The World Underground: Exploring the Cu Chi Tunnels
From 1955 to 1975, Vietnam was in a total chaos. Fellow Vietnamese turned their backs against each other, finding allies through other countries who back up their beliefs. Bombs exploding everywhere and the sound of guns, a distant background through their everyday life. For decades, this is how the Vietnamese lived. Today, the remnants of the past became a monument of today’s governance and an uncanny tourist destination for curious visitors.
During my quick visit to Ho Chi Minh City, I decided to dedicate my day to explore the famous Cu Chi Tunnels. There are options wherein you can visit both Cu Chi Tunnels & Mekong Delta in one day, but since I don’t want to be too exhausted and too hurried during the trip, I decided to skip Mekong Delta and instead focus on just this destination.
Cu Chi Tunnels is a war memorial park in Vietnam, famous for its connecting underground tunnels that spread up to 40 kilometers. This used to be a refuge for Viet Cong fighters as they battled against Americans. Today, the tunnels pose as an adventurous destination for tourists, but during my visit, I could not stop myself from wondering how people lived underground for years. Being there was a mix of both fascination and heartbreak. Just thinking that people lived in such space where even breathing felt like a task was just unbelievable.
THE CU CHI TUNNEL TOUR
Before the tour proper begins, guests will be asked to sit inside a small hut for a short film viewing and briefing. The video was in black and white, reminiscent of old documentaries from the early years of television. It tells the story of the Cu Chi district — how a once vibrant town known for its rubber plantation and friendly occupants became the headquarters of the Viet Cong fighters. A short briefing from the tour guide also explained how the tunnels were built (fun fact: it’s built by hand! All 40 km. of it!) and how the system works. The tunnel complex served as a home, a hospital, and even an armory for the fighters during the war.
During the tour, you will be ushered around the jungle, giving you a small glimpse of what was a battlefield in the 1960s. This is only a part of what was once a fully functional headquarters as the tunnels sprawled throughout the area. Mind you, all the plants in this area are ‘new’ as Vietnam was heavily bombed during the war and this part was not spared.
One of the entrances to the tunnels, hidden in camouflage
The Cu Chi Tunnels is made of three levels, the first one around 3-4 meters deep. It was primarily used as a cover during attacks. It’s enough to withstand heavy types of machinery such as tanks and vehicles, which made it a perfect hiding spot for the fighters. The first level is also the place where tourists are asked to crawl through, as the size of the pathways are already renovated and made bigger to accommodate visitors. The second level is around 6-7 meters below the surface, where the common areas such as the hospital, sleeping quarters, armory, and kitchen can be found. Although this is already way below the surface, visitors are still given a chance to see some of it through sheds that the government dug up. This gave visitors a glimpse of what was underneath without needing to crawl through enclosed spaces. The last level of the tunnel complex is 8-10 meters below the surface and was mainly used as a quick escape from the enemies. It has a direct access to the Saigon River, where fighters can exit and get away from the battle scene. The third level was, of course, inaccessible for tourists. It’s too tight in this part of the tunnel and even the soldiers have a hard time moving around on the last level.
One of the sample traps within the jungle
During the tour, you will also be introduced to the different types of booby traps used by the fighters. Most are made out of spikes and assured a slow, painful death for its unfortunate victim. They have a whole bunch of them — from land traps to those that are hanging from above the doorway — and just thinking about how it took the life of its victim made me feel a bit unpleasant. It must have been a really bad blood bath.
Wide array of guns that you can try at the firing range
A quick stop at the firing range is also in order before the tunnel exploration. I opted not to fire a gun because it was out of budget (also, as I mentioned in another post, I was scammed and I spent most of my money because of that). The activity ranges from 40,000-50,000 VND per round/box of bullets. This was the only place in Vietnam where you can fire a gun as the country has strict policies on gun ownership and usage.
Entrance to the tunnel
Last, but definitely not the least, was the most awaited time to explore the tunnels. While this has already been refurbished to accommodate visitors, the place is still small and is not advisable for those who are afraid of enclosed spaces. It is important to note that people who have heart problems or asthma are not advised to crawl through the tunnel because the air is thin and it tends to be hot underground.
I was not the most courageous but I wanted to give it a shot. I didn’t worry as much since there were multiple exits (available every 10 meters) and you can easily get out if you feel like it’s too much. I didn’t finish it ’til the end and went out after a few meters because I started to feel afraid — it was dark, hot, and way too tight for me. I know I’m not claustrophobic but the tunnel was truly a different experience altogether. I could only imagine the lives of people who lived here — enduring everything just to fight and win the war. Anyway, it was truly an eye opening experience and I highly recommend this for everyone visiting Ho Chi Minh City.
Here’s a short video of my experience!
- Take the tour in the morning. The Cu Chi Tunnels tour is usually offered as a half-day trip, and while you can always opt to explore the place in the afternoon, it can get a little hot to go around. Picking the earlier slot would give you more time to explore, especially because you’re not running against the park’s closing time.
- Bring bottled water and some light snacks. Going around the jungle under the sun can be draining and it’s best if you’re armed with some light snacks and some water.
- Bring an extra shirt. Vietnam is a tropical country and going around can make you sweaty. An extra shirt would come in handy.
Cost & Tour Packages
My tour was arranged by my hostel and cost me about $14 (318,000+ VND). This already includes a pick up the hostel and a drop off near the Benh Tanh Market. You can always book the tour online, though. Other tour coordinators offer a packaged trip to Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta. Make sure to always double check the inclusions to know if it’s value for your money. Also, be sure to double check feedback from others as well. 🙂
More of my Vietnam Trip