To take kids or not to take kids
Is it ok to take kids to see the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam? This was a question I grappled with. We were staying in Ho Chi Minh city for five days and it seemed like an important thing for us ( my husband and I) to do. It also seemed like a great opportunity for our nine year old to learn some important information about Vietnam, history and war. But what about our five year old twins? I turned to google to find out what other parents chose to do, but couldn’t really find any information that swayed me either way. Would it be too graphic? Would they be disturbed by the information? Would they be respectful? In the end I decided to go with my gut. We took the kids along.
This might not be the right decision for you. Each kid is different and at the end of the day, you as the parent know your children best. We had kept the kids away from the Killing Fields and S21 in Cambodia (my husband and I went separately over 2 days). It was hard enough for me to look at the pictures of those who were imprisoned, tortured and killed. It was not an atmosphere my kids would have understood or gained anything from being exposed to. The Cu Chi tunnels on the other hand, was a bit less about brutal, senseless mass killings and more about the incredible feat of the Viet Cong. To be completely honest, the twins found the whole excursion to be rather exciting. They got to crawl through 150m of dark tunnels! It was like an exciting maze. The fact that people died in war wasn’t something they took away from the day.
The Trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels
We booked the half day Cu Chi tunnel trip through GetYourGuide (I love their App – I often check for discounted tickets to local attractions when I arrive in a new city) for about $25 pp and jumped on a mini-bus for the 2-hour trip out there. Our guide was quite young (fresh out of college) and gave us a LOT of information about the Vietnam war and the Viet Cong. Our kids wore their headphones on the bus but I doubt they would have paid much attention anyway. This particular guide had a very frank way of describing the killing of American soldiers. I couldn’t help but wonder how some of the American tourists on the bus felt about the commentary! The 2 hour bus trip was broken up with a mandatory stop at a ‘lacquer workshop’. We personally have no interest in buying lacquer products and could have done without this stop, but one of the older Vietnamese ladies in the workshop took a liking to the twins and gave them some egg shells, paintbrushes and lacquer to play with. This kept them amused while the rest of the group were guided through the workshop and store. Once we were back on the bus it was about another 30 minutes to the tunnels.
The Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi tunnels complex itself is actually quite well set out. Despite a large number of tour groups it didn’t feel crowded and there was quite a lot to look at. A good guide makes all the difference here because they take you from spot to spot and explain the different sites. They also take photos of you in bunkers, tunnel openings and next to tankers if you want them to. We found the exhibits to be quite interactive and well designed. Even though we were looking at replicas of war tools used by the Viet Cong (lots of spikes) it didn’t feel too grim or macabre (surprisingly). There were life size replicas of bunkers, workshops, soldiers and the tools they used. The kids could look and touch a lot of the exhibits.
The highlight of the day, of course, was crawling through some of the tunnel complex. I have to admit that I had slight heart palpitations just thinking about going underground in a small , dark one-way tunnel. This is mainly because I had done this 20 years earlier and vowed back then I would never do it again. Fast forward 20 years and I am pleased to report that the tunnels have been further widened (you don’t have to actually crawl or shuffle along on your stomach like you did previously). My nine-year old and traversed 50m (yay – big feat for us). The twins skipped the whole way through and then wanted to do it again.
The only real negative, is the adjoining shooting range. The sound of AK47’s is deafening. Some might argue that it adds to the authenticity of the experience, but for us it was just way too loud.
Was it Worthwhile?
Yes, it was worthwhile and I am glad we did it. Although for the twins it was just a fun day out, I think our 9 year old received a very important and hands-on history lesson. We are very lucky that in Australia war is something other countries do ( mainly). It is SO far removed from the normal that it is hard to comprehend, especially for a child. We are thankful for this, but at the same time to be able to see a part of history, and imagine just for a moment how other people may have lived and may have felt, I think, is priceless. We are glad we visited the Cu Chi tunnels. For us it was family-appropriate day out and on the whole a great experience.
Belinda : https://ourasiaadventure.com/