There are two places in Ho Chi Minh City that you have to visit if you’re there for the first time. Two places that represent too well the disgrace that fell over Vietnam during the 20th century. The first is the War Remnants Museum that is located in district 3. It has exhibitions about the II Indochina War against the USA, but also about the I Indochina War years earlier, against the French. The second place, a bit more far away, is the Cu Chi Tunnels where you can really understand how the Vietcong fought against the Americans.
War Remnants Museum
Its current name has been used only since 1995, after a normalization of the relationship between Vietnam and the USA. The previous name was Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression.
At the entrance of the museum we can immediately see some war vehicles used by the US that were left behind in Vietnam. Several tanks, airplanes, cannons, helicopters and other war instruments were used in this war in absolutely staggering numbers. From each of these types of armored vehicles thousands were sent to fight the communists from the north.
The main building is divided into several rooms that can be visited in about 2 hours. The room that impressed us the most was full with pictures of the victims of the chemical weapons the USA used against the Vietnamese population, such as Napalm or Agent Orange. Still today, babies are born with health problems caused by exposure of their parents to contaminated rivers and lands. It is horrific.
Some say this museum still uses propaganda against the west. Truth is one cannot leave indifferent.
Cu Chi Tunnels
About 50 km away from Ho Chi Minh City we can find the Chu Chi tunnels. Cu Chi was a military base for the Vietcongs at some point during the war. The tunnel system that we can see now was part of a large structure that had around 130 km. It was possible to go from Cu Chi to Ho Chi Minh City all inside the tunnels without being spotted by the enemies.
Life in the tunnels was rough due to the lack of air, food, water and to the constant presence of poisonous spiders, ants and worms. Diseases were permanent and it’s estimated that at any given point, half of the Vietnamese troops was infected with malaria.
This system made it possible that the Vietcong’s location was very hard to find. When chased, they could quickly disappear under the ground and suddenly come up a dozen meters behind to surprise their enemies.
Traps were also a constant. Camouflaged holes in the ground with sharpened bamboo sticks and other lethal gadgets. If a tunnel was found, the American army could only destroy it partially and they would not risk it to walk through them, as it was extremely dangerous and… narrow and low. The Vietcongs, with their rudimentary weapons and shoes made out of used tires, were able to fight back the biggest army in the world long enough for the Americans to give up and leave.
In 1966, the American army dropped 30 tons of bombs on Cu Chi trying to eliminate this system. They were unsuccessful.
Visiting Cu Chi, we can “walk” through one of the tunnels for about 100 meters. The original size of this tunnel was altered, so that all tourists could fit in. It’s a claustrophobic experience, but a nice one as well.
You can also fire some machine guns at the shooting range. We didn’t try this, but had to wait for a group of Spanish to do it and man, it makes a lot of noise.
The Vietnamese people live now in a peaceful era, but they have been through some rough times. Let’s hope this peace is for many years to come.