Cu Chi, Cu Chi, OooooooO

Trip Start Aug 04, 2011
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Trip End Jan 04, 2012


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Sunday, September 18, 2011

We booked our Cu Chi tunnels tour through the hotel at a cost of $6 each which essentially includes little more than a bus to and from the Cu Chi tunnels and a tour guide for the day. The costs for getting into the tunnels and anything else all would be add ons.
The tour was a great day out but most of this was thanks to the tour guide, a fella named Mr Bihn ("Call me Mr Bean"). He claimed to be a war veteran and hence he knew his stuff. A mixed background of filipino and Viet parentage, Mr Bean served under the Americans after spending 2 years in the states and joining the United States Navy. He was called into action serving in the Saigon region, and post the Americans bailing out, he spent a few years in a Viet prison for re-education under the communist regime. Years later as a tour guide he takes tourists around some of the sights of his younger days and is not afraid to tell his story. I expect it is repeated on a daily basis, and so he has honed the details as such to get the groups attention. After getting on the bus, Mr Bean informed us that 'Lonely Planet' information was a load of crap. How dare he. He said it doesnt tell all the story. And then he asked us if we wanted to hear the true story of the Vietnam/American war. "Yes please Mr Bean".
He rattles off some of the historical dates before the Vietnam war in lightning quick time. He gives a load of information about the war and what started it. He then gives information about the Vietcong and about the Americans...and although he is a great storyteller, the facts were exactly as Lonely planet had put it. It was the same story. He added some bits about his part in the story and how he had lost members of his family. He is a true veteran and knows all the ground. There is no-one else like him giving tours. I started to believe everything he was saying. He was a formidable, entertaining and exciting tour guide. And I still want to believe him now, but a little doubt crept into my head later that evening when a couple of girls on a nearby table said....


"Yeah, we had a great time at the Cu Chi tunnels- we were really lucky as we had this tour guide who was a veteran serving in the area and so he knew all the details". They were not on our tour.

It is possible that there are two Mr Beans, there are certainly many Vets - however there were just too many coincidences to be true. Either way Mr Bean was great fun.
At the tunnels we were led around a series of displays showing the sniper pits used by the Vietcong to sneak up on the enemy- a few people squeezed themselves in. An american on another group was told clearly by his guide not to try and get too far into the hole, as he would not get out. I had to agree. The next display showed some of the barbaric home made traps set by the Vietcong. Mr Bean kept repeating how these people were everyday Vietnamese and had little to do with the communist party. They were simply defending themselves from the Americans. There are not many everyday people that I know that could think up some of the barbaric traps being used - but against Americans with M16's, I guess you've got to use anything you can.

We looked at a blown up tank with people clambering all over it (and I clambered over it too) and then headed to the firing range. Excellent. For roughly 10 pounds you could fire 10 rounds off on an AK47. Noisy, slightly dissapointing because the gun was fixed in position at it's tip (I guess the Vietnamese don't trust tourists with live weaponary and I don't blame them), but wholly enjoyable I let rip with 8 rounds of the Kalashnikov and Kate took the last couple of rounds (she insisted she didn't want anymore). A violent weapon with absolutely no real accuracy. Not bigging myself up too much but I am a pretty good shot with a rifle and with a repeat shot at the same position, this thing fired all over the place. It is known for being like this - it is why it is such an efficient killing machine especially for crowd control. The person shooting simply doesn't get at all personal with the target as they don't know who the hell they've shot.

The tunnels themselves were the piece de resistance. Kate was expecting some stone walled underground tunnels of sound construction. Instead we were greeted with a 100m crawl through 3 levels of tunnels roughly 0.7-0.8m high and 0.6m wide. The tunnels, dug out in the Cu Chi clay stretch over some 200+km in length like a rabbit warren, allowing the VC to jump out on the GI's. Dug to a size allowing strategic use by the VC, but not for anyone else - they are simply just too tight space wise "The Americans Ass would get stuck" Bean would detail. I managed to drag myself through, at times on my hands and knees. The light at the end of the tunnel was a welcome relief after my sweat soaked clay covered clothes told the story of a hard trip. Kate found the going a little easier than me, but was surprised at how remarkable the network was. An engineering marvel - ironically strengthened by the napalm attacks of the Americans (the clay hardened under the heat of the napalm).

My Beans ability to make us laugh with silly jokes and tell a story kept us enthralled but the tunnels themselves were astounding. A patriotic black and white video accompanied by a diorama of the tunnels finished off the tour, a little bit tiresome at the end of the trip, but Mr Bean saved it with some more facts and stories relating to life in the tunnels.

We thoroughly enjoyed this day. The day was very cheap even with a few rounds on the AK47. To celebrate the cheapness we spent a Vietnamese fortune over dinner (just over half a million dong), and I sat drinking Tiger beer while Kate finally had her Freddie Kruger nails trimmed down to a respectable size at a local spa during a $3 manicure.

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