Thousands of tourists visit the Cu Chi Tunnels everyday, an immense network of connecting underground passageways just outside of Ho Chi Minh City.

The 121 km-long complex of tunnels is where thousands of Vietnamese soldiers supporting the north hid out during the Vietnam War. Even though the tubes have been enlarged to accommodate visitors, they are still extremely claustrophobic — just wide and tall enough to walk through stooped over. They are dark. And ventilation in them is poor.

To tour the tunnels, visitors need not get down and dirty or be ready to overcome fears. Experienced guides are there to tell stories and answer questions about what happened in various ‘rooms’ underfoot.

Saigon Profile: Meet ‘Uncle Nam’, a Cu Chi Expert
Uncle Nam is one such guide. He was born in the district of Cu Chi and lived in the tunnels as a soldier and vegetable grower from 1963-1975.

For more than a decade, he called the subterranean labyrinth home. He even met his better half down there.

Uncle Nam made lots of friends in the tunnels, as well. He realized just how many friends he had when he was injured by a U.S. bomb; his comrades gave him the best seat in the house — “near the vent, where there was much more air to breathe,” he remembers.

Nowadays, the 66-year-old draws energy from the people visiting the tunnels in hopes of learning more about Vietnamese culture. He enjoys leading tours because it keeps him active and bolsters his self-worth.

“I am proud of where I come from,” says Uncle Nam. “It makes me happy to be able to contribute to my hometown.”

If visiting Cu Chi, ask for Uncle Nam. He is a delightful guide, and more than happy to show you around a place he knows well.

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