Kevin Pilley checks out the subterranean mazes used by Viet Cong 'human moles' during the Vietnam War.

These days, they carry Amex. Not AK47s. They don't wear khaki. They prefer crinolene.

"Operation Rolling Thunder" is still a major pull. War is still a big draw, 40 years after the recapture of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War.

To celebrate, they are serving not very cold Heineken under the khaki camouflage.

To refresh you - after you've done all the elderly pagodas and experienced all the wonderful and delicious things Vietnamese cooks can create with what, on the surface and if you look long enough at, looks like some rice, the inside of a golf ball, some bamboo shoots, soya sauce and a fish resembling John Hurt - everyone heads for the tunnels and makeshift bar at Cu Chi.


During the war, 20,000 people lived here in a three-level underground network which stretched over 200km. Only 2ft-wide by 3ft-high and housing factories, hospitals and entire villages, the Cu Chi tunnels have been modernised and modified. They now cater for mass tourism.

Which means they've been widened to accommodate massive amounts of massive tourists with massive bums.

Once only tiny fighters from the Vietnam People's Army could navigate these tunnels. Now they can be accessed by a Teletubby with a camcorder.

The Cong called them "Region 1V". The south Vietnamese called them the "111 Corps Tactical Zone". The Marines called it "The Iron Triangle". The holiday brochures and the hotel foyer fliers call them a "must-see".

These narrow corridors are the former homes of the "human moles" who frustrated General William Westmoreland, the 25th Infantry and the 242nd Chemical Detachment. In these dirt halls, the Tet Offensive was planned.

These tunnels are where they sheltered from Agent Orange and the brutal Crimp (1966) and Cedar Falls (1967). These are the famous holes which gave the US Army "Tunnel Rats" their name. The Australians called themselves "Tunnel Ferrets".

Spliffed up, they volunteered to flush out the revolutionary heroes from their subterranean bolt hole. It was dangerous work. Deadly snakes, scorpions and killer bee hives awaited them, along with coconut mines and needle-sharp bamboo "punji" canes. They were a maze. Nowadays, they are signposted.

Once you have done the tunnels, you can have your photo taken with your arm around a mannequin independence fighter or in front of a "downed" US chopper. There's also a gift shop selling cans of warm Heineken, gory photos, books with gory photos, spent cartridges, authentically bashed-in helmets and bullets with realistically-buckled noses.

You can buy yourself some fetching retro guerilla fatigue-wear. US dollars and Vietnamese dong are both welcomed. Once someone gets hold of your dong they won't let go.

An infamous battlefield has become an enormously popular amusement park. On simple school classroom chairs in a timber frame hut in a small patch of regenerated jungle, you watch a video presentation depicting - if the electricity supply holds out long enough - the long but ultimately victorious struggle against the evil, raping, bubblegum-chewing imperialist forces.

An infamous battlefield has become an enormously popular amusement park. Photo / Supplied
An infamous battlefield has become an enormously popular amusement park. Photo / Supplied

You are then marched along dirt tracks through the undergrowth. Your guide carries a stick and points out the bomb craters.

Nobody in Vietnam can let anyone forget the war - the atrocities have become too much of an asset. The war is a sustainable yield product.

The killing fields now have rest rooms and and a picnic area. The biggest pull is the buck-a-round "Markmanship Stadium". It's a rifle range. And you have your choice of four Viet Cong targets.

I watched as one tourist, a Brit, pushed up his Ray-Bans and settled them on top of his wavy hair. He was handed a gun, weighed it for a moment. He shook his head.

"Give me an M60. M16s are no good."

He was handed another gun. He weighed it approvingly. Then let it rest on top of a brickpile. He screwed up his eyes and looked down the barrel.

He took a few calming breaths. Then squeezed the trigger and shot off a tenner's worth in the blink of an eye. He was from Manchester and it was the first time he had shot a "Charlie". The man who held the Mancunian's dong in his hand and gave out the shells clapped him on the back.

"Good shooting, buddy."

The tourist's prize was a polyester VC hat. You can get them anywhere. They are good for fishing.

A jet screamed overhead. "Medic! Medic!" someone screamed. "We have a sick man over here!"

There were giggles. Behind them a group of school children smiled. Their teacher didn't.

I left my warm can unfinished.


Getting there: Cathay Pacific flies to Ho Chi Minh City via its hub in Hong Kong.