Vietnam is a unique country in many ways.
First, it’s Southeast Asia’s “skinniest” country. Second, the country is still divided over geographical, political and cultural lines. The North and South divide is an active component in Vietnam. They have a saying, “Same, same but different.” Third, the Vietnam War (or the “American” War as some locals call it) still lingers in the minds of most American travelers.
In Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon, as some locals still like to call the city, before the Communist takeover), remnants of the war can be seen in its monuments, museums and day trips to places like the Củ Chi Tunnels.
The Củ Chi Tunnels are a vast network of underground tunnels about 45 kilometers from Saigon. The Viet Cong used these tunnels to not only hide from American forces, but also as living quarters, a hospital, a supply route, weapons cache and as a base of operations for the Tet Offensive.
If you are claustrophobic and dark places make you want to scream, then the tunnels shouldn’t be on your list of places to visit while in Ho Chi Minh City.
Since the tunnels are a popular destination for Western tourists, they've enlarged some of the tunnels to accommodate them. Unfortunately, the width is still a problem for many American tourists. We like our beers, juicy burgers and overpriced Starbucks coffee that contribute to our obesity. I’m fortunate not to be one of those Americans, but I still had problems crawling through the tunnels. You have to remember that the average Viet Cong soldier was very short and skinny.
Normally the soldiers would duck walk though the tunnels, but due to my height I had to crawl on all fours and at times get on my belly. By the time I emerged from the other side, the heat, humidity and dirt from the tunnels made for a memorable experience.
You can see from the photograph (above) one of the secret entrances to the tunnels as demonstrated by a guide. I also had the opportunity to squeeze in the tunnel entrance – and believe me, it was a close fit.
After crawling through the Củ Chi Tunnels, I feel like I understand why Vietnam is Southeast Asia’s skinniest country.