Our trip to Vietnam was actually shorter than I had hoped, but fortunately I got to fulfill one of the craziest experiences of my life so far: I went down into the Cu Chi tunnels deep inside the Vietnamese jungle.
Despite being booked in to a large group tour, it was only myself and J alongside two other young guys from Austria. We got the cool air-conditioned bus up to the visitor centre at the edge of the jungle. And my first thought? Bloomin’ heck this is real.
I don’t know what I was expecting, a museum perhaps? But no, I was in the jungle, walking on what was once a war zone.
We were guided (casually) down into a bunker where we were given a brief overview of the Vietnamese war and shown a very dated video with some heavy Vietnamese propaganda. A nice touch I thought.
Before heading down into the tunnels we were shown around some authentic household practices, weapons and vehicles used through the war, all of which were pretty brutal – from the methods of killing opposition to the dire circumstances people had to live in.
Next up was what we were all waiting for: the tunnels. The Cu Chi tunnels are a vast network of tunnels throughout Ho Chi Minh City, and they served as a means of communicating and supplying food, medicine and weapons during the Vietnam war. Several sections were also manufactured for living quarters, hospitals and military campaigns. I learned that women even gave birth down there!
Before going down as a team, we were shown how small the little doors were and how soldiers went about hiding them in plain sight from the Americans. Only J was brave enough to try and go down there, he said it was one of the most eeriest things he has ever done (and he was only in for a second).
After pulling J out safely, it was now everyone elses turn. There’s a main section of the tunnel which is installed with lights and little emergency exits for anyone feeling claustrophobic. The tunnel lasted about 600 metres, with exits at emery 100m point.
I’m not going to lie to you, I was absolutely terrified. It’s weird, I was nervous about something that I had been thinking about and planning for years! The tunnel was well lit and with J behind me at every step, I was feeling positive.
There’s just something unnatural about going underground and closing the world and sweet sweet oxygen away above you. But back during the war, above ground wasn’t safe and the tunnels were actually a safe haven.
I only lasted 500 out of the 600 metres before clambering out an exit to be greeted by the glaring sun. It was too closed in, too dark and very very real; I let my thoughts of the past get to me and overwhelm me (not to mention the firing range close by was adding to the authenticity of my experience!).
Before leaving the four of us all had a go at shooting a rifle. It was a little violent for my liking, fun but violent and scary.
Overall I am ecstatic to have ticked off another point off of my bucket list. Vietnam is a beautiful country steeped in culture and history – some of which is actually quite brutal and oh so very raw – and a visit to the Chi Chi tunnels will give you a very authentic walk through the hardships caused by war.
Have you ever been to Vietnam?
What is on your bucket list?