Anyone who has been to Ho Chi Minh would have heard of the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels (30 miles northwest of Ho Chi Minh, a 100-minute drive). Seeing is believing, and in this case, it’s only after you have attempted to enter those tunnels you can truly comprehend the horrors of wars and the reality of life in those tunnels.
French-fighting Viet Minh troops first began digging these tunnels below a French-colonial rubber plantation in 1948 to hide from bombing. Later, the web of tunnels become like an underground city used by Viet Cong guerrillas as hiding spots during combat, as vital communication and supply routes, food and weapon caches and living quarters. Dug entirely by hand, the tunnels at one time measured more than 120 miles, stretching from the Cambodian border to the outskirts of what was then Saigon.
The crucial tunnels is without a doubt the pivotal factor in how the Viet Cong succeeded in resisting the American forces with their advance warfare and weapons. Numerous attempts to destroy the tunnels never worked and eventually the weary Americans were forced into withdrawal. For many Vietnamese, the tunnels provide a justified source of pride.
Visiting the Site
Trips of Cu Chi’s main site (Ben Dinh tunnel) start with a grainy black-and-white film that charts the history of events during the war and gives a brief background on the tunnels. The tour follows a short looping path past recreated tunnel sites which are built into the ground, with canvas tops to illustrate how life was carried out underground. In the simulated kitchen, guides show how smoke was diverted through mini-tunnels to escape far away from the real tunnel itself.
Life in the tunnels is harsh. They are made to be extremely narrow to prevent the bigger sized enemies from entering. The openings are small beyond imagination and camouflaged by leaves. A guide demonstrates how villagers and Viet Cong would enter the hidden tunnels during the war. Tourists can make their way through three sections of tunnels ranging from 150 to 650 feet in length. Although these tunnels have been widened to accommodate westerners’ physique, you should probably stay above ground if you’re claustrophobic or have a bad back or knees.
There’s plenty to see above ground. A mock up of a horrific spiked contraptions hidden under trap doors in the jungle floor, craters left by bombs dropped from B-52s, abandoned U.S. tanks you can climb in, mannequins of North Vietnamese soldiers and Viet Cong guerrillas. It seems ironic though that after visiting the sites, some visitors still have the desire to try their hands at shooting the AK-47s and M-16s at the shooting range ($1.50 per bullet).Perhaps the message on the horrors of war was not brought across?
Half day Cu Chi Tunnels tours are widely offered and it is recommended to go with a tour package or guide for a better experience as they will lead you through the exhibits in an organized manner with real life stories to share. Open Daily from 7am to 5pm. Admission costs about $5. This fee is usually not included in the cheaper tours check with the operator if it is not stated.