While at Ho Chi Minh we also did a day trip to Cu Chi, a village and historical site which was preserved from the war and also the location of an impressive network of Viet Cong tunnels. I was not really sure what my reaction would be when we arrived to such a place which carried such dreary depressing connotations. I always get quite affected emotionally, which is strange considering the bulk of my studies focused on the Holocaust.
However Cu Chi has become a very tourist-oriented location, much of the tour was guided as series of limited scenes of the local ‘villagers’ and how they lived with shops along selected stops. My initial surprise at seeing laughing children being a part of the tour soon wore off as we split into a minor group and was able to appreciate the explanations and discussion initiated by the guide.
There were still a number of persons living at Cu Chi although most of the Vietnamese people avoid the place due to ‘bad spirits’. We were told that there were mass graves nearby but cordoned off from the public. Out of respect I restricted my photography to still life items and ‘outterside’ depictions of the tunnels.
Much of Vietnam still resides in poverty and many of the villages around still live as they did 40 years before. They rely on local home grown produce in a community setting and use very traditional tools such as the basket pictured above which shifts and grinds rice and flour.
The Viet Cong tunnels and traps are carefully maintained as part of a government initiative. One could see visible bomb craters around from the American offensive and some of the tunnels and underground rooms are too caved in to visit, but much of it as been reinforced and even covered with newly built roofs. It is a shock to see how tiny some of the entryways are and the dark gloom of a tunnel gives instant claustrophobic reactions.
I only dared to brave the last (and longest!) tunnel, quickly ducking my head in and closing my eyes and feeling the way with my hands. It was with a big breathe of relief to come out in open air again. I really cannot fathom how they could have survived living underground for days or weeks at a time, much less in tunnels that are several feet below the ground and only connected by tiny air ways.
It is an experience one would not forget for a long time and I am glad to have had the chance to go.