Day 20 Sunday 4 January 2015

An early start as we travelling north today to see the preserved parts of the Cu Chi tunnels which formed a part of the Ho Chi Minh trails used to supply the fighters in south Vietnam during the wars against the French and later the Americans.

The tunnels were extensive around Cu Chi and ran at several levels.  First a metre underground allowed the guerillas to move around to confront ground troops, whilst a lower level permitted protection from falling bombs.  Within the tunnels there were other facilities to provide for some hospitals, areas to protect women and children, cooking and dining  facilities as well preparing weapons.

And the album of photographs:

The average Vietnamese at the time of the wars was between 120cm and 150cm tall and this meant that the tunnels could be fairly small and easily excavated in the soil around the Saigon river as there were no rocks or other impediments to the tunnelling.  The tunnels were originally commenced simply as undergound bunkers during the French war of independence to provide safety and protection and over a period of time they were linked together to provide something entirely more functional and useful.  These tunnels were built by local people who were working with the North Vietnamese and essentially were not directly part of any north Vietnamese army.  They wanted communism and were therefore fighting the war, supported by supplies from the north.

In one direction they also allowed access to the river bank and up into the country into deep forest.  They had very small access points which could easily be hidden with dry leaves to allow the guerillas to confront a force of ground troops and also to appear behind them easily.

Foreign news correspondents captured some evidence on film of the tunnels and this is played to us together with an explanation of the size of the tunnels and their usage before we inspect the physical remains.  Some of the pictures demonstrate the tunnels and also some of the traps which were used against the ground forces.  Typically the traps were developed by the villagers for use against animals and vermin and then scaled up to be used against the army.  Some of them look pretty painful and were no doubt effective.

When it comes to entering the tunnel I can get down to the first level but looking down I can see that the only way I could progress would be on my hands and knees and even then it would probably not help my back when I came to climb out the far end.  I therefore retreat before I get stuck.  After all Winnie-the-Pooh had to give up hunny for days before he could be freed from being stuck in Rabbit’s hole.  I might miss the plane home!

The underground fires for cooking had their own tunnels so that the smoke would issue at a distance and even if spotted an attack would not be on the kitchen itself.

Quite often the US troops would abandon armaments and these would be carefully stripped to remove explosives so that they could be re-used in weapons against the Americans.  Shoewear (sandals) were made by deconstructing rubber tyres and re-using them.  This practice was also adopted by the Khmer Rouge in Campuchea.

I believe in total there was over 1000 km of tunnels and whilst the US brought in extra heavy tanks to effectively compress them, this only worked on those immediately under the surface and not those at a lower level.  And of course B52 bombing had some impact – but not enough to stop the supplies coming through.

We head away from the tunnel area and further away from HCM City to Tay Ninh where the master Cao Dai temple is located.  We arrive just before 12:00 in time for the chanting ceremony (which happens in total 4 times per day).  Visitors are allowed to observe from the rear of the temple and some photographs were taken.  In decoration the temple is very similar to the one already seen in Sa Dec but much larger.  It is a physically impressive building with the same use of bright colours.

As we do not understand the chanting a fifteen minute observation is adequate and we repair to a local restaurant in the town nearby (along with, I note, many of the other tourists seen earlier!).  This time we do not quite get all of the meal at once (it is a fixed menu) and the soup arrives first; then just about everything else, apart from the rice which turns up a determined ten minutes later just as most of what had arrived before had been consumed.  Not too spicy and all very fresh – both in terms of the ingredients and obviously the cooking!

It is quite a long journey back to our hotel but we are dropped off outside the Notre Dame cathedral and opposite the Post Office.  These are two of the buildings which have survived and not been redeveloped.  Both attractive in their own ways, although we do not enter either.  We then have a nice wander back to our hotel observing at least one bride being photographed with the cathedral as a backdrop,

Dinner is on the 20th floor of the Grand Hotel where we consume a modest pizza and caesar salad, both well prepared and enjoy the view over the harbour and of the surrounding neighbourhood.  Our sightseeing is over.