I wasn’t impressed by these highly visited Vietnam War tunnels. I am neither in favour nor against the Vietnam War. I find it unfortunate that so many lives were lost and so many tragedies occurred. But I don’t see how exploiting pieces of war history for the sake of profit does justice to the war and the people.
I did a tour through a very reputable and long-established company in Ho Chi Minh City. The tour was good enough, the guide was well-spoken and friendly. I can’t complain about that.
Upon arrival at the tunnels, it quickly became apparent that like so many other sights in Asia, the Cu Chi Tunnels have become heavily commercialized. And not in a good way. It was more of a it-seems-contradictory-but-we-want-to-sell-you-coca-cola-ironic-twist-of-fate kind of way. There were also numerous shops in the attraction that sold Vietnam War memorabilia, including Zippo lighters, Viet Cong scarves, bullet key chains and hats. I fully admit to buying some souvenirs. I was raised in a capitalist society and am very much a product of it.
But I would also like to think I am a little critical of the world around me. I found the tunnel displays to be a little overdone. It was interesting to see how the Viet Cong built weapons and traps in the jungle. And it was interesting to learn about how good Vietnamese soldiers were rewarded for killing Americans and were labeled “American Killer Hero”. But much of it could fall into the ‘cheesy’ category. Mechanical mannequins pretending to cook or build weapons: not really my thing.
But I was unimpressed that there is now a gun range at the tunnels. That people are encouraged to pretend that they are popping out of the tunnels just as the Viet Cong did. The thing that rubbed me the way more than anything: they’ve widened all the tunnels so that Western tourists can go underground. To me it’s very confusing that a country that still revels in its defeat of a superpower is now remodelling their country’s historical sites for the very people they defeated. I can’t say that I regret visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels. It was interesting enough, and I wanted to see some of that history, with which I am so unfamiliar.
It’s just a recurring theme for me in Asia: I don’t like or understand (well I do, it all about the moolah) why locals have to modify things to fit a Western standard. Yes, I appreciate some of the comforts of home. But I travel because I want to see and experience something completely different from my everyday life.
For me, the question comes up again and again. I recently had this discussion with a friend: How do travellers reconcile that they are destroying the very things they are going to see? Or what about the fundamentally moral question of when we visit a country that is a known human rights abuser (I will soon be going to one). Western tourists are leading to the creation of one big homogenous culture centred around money, and sometimes encouraging rights abuses for the sake of economic gain. Is it for the better or for the worse? That’s one for each traveller to decide for him or herself. What do you think?