The Cu Chi Tunnels are a tunnel complex used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. The tunnel system has been preserved by the Vietnamese government and is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ho Chi Minh City.
Cu Chi Tunnels History
The Cu Chi tunnels were built during the 1940s while the Vietnamese were in their war of independence from the French colonial government. The tunnels were expanded throughout the 1960s as America began to increase its military footprint in Vietnam. By the end of the Vietnam War, the Cu Chi tunnel complex spanned over 75 miles long. Most, if not all, was dug by hand.
The tunnels were used to house and hide troops during the Vietnam War as well as some of the civilian population that was in areas being attacked by the Americans. The tunnels had more than living quarters, there were hospitals, food stores, and weapons caches.
The Cu Chi tunnels were used as communication and supply lines connecting large areas of South Vietnam.
At one point during the war, they connected Viet Cong bases from Saigon to the Cambodian border.
The Cu Chi tunnels are located in the northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon during the Vietnam War. The Viet Cong were able to launch many attacks on Saigon and surrounding areas from these tunnels, including the massive Tet Offensive.
The Americans had tried to destroy the tunnels on several occasions, including several large offensives.
They tried carpet-bombing the area with B-52 bombers, ground assaults, chemical weapons, and even putting soldiers armed with nothing more than a flashlight, handgun, and some explosives.
The latter were infamously known as “Tunnel Rats.”
The attempts to destroy the tunnels were not successful.
Cu Chi Tunnels Tour
Today, tourists can visit the tunnels and experience a bit of what life was like for those soldiers living in and fighting from them. A Cu Chi Tunnel tour is one of the most popular day trips from Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC).
While you can tour the Cu Chi Tunnels on your own, it is highly recommended to go with a tour guide.
A guide will show you around the site, often pointing out things you may miss on a self-guided tour. They provide lots of valuable insight and information, plus they are a great resource for any questions that are bound to come up during your visit.
You can go on a private or group tour. Most group tours are small, with around 6 – 10 people. Booking a tour of Cu Chi is easy, you can do it online or most hotels will book a tour for you.
What To Expect On The Tour
If you book a group tour a van will pick you up at your hotel in the morning. Once all the tourists are on board, you’ll head out to the tunnels which are about a 1-hour drive northwest of Ho Chi Minh City.
Expect a stop on the way at some sort of craftsman shop to seem Vietnamese crafts being made, which will culminate in a gift shop. Once that part of the “tour” is done, you’ll be on your way to the tunnels.
The first stop is a pit, covered with a roof to keep you out of the sun, which serves as an auditorium. A presenter will show a model of the temples and play a black and white propaganda film from the 70s to give you some background on the site’s history.
From there it’s time to start the rest of the tour with your guide.
Exhibits At Cu Chi Tunnels
This is a walking tour where you’ll see some of the various key features. You’ll see entrances to the tunnels, well-hidden air vents, and several exhibits with tanks and other armaments as well as mannequins dress as Viet Cong in several settings. These are spots where the guide will stop and impart some more history and information about the tunnels.
One intriguing stop is the examples of some of the various booby traps that the Viet Cong used to protect the area. They are nasty pieces of engineering meant to maim or kill the U.S. or South Vietnamese soldiers. From a covered hole with sharpened stakes at the bottom, called punji sticks, to more menacing traps that would swing from trees to impale soldiers.
Several sections of the Cu Chi tunnel are available for tourists to crawl through.
They are very small, dark, and can be a little claustrophobic. They’ve been enlarged to accommodate Western tourists, but you can still plan on a tight fit, and if tall you’ll be crawling through on hands and knees.
The sections you can crawl through aren’t very long, but enough for you to get a real feeling of what it might have been like to live down there or be one of the American Tunnel Rats.
Firing Range At Cu Chi Tunnels
A popular stop on the tour is the firing range. Here you can fire all types of guns from the Vietnam war. From an M-16 to a fully automatic M-60 and many other types of firearms. You need to pay for the ammunition, so how many rounds you get to fire is only limited by your wallet.
Are the Cu Chi tunnels worth visiting? Absolutely. It is informative, interactive, interesting, and thought provoking.
If You Go To Cu Chi
While most guides refer to the Cu Chi tunnels as if they are one place, there are actually two Cu Chi Tunnel locations. One at Ben Duoc and the other at Ben Dinh. Ben Dinh is where most of the tours go. The tunnels are shorter, wider, and made for tourists. It is also closer to HCMC (Saigon) and it has the shooting range. This summary covers what to expect at the Ben Dinh tunnel site.