened to account for the Western girth, they’re still stiflingly tight.
2. Relive the ‘Nam experience
If you do take the trip underground and wriggle through the caves you get a real sense of what it must have been like down there, day in day out. With lack of food and water, rampant malaria and poor air circulation, fighters were often forced to remain in the tunnels for days on end during heavy bombing.
3. Explore the Underground Fortress
Fortunately you don’t have to be stick thin to see it all. Throughout the war the Vietcong continually expanded the three-level network, which included mess halls, meeting rooms, an operating theatre and even a tiny cinema.
Underground conference rooms have also been restored, where campaigns such as the Tet Offensive were planned.
Back on terrra firma the landscape is pockmarked with holes the size of swimming pools, with signs identifying them as B-52 craters. Souvenir kiosks sell tourist tat: lighters made from bullets, fake Zippo’s engraved with catchy GI slogans such as ‘kill ‘em all, let god sort ‘em out’. You can even fire off some live rounds from an assault rifle at a shooting range.
Cu Chi is no Disneyland, it’s not meant to be – in spite of the tourist tack it has a gritty realism that is hard to deny.
See the trips below for a great range of small group holidays to the Cu Chi Tunnels and Vietnam.