KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
With David feeling better a couple of days later, we booked a morning tour to see the Cu Chi tunnels about an hour and a half outside of Saigon. The tunnels were originally built during the 1940's when the Vietnamese were fighting for independence from the French. At that time there were about 48 km of tunnels in the Cu Chi district.
With tensions rising between the Communist North Vietnam and the people of South Vietnam, an independent guerilla force formed in the South and aligned themselves with the North Vietnamese army. They had to operate in the South near Saigon, but had little place to hide from their enemies. They decided to use the old tunnels and set about to enlarge the network as their strength grew to over 16,000 fighters. These guerillas were called the Viet Cong - nicknamed "Charlie" by the Americans once they joined in the war in support of the South Vietnamese government.
The tunnel network eventually extended for over 250 km in an area concentrated near the town of Cu Chi. The tunnels were dug right under the US Army base outside of Saigon, the Americans eventually figured out that the Viet Cong were underground, but they didn't know how to put a stop to their constant raids. The area around Cu Chi was bombed, defoliated and napalmed and it is said that this land was the most devastated of any land in history. The tunnels were dug at three levels - three meters, six meters, and nine meters - it took the American B52 bombers to destroy the tunnels at the lowest levels.
Much of the tunnel network still exists, a small portion has been enlarged so the tourists may enter the tunnels and crawl through them. There are large rooms underground that were designed to feed and house the 16,000 fighters as well as treat their injuries. It is hard to imagine spending any time under these conditions, let alone managing when bombs are being dropped and there is constant gunfire overhead.
The tunnels are well worth a visit - many tourists take the opportunity to fire some of the weapons used in the war - up to and including an AK47. It's amazing how loud the sound of the gunfire is. I was happy when that portion of the tour was over and we returned to our bus for the ride back through the now peaceful villages. The forests have regenerated and as over half of the population of Vietnam is under 25 years of age, fewer and fewer people are alive to remember those troubled times.