July in Vietnam: The Infamous Cu Chi Tunnels AKA Where I Shot an AK-47

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A trip to Vietnam somehow didn’t quite seem complete without a look at some sights to do with the War. Much as I dislike seeing signs of war and suffering (a previous trip to Auschwitz had me depressed for days), I thought I’d educate myself by at least going to see the Cu Chi Tunnels. This was where the Viet Cong resistance dug out a complex series of narrow tunnels in which they hid during the day and from which they carried out guerrilla attacks on the Americans.

Unsurprisingly, it was in the middle of some nondescript secondary forest.

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Even more unsurprisingly, this forest housed some bad ass mosquitoes that attacked in no time, giving me huge bites even on my hand.

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We filed past the usual war relics like this abandoned tank that was later infested by tourists hanging off every inch of the bedraggled scrap, trying for a good angle for a photo.

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We then got to the tunnels proper, where our guide demonstrated how he managed to get down into entrance of this tiny tunnel.

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Slim as he was, he had to do some good wriggling before he managed to squirm free of the tunnel.

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And then it was our turn to go in. Here, the tunnels were already enlarged for tourists and I was a little spooked by the close darkness even in that short length.

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We were also shown some nasty booby traps where a false floor swung away to reveal wooden spikes. We were told that these spikes were often smeared with excrement, causing wounds to fester and the victim to eventually suffer a prolonged and painful death. It was a way of inflicting as much fear and dread as possible on the enemy.

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I was glad to finish up on the info gathering and whizzed quickly round the mock up of living conditions of the Viet Cong resistance. It was time for some experiential learning and I got that by shooting an AK-47. For about US$7, I bought myself five rounds. I held them gingerly, fearing that they would explode if I squeezed too hard.

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The nice man in combat fatigues showed me how to hold the gun and plopped the ear muffs on my head. (Don’t laugh, I know it’s all wrong.) And then I fired off the rounds one by one, not knowing whether they hit the target or not. The nice man just smiled and gave me the thumbs up sign when I asked how I did. He was obviously lying. At least he was nice enough not to hurt my pride.

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And of course he completed his nice man gig by helping me take some cool pictures of me holding a gun. Woohoo.

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June in Thailand: The Death Railway

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One of the main things to see in Kanchanaburi is the Death Railway. I took a day tour out that included the Death Railway and the Erawan Falls. Oddly enough, the first stop before seeing the Death Railway was a little pit stop in the middle of nowhere for tourists to feed wild monkeys. I found it a bit disturbing because it makes monkeys dependent on people for handouts and also quite aggressive to humans, particularly when they’re holding on to shiny things like chocolate bar wrappers and water bottles. I just stood aside while everyone else emptied their pockets of food and took opportunistic snaps of the monkeys including this one with the cute googly-eyed baby.

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Onward to the Death Railway. Thousands of Allied POWs died during WWII to construct this railway to help the Japanese forces travel overland faster.

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Despite its sad history, the scenery was lovely. The tracks followed the bend of the River Kwai.

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Where we were dropped off, a little way beyond the station platform, was a small dark cave with with a Buddha image. Perhaps it was to provide peace to those who perished there.

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The Death Railway is still an active train line now, with not just tourists using it. We clambered onto the old-school train to find seats among the locals. There were all sorts: school children on their way home, vendors lugging their wares, regular people on the commute.

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And we pulled out of the platform into more of the verdant countryside.

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It’s funny how tourists pretty much took over the train, everyone was leaning out the windows trying to get a good shot and also trying not to take pictures of the cameras.

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I took the opposite tack and just went ahead to capture all the tourists doing their thing. It’s interesting how tourists only occupied the front few cars and became sparser and sparser down to the last car.

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The view was a lot prettier than I expected, with the clouds against the pale blue and the trees silhouetted against the river and far hills.

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It was such a lovely sight.

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