Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Vietnam, HCMC: Cu Chi Tunnels, War Remnants Museum

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One of the highlights of a tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels, about 1 1/2 hours north of Ho Chi Minh City, is the opportunity to fire a vintage AK-47, for a mere 350,000 VND per 10-shot clip (about $1.67 per bullet). I wasn't that interested in it, so I went in on a clip with a young couple of fellow-travelers in my tour group. From the beginning: I arranged the previous evening with my hotel clerk for a tour to Cu Chi, which is highly recommended, part of the network of multilevel tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the "American War" to hide in and move around without attracting notice.

A comfortable, air-con bus wheeled around the downtown area picking up from the hotels (me at about 8:50 AM); by 9:10, we were on our way north out of town. If you've ever been on a Great Wall of China tour, you'll know what happened before we got to the destination: a stop at a handicrafts workshop and showroom. This one was a little different, more worthy if I may say, because all the workers were handicapped by defoliants.

The Cu Chi tour itself begins with a jingoistic b&w video and a brief lecture using a map and this cutaway of the tunnel layout:

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They've done a reasonable job contextualizing the site, as your group follows a very well-worn path around the jungle, looking at a few types of tunnel entrances. There are stations along the way including a small encampment, a disabled US tank, and an armament workshop, complete with audio-animatronic VC.

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The most interesting station was one that had a series of VC traps that were scattered around the area, with wall paintings illustrating them "in use."

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After a break where you could either grab a quick snack or shoot a rifle, it was finally on to the part where you crawl through the tunnel. And I did it. It was nasty and dark and I felt almost stuck every inch of the way, but I did it--twenty meters of it, to the first exit ladder, anyway. I was so freaked, I forgot to take a picture, but I did get one of our tour members who didn't go in to take this shot at the exit (there is another exit at 70 meters, and a final one at 140 meters). It is creepy down there and I look a lot happier than I felt:

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War Remnants Museum
Until US-Vietnam relations warmed up, I'm told, this place was called the War Atrocities Museum. I don't know why they decided on remnants, though, because virtually every display is little more than photographs mounted on the wall (albeit with English as well as Vietnamese descriptions). There are a few scraps and weapons and such, but it's mostly photos. And it's mostly photographs taken by US military or press photogs, quite a number of which I remember from Life magazine. First up, the most iconic of the War's photos, centered on Phan Thi Kim Phuc, fleeing the napalming of Trang Bang in June, 1972. She survived.

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Here is a rather famous shot of some US soldiers 'waterboarding' a suspect VC soldier:

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Some photos to give you a good feel of the place, including some victims of defoliants, some anti-vehicle mines, a display of weapons, and some war remnants:

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And finally, a picture from the beginning of the walk through the museum, of Uncle Ho with some children, and a statue in the big open hallway, which is probably meant to call to mind Peace, or something like that:

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Tanner Brown said...

Eddie Adams' shot of that general executing the Viet Cong could arguably give the naked-girl napalm shot a run for its money as most iconic.


Tuttle said...

True, but I didn't see that one on display.

Conan and Carolyn Campbell said...

Love the pics uncle Steve they are beautiful. It looks like you had a great time. Love you and miss you here in America

조안나 said...

Same exact tour I went on, even the handicapped workshop. I didn't mind stopping there, though, because it was interesting to see.