I’m wary of war museums, and when we went to the one in Ho Chi Minh I sat outside among the tanks and helicopters and tried to not to think of the horrors contained within. It’s not that I don’t want to think about war, or suggest that we shouldn't learn about it; it’s simply that I prefer to read about it, to hopefully see both sides of the story. Or maybe I am just a bit of a wuss.
Anyway, I was not anticipating the afternoon excursion to the Cu Chi Tunnels with any sort of interest at all. I couldn't have been more wrong.
What I didn’t really think about, before I left, was that Vietnam has only recently been opened up to the west. They haven’t quite got the tourist banter down. Sometimes they can come of more intimidating than inviting. The Vietnam War was really very recent. It was fought there, above and below ground. The examples of traps and snares are real.
I knew, of course, that the tunnels have been expanded for tourists. I knew, of course, that I couldn’t get lost. I knew, of course, that the gunshots breaking the quietness were from the training field next door. But, I also knew of a little history, of the way these hills were riddled with traps and of the horror that the people above and below ground must have witnessed during the long years of war.
It must be a fine balance between museum and theme park in a historical war site. The Cu Chi Tunnels just outside of Ho Chi Minh City are certainly historical. They weave under the ground for miles in an intricate web of warfare that is chilling in its ingenuity.
We went underground, for a very short time, into the widened tunnels. It was hot and claustrophobic and people were scared. I was bent over, and in darkness for most of the way as the guide was at least eight people away from me. It was an exhilarating few minutes, but in retrospect it was a reminder of how people lived during an awful, terrible time.
I’m glad we were there on a quiet day. We left sobered by the experience.