The American War
Between 1954 and 1975 there was a controversial war between communist Northern Vietnam (and ally, Viet Cong, in the South) and Southern Vietnam (and ally, The United States). Known to westerners as the Vietnam War, this second Indochina War was known to its victors as "The American War" or "War Against the Americans to Save the Nation".
While I knew this conflict had deeper meaning: think, history of Indochina War and the Cold War, I really didn't understand the true human cost until I got there myself.
The Truth Behind the Lives Lost During the War
Westerners know of the American lives lost in the Vietnam War: 200-250,000 soldiers died. But there is not one person I've asked (aside from conscientious objectors and historians) who realize how many civilian lives and soldiers died in Vietnam. Here's the magic number: about 3.1 MILLION PEOPLE.
Why Touring the Cu Chi Tunnels is Important
Those facts don't hit you until you do a tour like the Cu Chi tunnels. It doesn't hit you until you see the death traps set up. Or hear the *real* gunshots going off in the background. It doesn't hit you until you find yourself on your hands and knees with low oxygen, dripping sweat and hyperventilating as you crawl through these tunnels and realize that regardless of which side they were fighting on, HUMANS were living/hiding in these tunnels and holes fighting a political war.
Here is the scoop on my Cu Chi tunnels tour, and information on Les Rives Experience, the tour company I chose to guide us through the emotional experience:
Les Rives Experience
I didn't know what to expect. Picked up and seamlessly guided to a speed boat supplied with life jackets, fruit, and beverages. I felt like it was just another day at sea, not realizing the shock I was about to endure.
One of our first stops was observing a US B-52 bomb crater, used to wipe out enemies and land undetected.
The tunnels alone paint a chilling picture of what fighting in the Vietnam War was like. A picture no history book can describe. Almost immediately upon entering the outdoor museum, you are guided to fit your body into a tunnel hiding place - a space completely suffocating - even after being expanded to fit western tourists.
Between the tunnels, kitchens, and traps, your interest is immediately caught by how resourceful and engineering the fighters were. Booby traps swarmed the grounds during the war and this tour provided a detailed display of the gruesome concoctions.
The Viet Cong also constructed their sandals from tire rubber, designing the foot-shaped sole facing backwards to thwart anyone following their foot trail.
The kitchens had tunnels dug out so that cooking smoke could release from the ground in another location so as not to give away their position.
If the sights aren't real enough, the sounds will bring you back to reality. There is a range in the area where you can shoot weapons that were used during the war. Exploring the area while hearing gunshots in the background was chilling.
Hearing the other side of the story was so important to me. Hearing firsthand what the Vietnamese felt about the war (and even Americans) was a unique experience.
I felt sad, and even ashamed. It seemed to be a consensus that Americans didn't belong in this war, but then there was warmth; the Vietnamese locals seemed to be happy to see Americans (even when we were in the North) and would only say, "We just don't want any more fighting".
The Cu Chi Tunnels is something you have to experience firsthand to understand. I recommend Les Rives Experience as a reliable and knowledgable tour to guide your historical journey.
Lunch is provided, as well as transportation and a great English speaking guide.
To learn more about the Cu Chi Tunnels tour by Les Rives Experience, or any of their other Vietnam tours, visit their website here.