Longing to travel in Vietnam? This 7 part series, which travels from Hanoi in the north to the Mekong Delta in the south, will entice you to experience Vietnam’s vibrancy and beauty; meet its resilient and hospitable people and marvel at their ability to blend calm serenity with seeming chaos … and make it all work.
Rubber Plantations on the Way
Cu Chi Tunnels are about an hour and a half’s drive NNW of Ho Chi Minh City.
Before the first tunnels were built in the late 1940s the area was known for its rubber plantations.
If you are able to stop and walk among the rubber trees you will find tree trunks with diagonal cuts through the bark. White liquid rubber seeps down the cut into a spigot then drips into a small bowl below, a procedure similar to collecting maple sugar sap. Dip the tip of your finger into a bowl and see how the sap coats your finger like warm wax. Now rub your fingers together to expose the resin to air. Soon you will have a sticky round ball which can be stretched. Because of these congealing properties rubber trees have to be slashed once a day during the yearly ten month harvest.
The Cu Chi Tunnel network was started during the Indo-China War and expanded during the Vietnam War. The tunnels were the improvised response of a poorly equipped peasant army to its enemy’s high tech ordnance, helicopters, artillery, bombers and chemical weapons. Like a giant cobweb, 250 kilometers of tunnels were constructed on three different levels deep in the earth; a place to hide during bombing raids and from which to stage surprise attacks. One tunnel was built virtually underneath a major U.S. air base. Within this amazing network were sections for living, cooking, gathering water, eating, meeting, munitions, construction and fighting. During the 1960s and early 1970s this area had no green trees or underbrush; it had been deforested through the use of Agent Orange. Bomb craters still pox the landscape where American bombs were not only aimed at targeted areas but dropped freely as a ‘dump zone’ by fighter planes returning to base.
During a tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels (you may, but do not need to, go underground) to learn how the ‘resistance fighters’ (known as V.C. [Viet Cong]) built tunnels, hid excavated dirt, assembled weapons and footwear (from old tires), dissipated smoke from cooking fires, invaded the nearby enemy base and set painful traps for attackers.
Besides the growth of green foliage, the area is now visitor friendly. Rooms which were once underground have been opened from the top and covered with palm thatched roofs. A variety of traps are placed so visitors may see them and how they worked. Thirty and fifty meter sections of tunnel are available for visitors to experience the tight maneuverability of the ‘hallways’; even some escape holes are available to try by those whose size is similar to the small stature of the fighting Vietnamese.
Many former American soldiers come to visit and better understand why it was so difficult to fight under such circumstances.
The Vietnamese government proudly states, “The tunnels show the undaunted will, intelligence and pride of the Cu Chi people and today the preserved areas are a symbol of the revolutionary heroism of the Vietnamese people.”