KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
We had sent Donna, Hunter and Aidan off to see the Cu Chi tunnels on their own because we had already taken the tour twice before, but we decided to join Duncan and Logan for their tour because we found we could drive a further 50km to see the Cao Dai temple in Tay Ninh, near the Cambodian border. Instead of joining the Open Tour bus, we hired a vehicle and driver so that we would be more flexible and not have to make the obligatory tourist stops at craft shops.
When we set off, we did not realize that there are four religious ceremonies a day at the Cao Dai temple, and it would be best for us to arrive in time for the one at noon. Luckily our driver knew this, so he sailed right on by the Cu Chi tunnel site and we arrived just as the priests were leaving the residential complex for the Holy Temple. I've done a separate journal entry for the Cao Dai experience. It's a place that should not be missed on any trip to southern Vietnam.
The Cu Chi tunnels were made famous (or infamous) during the intense fighting during the American War. The tunnels allowed the Viet Cong guerilla fighters to control a large rural area only 30km from Saigon. In the district of Cu Chi, there were over 250km of tunnels. The tunnels allowed the Viet Cong to communicate with separate enclaves cut off by the American and South Vietnamese forces. They also allowed them to launch surprise attacks and then disappear without a trace through the tiniest of trap doors.
When these attacks resulted in heavy US casualties, bombing raids were launched and one author claimed that the region was the most 'bombed, shelled, gassed, defoliated and generally devastated area in the history of warfare'. There is little evidence of the destruction now, but some of the tunnels have been preserved (and enlarged for foreigners to tour). The Cu Chi guide takes visitors through forest trails, past bomb craters, a destroyed American tank and tunnel entrances to explain how the Viet Cong were able to survive and win the war. Of the 16,000 Viet Cong fighters, only 6,000 remained at the end. Thousands of civilians were also killed. It's a sombre place to visit.
After touring the site, visitors are able to try their hand at firing some of the weapons used during the war. The AK47 is the most popular choice although some people choose to try an M16. At a cost of one dollar per bullet, there are not that many bullets fired per person, but still the ground was littered with empty shell casings at the end of the day. Duncan, Logan and even Anil tried their hand at an AK47. Duncan took a photo of Anil shooting; one that gives me the creeps to view. I like to think of my husband as a pacifist. I never would have encouraged him to fire a gun. Peer pressure and curiosity won out that day.