Day seven finished marking the half way point of the trip. We went to the Cu Chi Tunnels today, exploring the underground networks the Viet Cong (the North Vietnamese guerrilla soldiers) built during the Vietnam War. This spider web of tunnels built by hand and shovel were used as camouflage, to booby trap Americans, and to transport the whole Viet Cong force. These tunnels were the reason for the nicknames “ghost soldiers” earned by the Viet Cong. The tunnels were small, definitely fit for the small bodies of the Vietnamese, but actually were in incredible shape. The dirt was so compacted that the tunnels were relatively clean and smooth for being underground. I definitely expected to be covered head to toe in dust after climbing through them, but surprisingly popped my head out with little to no debris on me, just rivers of sweat.
Just walking through the jungle made me realize how difficult it must have been for Americans who didn’t know a thing about the land. Instead, all they experienced was intense humidity, seeing everywhere ginormous millipedes and spiders and thick underbrush they knew was carrying surprises (not the kind you’d get for your 16thbirthday) underneath.
Interestingly enough, as this is a Vietnamese run park, the Vietnam War is very much portrayed as an American loss and Vietnamese victory, demonizing what the Americans similar to how we did to the Germans after WWII. However, with Vietnamese development, the younger generation has a more neutral stance, viewing it really as just a war where a lot of people died for no strong reason. As with most things in Vietnam, it is shifting away from traditional, strict, and controlled to a more democratic society with more neutral views and opener opinions.
Cu Chi tunnels were incredible. I overcame my claustrophobia and ate my favorite root ever: tapioca (strongly recommend with peanuts, sugar, and salt), as well as had a major flashback to an extremely important time in history.
We also briefly stopped at a cemetery built specifically for Vietnamese soldiers who died during the war. Again, a surreal and difficult experience, having the same effect as the U.S.’s Arlington National Cemetery.
That consisted of our structured days activities. Now, for the fun part. Mom, don’t mean to scare you, but I crossed several highways jam packed with motorbikes without dying. THAT is a cultural experience. And, I’m still here to tell the tale. Also, had my first try at street food today, trying a Bánh mì, which is one of my favorites since coming here to Vietnam. So, if I get sick, absolutely worth it.
We walked around the city tonight, experiencing so much of Ho Chi Minh. Again, my appreciation for this part of the world sky-rocketed today. Excited to see what tomorrow brings.