Saturday, September 20, 2008

Cu Chi Tunnels outside Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)

There are a series of tunnels outside of HCMC where the Viet Cong managed to maintain control for most of the Vietnam war. The area was declared an open fire zone, meaning any kind of weapon could be used, and as a result the area was totally stripped of trees due to defoliants, and the landscape riddled with the effects of bombing, artillery, and land operations. The Viet Cong who controlled the area survived underground, in a tunnel system over 200 km long, for years. Many died, I think 10,000 out of 16,000, but they managed to hold off the Southern Vietnamese and American forces - with the most amazing ingenuity and basic technology.

Today, there is a tourist park where foreigners and Vietnamese kids can go see this. It's a great piece of propaganda for North Vietnam. They have demonstrations of the traps they used to hide to catch enemy soldiers - these things are adaptations of the hunting traps used for tigers, with covered pits that have sharpened bamboo stakes. They show the way the Viet Cong would screen smoke so that they could cook underground without having it be seen from above, and make shoes out of old tires. They would even dismantle live bombs for the gunpowder inside - and doing this all with the most minimal of tools.

The one other thing they've got at this place is a firing range. It seems lightly bizarre, but they actually have M-16s, AK-47s, and several other weapons available to be fired.

Hearing the gunshots in the background certainly added to the realism of the morning! Anyway, I was curious, so I got one bullet, rather to the amusement of the Vietnamese man monitoring the whole thing. "One? Really only one?" Yep - it's not something I want to make a habit.

It was a little weird firing an AK-47 just a hundred meters from the wreckage of a US tank that had been destroyed during the war, and probably meant the deaths of the soldiers in it.

But I have to admit, I feel kind of bad-ass for having done it.