This post was last updated on February 20th, 2020 at 09:32 pm
For anyone who wants to find out more about the Vietnam War, a visit to the Cu Chi tunnel complex is an absolute must. This immense complex is located just under 45 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City and is a must-do activity in Vietnam. Travelers often combine the Cu Chi Tunnels with a visit to the impressive Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh.
The Cu Chi Tunnels were used by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), better known as the Viet Cong. These Communist guerrilla forces used the tunnels to fight the better-equipped Americans and its South Vietnamese allies. The more than 200-kilometer long tunnel system served as a shelter, communication center, storage facility for weapons and even schools and hospitals were found.
History of the Cu Chi Tunnels
It was Ho Chi Minh, the leader of North Vietnam, who in 1965 ordered the expansion of the existing tunnel complex and turned it into a shelter for communist rebels from the south, the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese army. The most important area of this tunnel complex was in the Cu Chi region.
The tunnels extended for at least 300 kilometers! In addition, the tunnels had multiple levels that were interconnected and tunnels with traps. Some tunnels were up to 13 meters deep.
The construction of the tunnels was thought out well. There are many bends for protection against explosions and passages in a U-shape that were filled with water. This was to protect against toxic gases. Moreover, the tunnels were very narrow, so that the Vietnamese could easily get through, but the Americans couldn’t.
Many animals from the jungle also used the tunnels as hiding places, making it even more dangerous. In the tunnels entire villages were reconstructed, including ammunition depots, hospitals with operating rooms, bedrooms, meeting rooms, food storage rooms and even theaters.
Many Vietnamese stayed in the tunnels all day long to get out at night to fight. This led to success in the war and confused the Americans because the Vietnamese disappeared like ghosts in the tunnels. However, it also led to health problems due to the living conditions in the tunnels and the lack of sunlight.
Origin of the Cu Chi Tunnels
The association with the Vietnam War, also called the American War, makes sense since a visit mainly highlights that war. The first tunnels, however, were already dug in 1940 by Communist troops who fought for independence from the French colonial administration. The tunnels were dug by hand, which took an enormous amount of time.
When the Americans sent more and more troops to Vietnam in the 1960s to support the South Vietnamese government in the fight against Communism, the tunnels continued to expand. Because of the many bombings, many people lived in tunnels most of the time, leading to an almost fully-fledged society with hospitals, schools, kitchens and even cinemas.
The most ingenious booby traps were developed to keep unwanted intruders out of the tunnels. During your visit to the tunnels you will see a large number of these traps. From bamboo spears that suddenly burst out of the ground to traps full of iron bars and explosives that were brilliantly used. You can easily put yourself in the shoes of the American soldiers and feel the fear they must have felt.
Chu Chi Tunnels Tours
A visit to the famous tunnels can easily be arranged from the southern Ho Chi Minh City. You can choose a day tour in combination with a visit to the Cao Dai Temple or a half day where you only visit the Cu Chi Tunnels. Tours can be very cheap but the group is large and it can be difficult to follow the guide’s story.
The guide tells you extensively about the origin of the tunnels, the booby traps that were used and you can see with your own eyes how people lived here. Tunnels are also accessible for tourists to experience what it must have been like. It’s hard to comprehend how the Vietnamese have lived in the tunnels; they are hot, humid and claustrophobic.
The tunnels were even smaller in real life but were made larger for the tourists. Don’t be afraid to enter the tunnels. There is an exit every 20 meters. For those who need it, at the end of the tour there is also the possibility to use different weapons from the war on a shooting range. It is a separate sensation if you hear the gun shots during the tour.
We have visited the tunnels on two occasions. The first time (also the best time) was with a speedboat from Ho Chi Minh City to the tunnels. Along the way we had a beautiful view over the countryside. We had a small group (8 people) and an excellent guide gave us a great tour.
The second time was with a bus and an immense group which really took some enjoyment out of the experience. If you are backpacking in Vietnam and traveling on a small budget then you can also consider visiting the tunnels on your own.
The price for a tour starts at around US$25 per person for half a day. Are you going a full day? Then you will pay around US $35 per person. For almost all tours, the bigger your group of people is, the cheaper it becomes. In addition, it doesn’t hurt to negotiate. Check Urban Adventures for more info about tours.
The Shooting Range
You can find a shooting range in both Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc. In order to shoot a gun you have to be older than 16 and in good condition. You can only buy sets of bullets (each set contains 10). These are the guns you can fire:
- Garand: 300,000 VND per set ($13.00 USD)
- M16: 350,000 VND per set ($15.00 USD)
- CARBIN: 250,000 VND per set ($11.00 USD)
- M30: 300,000 VND per set ($13.00 USD)
- AK47: 400,000 VND per set ($17.00 USD)
- M60: 400,000 VND per set ($17.00 USD)
*Currency exchange rates are always changing so the price above may not be 100% accurate. Check out the current currency rates right here.