In war movies, you may have seen the Cu Chi tunnels, famed for being an intricate network of underground facilities through which the Viet Congs launched surprise attacks against Americans in the 1960’s. These tunnels are such an integral (and scary) part of that war, and I think visitors to Ho Chi Minh should go and visit and see for themselves.
Cu Chi is actually a rural district 30-40 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh, so tourists will usually have to hire a car/driver or be part of a tour group in order to reach the tunnels. And it’s not just tunnels in one location! Remember that the network can cover over 250 kms, tunnels being several stories deep – some of them probably even undiscovered still…
So, you have two choices as to where to go. The most popular one where most tourists go is at BEN DINH, just 50 km from HCMC (admission about 65,000d as of 2010). Here you will learn the history of the tunnels and also see large maps showing its extensiveness. A few hundred meters of tunnels are available for visiting by tourists – most tunnels being only 1.2 m high and 80cm across – and not lighted at all! The Vietnamese were of very small stature allowing them to navigate through these tunnels with ease – and the bigger American soldiers would find it too cramped and almost impossible to traverse. Definitely, going into the tunnels is not for the claustrophobic!
The other place where tourists go is at BEN DUOC which where our tour guide decided to bring us. He said there are “less tourists” here (less crowded) and on the map, it does seem to be farther from HCMC than Ben Dinh. The tunnels here are still small but some of them have been enlarged to accommodate the tourists, and in the tunnels themselves, there are mannequins depicting how life was before during the war – there is a surgery facility, meeting areas, dining halls…with us was a Vietnamese in Viet Cong attire and he would show us how the Viet Congs used the tunnels through camouflaging the “cover” with leaves. He would vanish under the leaves and reappear a few feet away through another opening! Haha – my friend who was no too tall was able to go through that tunnel – but I must warn you not to attempt it if you are very claustrophobic!
Overall, a very enriching experiencing to see the tunnels…but I enjoyed more walking through the jungle-like areas before we saw the tunnels. Just be watchful of bats (also inside the tunnels) and spiders and ticks – so I do advise wearing pants and not shorts! Also, you will sweat specially during the summer (so bring an extra shirt, or in my case, I just brough some T-shirts on sale there which were just about $5 or less each)
I bought my tour through Expedia on-line – but most major hotels will have brochures of different tour companies offering day tours.
Cu Chi Tunnels are legendary due to being the center of resistance in 1960s. The narrow and low tunnels network strech to 200 km. Some parts have been demolished in time, but there are still 2 sites, Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc where you can actually see and even enter the tunnels. Only a 100 metre crawling from one entrance to an exit will be enough to appreciate Vietnamese resistance where they used to stay weeks inside these claustrophobic tunnels. The traps used around tunnel zone give you an insight on how difficult it was to survive during war era. Daily tours are available from Saigon and usually they include CaoDai Temple and then Cu Chi Tunnels. These daily tours cost around 8 USD. The entrance fee of 80000 Dong is excluded in tour packages.
Some useful tips after experiencing it :
1. Dress lightly, as casual as possible.
2. Don't wear your favourite clothings as during crawling your clothings will definitely be coated with some soils.
3. Don't wear slippers as it will be quite difficult during tunnel crawling.
4. Don't bring bulky bags, best is just a small waist pouch/sling.
5. Bring insect repellent.
6. Last but not least, MUST bring a touch-light.
In summary, the tunnel is only very short (30/40m), but the guide goes super fast that my hubby being the one after him could not even catch up with him. However with the touch-light that we have allow us to see where we are going. And those people way behind us really have trouble as it was a total darkness in the tunnel. The tunnel size is quite alright for Asian size, for those that has big belly & bigger size, will find it quite tough. Anyway, is a good "work-out".
Excursion can be booked in the Backpackers area and all agency has the flat rate of US$4 excludes US$5 entrance fees. Depart at the agency at about 8.15am
Historical Tip:If you've heard about the Vietnam War, chances are, you would have heard about the stealthy tunnels in Cu Chi. Yup, these tunnels were used by the deadly Black PJ gang (Viet Congs) to infiltrate unsuspecting US base camps and Ho Chi Minh, 39km away . Amazing, if you consider that in total, this underground tunnel has a combined length of more than 200 km !
More amazing, if you consider that the soil in Cu Chi is very hard and that very simple tools were used to dig the elaborate network. Well, the black PJ gang used only simple spades ( something that looks like a kimchi soil digger ) to hack away the hard, red earth. And by sheer will, they created underground wells, hospitals, sleeping areas....well, a mole-heaven for their clandestine but deadly activities. That's not all, this hard labour was fueled only on a meagre diet of tapoica, sugar and peanuts. It sure defies the old belief where monkey work is expected if you pay in peanuts. This ain't no monkey work man, it is a serious and deadly network of tunnels!
Personal Experience: If you do decide to come here, you'll get a chance to go into those holes and tunnels and feast on those peanut delights. And, if you do grumble that the wee tunnels are bloody narrow, your guide will tell with a grin that they're already enlarged (for fat hogs like us). Most probably, he'll ask you whether you'll like to have a go at an even smaller but orginal, hellishly-dark hole.
Well, I did just that just out of foolish pride and came back with very sore legs after duck-walking for 30m in a hole that was more suited for Dr Evil's mini-me. To top it off, my back was covered with red dust. Guess I was not too bright.
Since Cu Chi is a little off the beaten track (it's 2-3hr bum-rotting bus ride away from Saigon) , I've provided the link and address of a reliable tour agency in Saigon that'll take you there for only USD4
A trip to Ho Chi Minh City would not be complete without a visit to the famous Cu Chi Tunnels. This extensive network of tunnels run 3 levels deep underground and is the place where the Viet Cong guerillas stay and launch their surprise attacks on the Americans during the war. The entire tunnel length is almost 250km and is recognized as an engineering marvel!!! I took a tour from Tuan Travel for USD6. It leaves HCMC at 8.30am. It takes 2 hours to reach Cu Chi. On the way, it stops at a handicraft factory which manufactures really beautiful lacquerware. The factory employs Agent Orange victims.
The entrance fee at Cu Chi is VND70,000. Before entering the Cu Chi tunnel, you would be briefed on the the tunnel system as well as given a video presentation on the Cu Chi guerillas. You will then enter the Cu Chi tunnel area where you can see the tunnel complex itself and understand the various intricacy and ingenuity of the tunnel system. You may also crawl in the tunnel (albeit already enlarged to fit non-Vietnamese). There is a shooting range where you can try a hand at shooting an AK47. Bullets are sold at VND20,000 per bullet and you must buy a minimum of 10 bullets.
It was a very interesting tour and is a must for all visitors to HCMC!
The children enjoyed the day trip we had to Cu Chi - as they have all seen Vietnam war movies from the American perspective, and were a little agog after the introductory video and the general diaglogue of our guide. We had also been to the War Atrocities Museum, and they were aware of the general anti-American sentiment. As Aussies, we didn't really know where we fit in the mindset!
Nobody could dispute the ingenuity of the CuChi network - and the intrepid souls who must have designed, constructed, used and actually resided in them! Our guide told us that people were married and born in there! These tunnels apparently started out as a network between houses, which was much extended to the 200 or so Kms they are today.
We found this setup very well done - gave a really good visual perspective of the tunnels, how they were used as an obviously effective means of fighting the war, and, regardless of politics or war affiliation in general, you could not but be impressed by the capability and capacity for enduring extreme conditions of the Viet Cong - and perhaps the survival instincts - of the builders and dwellers of this area. It is a must see museum if you have the opportunity.
We had only a few days in Ho Chi Minh - and we managed to book a daytrip that took us to both Cu Chi Tunnels and the Mekong Delta. As a family of 5, we constituted the whole tour - and had the small comfortable bus and the guide all to ourselves! He was an excellent guide, with very good English, and engaging sense of humour, and a clear appreciation for the guide he handed us to for the Mekong part of the day! And, he understood teasing!
Lunch was part of the enjoyment of the day, as we ate at a small restaurant along the Mekong, sitting on the water - and ate elephant ear fish! This fish is really do die for - and costs a bomb at home.
It was an early start and a late finish, but the whole day was very much enjoyed by all of our family - taking the easily bored son into account as well.
When we went for the Mekong part of the day, were taken to Unicorn Island - which was a very small island about 10 minute boat ride from the mainland. There were a number of cottage industries there, all of which involved consumption - of honey based alcohol, honey based sweets, fresh fruit and some live entertainment of local girls and musicians! Guide told us she worries about getting fat - refer to picture! She was also a wonderful guide - great English, and keen to learn some Aussie slang!
The guides we had for this one day were the best we had for the whole Asian holiday, in three countries. Makes such a difference to what you learn and how much you enjoy the experiences.
I went to see this on a tour combined with the Cao Dai holy see temple. The Tunnels are 1.5 hours from Ho Chi Minh city. Admission is not included in the price of the $7us tour. The admission price is 70,000dong.
First, you watch an interesting video, then you are taken around and shown the various areas and shown the booby traps, old american tank and other displays.
Lastly, you can go down the tunnel.
I was there on a hot 35 degree day and found the tunnel stifling hot, not much room to move and a queue of hot people in the tunnel probably made it hotter! The tunnel is dark, narrow and not high, you have to bend right over if you are a westerner.
As an asthmatic, I was gasping for breath three quarters of the way through, so I exited at one of the many exits we were told about before heading down. Hardly a person made it the whole way on that very hot day.
This was an interesting tour.
Always one on the lookout to prove that girls CAN do everything - I was really impressed by the apparent equality between the male and female footsolidiers of the Viet Cong. The small stature and agility of the girls, as well as their undoubted overall capability from a rural life, enabled them to contribute just as much to the war as the males. As stealth and general motor skill ability were undoubtedly the major skills requirements, I am sure they more than matched their male counterparts! An additional obvious need was the emotional commitment to the cause, which is quite clearly evident in the history of Cu Chi - and the enduring pride these people have in the wartime achievements. The "war hero" honour for killing an American was indicative of the mindset that must have motored them along every day and night.
The other role that women had was demonstrated by the more traditional roles of industry, making uniforms and preparing meals.
Set around 35km from central Ho Chi Minh City, the Cu Chi Tunnels earned legendary status during the American War. A massive network of underground tunnels and chambers, Cu Chi, in its entirety, stretched for over 250km from Saigon all the way to the Cambodian border. Few sites bear stronger testament to the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong's will to defeat the Americans (and the French) than these tunnels.
It's a little realised fact that the Cu Chi tunnels predated US involvement in Vietnam, with the first tunnels being dug after the end of World War II in the late 1940s. In the following decades the system became more comprehensive and the tunnels and chambers more elaborate. The US tried first to attack the tunnels from within by sending soldiers down into the tunnels to fight their way through. These brave soldiers, operating under dual disadvantages of their size and not knowing the territory, endured a horrific fatality rate. When that was shelved, the generals decided to attack the tunnels from the air, first defoliating land then bombarding it with heavy bombs, including weaponry specifically designed to collapse the tunnels. Through all of this the tunnel networks survived. It wasn't until the late 1960s when American B52s carpet-bombed the area that substantial sections of the tunnels were finally destroyed.
Despite all the bombings in their town, the Cu Chi people were able to continue their lives beneath the soil, where they slept, ate, planned attacks, healed their sick, and taught their young. Some even wed and gave birth underground, but over 10,000 lost their lives here. I went on a tour with the Sinh Cafe whose offices are in the Pham Ngu Lao backpackers area of Ho Chi Minh City and it cost me 136,000 VND (about $8 including lunch) which also included a trip to the Cao Dai Great Temple at Tay Ninh but you still have to entrance fee of 80,000 VND. When we arrived we were shown a black & white propaganda film and then our guide showed us the hidden entrances to the tunnels and various traps and home-made weapons that were used. The tunnels are extremely small with an average height of between 1m and 1m 30 so, being as I'm 6ft 2" (185cm), there was no way I was going down! You can also fire various weapons such as an AK-47, M16, M60 or Magnum 44 where each bullet costs between 20-25,000 VND but for a minimum of 10 bullets. For more information and pictures of Cu Chi why not visit my Cu Chi page below:
A highlight of the day for our son was shooting an AK47 at Cu Chi - I know all the reservations expressed by people about this as a money making leisure activity in the context - howerver, taken at face value, an enjoyable first experience for a boy from Australia. No such opportunities at home. The attention to safety was fine, and he enjoyed the experience - and the girls shot a few bullets. I don't think any psychological damage was done! At US$1 per bullet, this was always going to be limited!
Fall back in time and experience how the Viet Cong outsmarted the Americans by surviving in these unbelievably hot and stuffy tunnels, some so narrow, bigger size folks would find most uncomfortable. Claustrophobics need not bother.