Leaving the constant hustle and bustle and the millions of two wheelers behind, if one were to drive about 70km north-west of Ho Chi Minh, one would reach the legendary Cu Chi (pronounced Ku Chi) Tunnels of Vietnam. A visit to understand and experience this unique historical place, should be a must do while in Vietnam, for it is in many ways akin to the David vs. Goliath story. The Goliath in this case being the United States who bombarded the area during the Vietnam War in the 60’s and the Cu Chi people playing David, facing sophisticated weaponry by deploying guerrilla warfare tactics.

The Cu Chi Tunnels are eponymous with the local tribe and are a testimony to how the locals, farmers and tribesmen, came together to create a way of living under ground. The tunnels that are complex structures, dug with bare hands and rudimentary tools, helped the Cu Chi people survive and indeed carry out their day-to-day living. They slept, ate, planned attacks, carried on educating the young and even gave birth, all under ground as they battled shelling and non-stop attacks.

What is interesting is that the tunnels have been preserved to date in a way that allows you to enter the booby traps, get inside the trap-doors as well as climb down a couple of storeys and experience their strategy to combat warfare. It also shows how the Cu Chi people knew their flora and environment extremely well, for they make extensive usage of foliage as camouflage. They make good use of the extensive rubber plantation in the area, even making rubber soled shoes that left prints on the ground in reverse, thereby misleading the American soldiers. Our local guide explains that the tunnels were created in such a way that whenever they cooked, smoke would be released at a completely different spot, far away from the actual kitchen. Also, young infants and children would be kept in the lowest tunnel so that their cries would not reach above ground.

But the living conditions greatly affected the health of the Vietnamese people, who were often poisoned by snakes and suffered rampantly from malaria, because of having to live underground for long. No wonder, these tunnels were called ‘The Black Echo’ by the Americans. The Cu Chi Tunnels gets thousands of tourists every year from all over the world. It is particularly interesting to see how many Americans make it a point to come to these Tunnels and hear of both the heroic as well as the horrific tales of warfare.

There is a shooting range for those who are further interested in a real war-time experience for you can choose from a number of assault rifles such as AK-47 or M-16 and take aim. There’s also a cafeteria and a souvenir shop at one end that sells wartime memorabilia along with other Vietnamese souvenirs. After a refreshing fresh coconut, I can’t help pick up a t-shirt that perhaps says it all: ‘Vietnam. A country. Not a war.’