Sunday, June 10, 2012

Trying to Fit in as an American at the Cu Chi Tunnels

Vietnam is a unique country in many ways. First, it’s Southeast Asia’s “skinniest” country. Second, the country is still divided over geographical, political and cultural lines. The North and South divide is an active component here in Vietnam. They have a saying here, “Same, same but different.” Third, the Vietnam war (or the “American” war as some call it here) still lingers in the minds of most American travelers.

In Saigon (it is official called Ho Chi Minh City, but I like to call the city by its pre-communist takeover name), remnants of the war can be seen in its monuments, museums and day trips to places like the Cu Chi Tunnels.

The Cu Chi Tunnels are a vast network of underground tunnels about 45 km from Saigon. The Viet Cong used these tunnels to not only hide from American forces, but used them as living quarters, a hospital, a supply route, weapons cache and as a base of operations for the Tet Offensive.

If you are claustrophobic and dark places make you want to scream, then the tunnels shouldn’t be on your list of places to visit while in Saigon. Since the tunnels are a popular destination for so many Western tourists, they have enlarged some of the tunnels to accommodate them.

Unfortunately, this is still a problem for many American tourists. We like our beers, juicy burgers and overpriced Starbucks coffee that contribute to our obesity. Fortunately, I’m not one of those Americans, but I still had problems crawling through the tunnels. You have to remember the average Viet Cong soldier was very short and skinny.

Normally the soldiers would duck walk though the tunnels, but due to my height I had to crawl on all fours and at times get on my belly. By the time I emerged from the other side, the heat, humidity and the dirt from the tunnels made for a memorable experience.

You can see from the photograph one of the secret entrances to the tunnels as demonstrated by one the guides. I also had the opportunity to squeeze in the tunnel entrance and believe me it was a close fit.

After crawling through the Cu Chi Tunnels I now know why Vietnam is Southeast Asia’s “skinniest” country.

Stay tuned for more of my adventures in Southeast Asia.

Happy Travels!

Text and photo copyright by ©Sam Antonio Photography

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