This morning we left the hotel at 8 AM and took off on a long bus ride to the Cu Chi Tunnels. Similar to yesterday, we drove past a lot of small houses and restaurants with tin roofs on tight and bumpy roads. Eventually, we made it to the tunnels and had the chance to look at a lot of old US military planes, tanks, and helicopters that had been left behind in Vietnam. It was interesting to see how everything was deemed as equipment that the Viet Cong had either shot down, destroyed, or stolen from the US military when in reality, it was all stuff that had just been left behind after the war. After that, we ventured out into the jungle to learn about and explore the tunnels. The Cu Chi Tunnel system was a 90 kilometer long series of tunnels that were used as a means of hiding and transportation so that the Viet Cong could move around near Saigon without alerting US and South Vietnamese forces. We learned that the tunnels have three layers, the first being 3 meters deep, followed by a second row that is 6 meters deep, and then a third that is 9 meters underground. All of the tunnels were dug by hand using a small shovel and a woven basket to put the dirt in. Viet Cong forces would often hide underground in the tunnels for hours or even days at a time during attacks or when they could hear US soldiers walking above them. The tunnels were equipped for these lengthy stays as we saw the dining rooms, bathrooms, and strategy rooms that were used by the soldiers during the war. We also got to climb through five or six of the tunnels, and it was incredible how the tunnels were still in such good shape with the large, thick cement walls that wrapped around each one. I was uncomfortable just crawling through the 10 or 15 meters of tunnel that we went through, and I can’t imagine sitting in the cramped, hot tunnels for an extended period. Most of the tunnels were just little hatches in the ground that you almost had to do a pencil dive into to get down. The hatches are so small and easily covered by leaves which is another reason it was so difficult for the US forces to deal with them. A lot of the tunnels were also set with traps for protection. Bamboo shoot spikes and spike balls were often put in places that would injure enemy soldiers if they fell in. Overall, I didn’t feel as if the war was portrayed in an anti-American sense from what we saw at the tunnels. It was made clear that the Viet Cong had outsmarted the American soldiers by using their home turf and the tunnels to their advantage, but there was nothing that jumped out at me that seemed to attempt to purposely offend the US. During our time at the tunnels I was also interested to see the reactions and opinions of the Vietnamese students who came with us. Throughout the week none of them have mentioned anything to me about the war and this trend continued today. Almost all of the students seem to hold nothing against the United States for the devastation caused during the war. It is not something they focus on, or something that would be brought up in conversation unless I asked about it. I think the open-mindedness of the students as well as most other Vietnamese people has been beneficial in their rapid globalization and development. Because they don’t seem to hold a grudge against the US because of the war, they have been able to use the US as an important factor in their economy’s expansion as the US is one of their largest trade partners and has led the charge with a lot of the recent foreign investment in Vietnam.
After the tunnels, we ate lunch at Restaurant where we were able to eat great food with an awesome view of the Mekong Delta. On our way back to the hotel we stopped at a cemetery that was lined with over 6,000 graves from Vietnamese soldiers who died during the war. It really gave me some perspective on the large scale destruction and loss that occurred during the war, and made me think once again how incredible it is that the Vietnamese people aren’t still angry at the US. We also went to a store that sold handmade goods such as plates and paintings that were all created by people who were affected by agent orange during the war. We got the chance to see the long, difficult process they use to create the items sold in the store, and we were able to shop around for a while. I had a great time exploring the tunnels and seeing the amazing artwork, and I’m excited to finish up our last two site visits tomorrow.