The vibrant and lively ambiance of Saigon surely has its own way to lure an ocean of tourists into the largest city in Vietnam every day. Readily exploring the hustle and bustle of Saigon, travellers soak up every local cuisine, the fascinating culture and the city’s architectural wonders from grand temples to modern skyscrapers. However, few may truly realise the secret hiding right underneath their feet where thousands of untold stories are waiting to be revealed.
CU CHI TUNNELS IN HISTORY
Located in Cu Chi District of Saigon, the Cu Chi (Củ Chi) Tunnels are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels. There were about 250km of tunnels and 500km of trenches dug by thousands of people and soldiers. The underground world are filled with many fighting trenches, defense posts, gun emplacements connecting trenches, bamboo fences, pikefields, minefields, etc.,. The Cu Chi tunnels were also used by Viet Cong soldiers to serve for several military campaigns during the Vietnam War as hiding spots, communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches, living quarters and even theatres for numerous North Vietnamese fighters. They were considered a hidden disposition of forces that is impossible for any discoveries from the enemies.
In 1946, during the French resistance, the first tunnel segments were dug in two villages of Tan Phu Trung and Phuoc Vinh An. Every peasants and soldiers dug the tunnel in turn to maintain their forces and counter attack the invaders. The tunnels then were used mostly for communication between villages and to evade French army sweeps of the area.
The tunnels were also the safe-and-sound shelters for many Viet Cong during the chemical attack of gasoline and napalm from the American troop. Unable to win chemicals’ battle, the US army began sending men called ‘tunnel rats’ into the tunnels. Though they often involved in underground fire fights and maintained appallingly high casualty rates, Vietnamese soldiers have tenaciously fight back “the tunnel rats” and successfully protect the underground world.
The Americans even used German shepherd dogs to locate “Punji traps”, the most iconic booby-traps used by the Viet Cong. They were positioned at ground level or within the tunnels and carefully camouflaged to look like the forest floor. However, the Viet Cong began washing with American soap, which gave off a scent which the dogs identified as friendly. Captured US uniforms were also put out to confuse the dogs further. Most importantly, the dogs were not able to spot booby traps. Therefore, so many dogs were killed that the handlers then refused to send them into the tunnels.
In the late 1960s, American B-52s carpet-bombed the whole area, destroying most of the tunnels along with everything else around and only about 6000 of the 16, 000 cadres who fought in the tunnels survived the war.
CU CHI TUNNELS – THE DEFINITIVE EVIDENCE FOR VIETNAMESE’S PERSEVERANCE
The living conditions in the tunnels was strenuous as the air, food and water were tremendously scarce and every corner of the tunnels was infested with ants, venomous centipedes, scorpions, spiders and vermin. Soldiers would spend the day in the tunnels working or resting and come out only at night to search for supplies, tend their crops, or engage the enemy in battle. Sometimes, they would be forced to stay underground for many days during periods of heavy bombing or American troop movement. Sickness was rampant in the tunnels, especially malaria, which was the second largest cause of death next to battle wounds. Approximately 45,000 locals are believed to have lost their lives inside these tunnels.
However, despite all the brutal tunnel conditions, many Viet Cong soldiers had decided to show their great tenacity against the severe war. Though every women and children or able persons of all ages were taught to contribute and fight in the tunnels, their lives weren’t only all about defense and combat. At times, while bombs dropped overhead, laughter still existed throughout the tunnel walls. Song, dance, and drama performers lightened up the tunnels, “a gun in one hand, guitar in the other.” Throughout the darkness of war, the Viet Cong managed to create moments of joy and strengthen group solidarity.
CU CHI TUNNELS IN THE MODERN TIMES
After 1975, the Cu Chi tunnels have been conserved and renovated for visitors to directly experience the underground world and have a better understanding about Vietnamese soldiers’ dificult situations and their perseverance inside the tunnels during the fierce war time. Despite struggling through a fiercely strafed history, the tunnels still exist and stay in the hearts of nationwide people. It represents the creativity, bravery and intense patriotism of Vietnamese cadres and soldiers. These days, Cu Chi Tunnel have attracted thousands of visitors every year including local and international visitors wanting to witness the booby traps, squeeze inside the openings and be transported back into another era.
Credit: The article aggregated from multiple sources.