If I thought yesterday’s hike up to Jesus was a sweaty trip, today proved me wrong. This morning we traveled to the jungle to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels. The tunnels are a complex 200km of tight, winding tubes chiseled tirelessly in the rain forest. During the Vietnam War, these tunnels were used by Vietnamese soldiers for quick, unseen attacks and escapes. They would pop out of dirt covered slits in the ground and shoot American soldiers from all sides in a show of traditional guerrilla warfare. Most tunnels begin with a simple hole in the ground which leads into a very intricate, dark, maze-like series of pathways and small rooms. Due to the effort required to make these paths and the smaller size of the Vietnamese soldiers, these tunnels are extremely confined.
As many of the local sites show, the Vietnamese government portrays the Americans as awful evil-doers. While history is normally written by the victors, we got to see the behind-the-scenes of the “losers” and see how they passionately embraced their cause. Often, history can be distorted by opinions, selective sharing, and the evolution of stories over the passing of time, but everything we learned about the tunnels today felt accurate and was explained by knowledgeable individuals who had been around during the war. The fact that the Vietnamese were restricted to this style of fighting demonstrates the previously weak state of their technology and infrastructure, but if another war were to break out today, I believe the country is much more developed and capable of fighting in a more traditional style.
Over the years, certain tunnels have been widened for tourists while others have remained untouched, and we had the option today to experiment with both if we so desired. Despite my typical claustrophobia – likely one of my greatest fears – I knew I wanted to try the first tunnel. The short, 10m tunnel was tight, but I felt comfortable enough, so I attempted to complete additional tunnels. In the end, I actually completed all four tunnels including a twisty, inclined 50m one. Unlike many of my fellow students, I never saw any of the multiple bats or spiders living in the tunnels, and this was probably for the better.
Although I didn’t see the creatures in the tunnels, we did find a great deal of large insects. In particular, we must have seen at least a hundred centipedes that stretched over three inches in length walking across our path.
Since food is always a logical follow-up to bug pictures, we dined for lunch at a small outdoor restaurant a mere couple minutes from the tunnels. For the second day in a row, I ate fried squid – this time without seasoning – and yet again I really didn’t mind it. At the moment, if I had to pick a “favorite” seafood, calamari may be the choice.
At the end of our trip, we visited an official government cemetery strictly for war soldiers. Simply getting a visual for the number of soldiers slaughtered during battle was incredible. The graveyard of roughly 8000 soldiers is only roughly 1/500th of the Vietnamese lost in the battle. The number of casualties is absolutely astounding, and this trip really offered a perspective on how large this number is.
This evening, we plan on eating with a few of the Vietnamese students as per usual, and possibly exploring the city again at night!