Monday, December 19, 2011

CRAWLING THROUGH THE CU CHI TUNNELS

What is War tourism or Dark Tourism? It is a term used to describe tourism that capitalises on painful memories. All over the world, people visit sites like Auschwitz, Chernobyl, Hiroshima Peace Park and the Killing fields in Cambodia to have a glimpse in to the hardships of people who suffered. Sometimes to make peace with their own demons or to remember a loved one... Some people think that this kind of tourism is voyeuristic and to be discouraged but like someone once said, “The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.” In Vietnam a country once torn by war and strife, memories of the painful past are everywhere. One of the most interesting places that I visited in Vietnam was the Cu Chi tunnels, an hour’s drive from Ho Chi Minh City. The web -like Cu chi tunnels, allowed the Vietcong to control a huge slice of the rural area, almost up to the Cambodian border. Some of the tunnels even ran under the US military base and helped these guerrilla fighters to launch surprise attacks and disappear quickly. Today sections have been enlarged to enable tourists to enter them. In the past a elite band of American soldiers called the Tunnel rats were enlisted (based on their small stature) to enter these small tunnels  and flush out the Vietcong.


Our guide Thung first explained the layout using a model - a three level ingeniously planned underground maze, with meeting rooms, hospitals, bedrooms, kitchens, and even cavernous theatres! People lived, got married, had babies and even died in these subterranean rooms...Thung explained how the chimneys from the kitchen were several metres away, and had flat vents, so that the smoke just diffused gently, instead of a plume. Bamboo poles were stuck through the ground in to the tunnels to provide air in the rooms and disguised as termite mounds from the top.

A man in army fatigues opened a miniscule, camouflaged wooden hatch and in the blink of a second, did a pencil dive into the small trapdoor that leads to the tunnels. The diabolical Vietcong made their weapons and land mines using recycled metal from bomb shrapnel in a most dangerous procedure. Their very rudimentary but durable footwear was made from strips of old rubber tyre treads. There was an unnerving section devoted to the different traps used by the VC-the tiger trap with a hinged trapdoor that flipped up and throws the person into a bed of bamboo spikes, tipped with poison. Of course they have tried to create a kind of Disney war park- there is even a souvenir shop with war memorabilia: planes and toy tanks from coco cola cans, dog tags and jewellery from bullet shells and fake Zippo lighters. But all the same- a crawl inside these tunnels makes you admire the grit and determination of these people who survived all the odds!

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