Visiting Vietnam’s Cu Chi Tunnels (with kids)

 

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Traveling through Vietnam this summer was surely an experience to be remembered for a long time. This country is full of great places to see, things to do and its people is very welcoming to foreigners, particularly to those wanting to learn about their culture.

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After arriving in Ho Chi Minh and resting for a night on August 1, 2018, I had in mind to take my kids (11 and 15 years old) to the Cu Chi Tunnels, the place where many soldiers and civilians hid away from the air invasion of the United States during the Vietnam War.

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Our initial plan was to get there by public transportation. I have always been a fan of taking public transportation when visiting other countries, as this way I am able to learn more about the local people, interact with them and overall give my trips a full experience of having been in that country. By doing things like taking public transportation, I feel I take away with me much more of the culture from the country I am visiting.

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This time, our plan had changed slightly, but still, it was a good plan that promised us a face to face experience with the culture of Ho Chi Minh and its sorounding areas. At the hotel we stayed, they had motorcycles for rent and once my son had seen them, it was clear that they would be our mode of transportation to the Tunnels about 60 kilometers away. As a somewhat experienced motorcycle rider and after we had ridden last summer in Thailand, this new challenge could only improve our two wheels skills on the road.

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The next day, after breakfast, for the low price of 150,000 Vietnamese Dong (about $ 7 Dollars) for each motorcycle, we had begun our journey to the Cu Chi Tunnels. I operated one of the motorcycles with my daughter Silvana sitting at the back and my son took another one for himself. We had made sure our helmets where in good conditions and that they fitted well to keep as safe as possible during our ride. After fueling the motorcycles for less than 100,000 Dong (about $ 4 Dollars) each and asking some directions, we were on our way.

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The morning traffic was a nightmare and for a moment I felt doubtful if we would be safe riding in a jungle of thousands of motorcycles everywhere, in a place where nobody seemed to follow any traffic rules. Within minutes of riding in the city, it was clear that the only rules of operating a motorcycle were no rules and that we only had to be very aware of our surroundings, mix with the crowd and hope for the best. Soon after I noticed that driving a car in this city would be a bigger challenge and risk, having to watch out for so many motorcycles coming from all directions.

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After riding out of the city of Ho Chi Minh, our journey turned out much better. Fewer cars and motorcycles on the road made us feel safer and relaxed. On our way, we had made several stops for water and snacks and once to pick up my phone that had fallen on the road from the magnet I had attached it to use the online map application.

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Passing through small towns and villages, our ride to the tunnels had been a success. We had parked our motorcycles on the entrance of the park, paid our entrance fees and made our walk to the entrance of the Tunnels. There after watching an introduction video of the area, a nice man who worked for the park and native from the Cu Chi town had volunteered to be our guide.

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The man had had briefly explained to us about the area and within minutes we began walk through the small man made tunnels that I barely seemed to fit in. The guide had warned us that Vietnamese men and women are very small and thin and that the tunnels had been made perfectly for their size. After walking through the compacted areas, I could feel somewhat claustrophobic and my son had also mentioned he could also feel it. On the other hand, my daughter seemed to pass through without a problem.

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During the short, but very informational tour, the guide had explained some details of the area, which had helped them win the war agains the United States. Truly it was amazing to see how intelligent these people had been in a time of tension, not only be cause they managed to adapt and live underground for so long, but also to be so disciplined in everything they did. For example they would only cook their meals in the mornings and their smoke would come out of a small hole in the ground, thus mixing with the morning fog. Also, they had managed to make man made hole traps with sharp bamboo stakes where their enemies would fall into their death. As well, they had disguised their underground hideouts and defense areas, looking like broken tree roots with small holes where they would observe their enemies every move and shoot them on sight.

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Visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels gave my kids the opportunity to learn about this important moment in history in a way they would not learn it in any of their classes. We had all learned that the war that had ben fought in those grounds had been inflicted to a community of people that had learned to defend themselves and outsmart their enemy on their own ground, thus achieving victory.

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Our trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels had ended with a plate of boiled Yuca (Cassava) roots, to be dipped on a mixture of salt and sugar, one of the main staple food commonly cooked and eaten by those who fought the war bravely and hid underground for months on end. On our return to Ho Chi Minh, we faced the chaotic peak hours traffic of the day, but managed to make it safe to our hotel. The adventure of the day had been exhausting to all of us. It was time to rest.

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