Cu Chi tunnels

Worth seeing

Photo of , , Ho Chi Minh City

What we say: 4 stars

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 more than 250km, from Saigon all the way to the Cambodian border. Few sites bear stronger testament to the North Vietnamese and VC 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. As with the Vinh Moc tunnels in the DMZ, the tunnels were more than just a means to get from one place to another undetected. Facilities included medical centres, meeting rooms, theatres, storage rooms, sleeping quarters and even kitchens. The kitchens in particular were problematic as the smoke from the cooking needed to be dispersed both to avoid suffocating the Vietnamese and without giving away the position above ground. The tunnels were used for infiltration and planning — the Tet offensive of 1968 was both planned and launched from within the tunnels.

The US tried first to attack the tunnels from within — sending soldiers down into the tunnels to fight their way through. These brave soldiers — operating under dual disadvantages of their small numbers 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 they defoliated swatches of land then bombarded it with heavy bombs, including weaponry specifically designed to collapse the tunnels. Through all 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.

They're known as the Cu Chi Tunnels because that's where the first tunnels were dug, and today, it's where the sections of the tunnels open to tourists remain. Substantially enlargened to allow more bulky Westerners to climb through, they remain nevertheless very tight — if you suffer from even slight bouts of claustrophobia, you do not want to get into the tunnels.

The large area surrounding the tunnels is a tourist park and included in your visit to the tunnels. It features a range of displays including a museum and several still-life displays - don't lose sleep if you miss them. You can also fire military grade weapons at 20,000 VND a bullet in the park.

The vast majority of travellers visit the tunnels as a part of an organised tour out of Saigon. Note while the tunnels can be approached independently by getting a public bus to the town of Cu Chi, the tunnels are a xe om ride (around 15km) from Cu Chi — once the motorbike ride is factored in, it's far more affordable to see the tunnels as a part of a tour from Saigon.

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35km from Saigon
Last updated: 15th February, 2012

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