In stark contrast with its tiny passageways, the historical significance of Cu Chi tunnels is far and wide. Consisting of an enormous network of intertwining underground tunnels situated in the Cu Chi District of Ho Chi Minh City, the Cu Chi are only a part of a much bigger grid of covert tunnels constructed by the North Vietnamese soldiers during the Vietnam War. Today, tourists flock to this location not only to insert their bodies into the small openings but to get an impression of a portion of Vietnam’s storied past as well.
Exploring these networks of tunnels provides a feeling resembling a period in Vietnam’s history when the whole Cu Chi tunnels were used as living quarters of the Viet Cong’s and as the main base of operations for the 1968’s Tet War Offensive Campaign.
The tunnels served many important roles during the Vietnam War. It functioned as the Viet Cong’s sanctuary during battles against the Americans, to re-charge and re-supply their troops fighting in the front lines, as well as a makeshift hospital and communication and weapons storage. After the war, historians have studied the tunnels system of Cu Chi only to find conclusive pieces of evidence suggesting the crucial importance it played in the effective resistance of the Viet Cong against the American forces.
What is life like inside the tunnels?
Fortunately for us tourists, we could only experience being inside the tunnels within a matter of minutes only. For those North Vietnamese soldiers who laboured for days, weeks and even months during the war, life in the tunnels were nothing sort of being in purgatory.
American soldiers first described the tunnels as “Black Echo”, because of its endless pitch of darkness that screams of an isolated vibe. Aside from battling their enemies, the North Vietnamese soldiers have also endured a shortage of breathable air, drinkable water and food to go along with an evading infestation of ants and being bitten by poisonous spiders, scorpions, snakes, vermin and centipedes. Life underground is mostly miserable and boring, to an extent that some Viet Congs would prefer being engaged in a firefight than spend their days limited to the confines of these dark networks of tunnels.
Sickness like malaria outbreak became a normal occurrence and turned out to be the second cause of death next to gunshot wounds. One former Viet Cong soldier once refers to the tunnels as a real representation of what war truly is all about.
What to see of Cu Chi tunnels today?
Today, visitors can explore the 121-kilometre long network of tunnels at Cu Chi. It has been preserved by the Vietnamese government and converted into a war memorial park. Due to the original construction of the tunnels designed to only fit Vietnamese soldiers, some parts of the tunnel system were modified to be able to fit bigger Western visitors.
Tourists can also see a museum inside the tunnels displaying various booby traps used during the war and the underground war station rooms. Here is where the North Vietnamese Generals brainstormed the historic planning of the 1968 Tet Offensive. Completing the experience, tourists can also order authentic Viet Cong meals to eat while clustered inside the tunnels.
After exiting the tunnels, tourists can fire live ammunition using an AK-47; the weapons of choice of the VCs, light M60 machine gun, an M16 rifle, into the shooting range.
Converse with the local guides
Make sure to engage your local guides in a long conversation as most of them are Vietnam War veterans or locals who experienced actual life in the tunnels. History is better learned straight from the words of those who experienced it first-hand. If you were an American, do not worry or feel bad as the Vietnamese people have now accepted that period in their history and embrace all comers from the rest of the world with a welcoming heart. They are just proud to share their history with their visitors. Cu Chi tunnels are one of the main historical sites near Ho Chi Minh that shouldn’t be missed.
What to bring to Cu Chi?
Aside from a sense of adventure and a yearning for new historical knowledge, one must bring insect repellant lotion. It is because the surrounding jungle is crowded with mosquitoes and bats.
Is it worth going to the Cu Chi tunnels?
YES. The Cu Chi tunnels aren’t just a tiny hole underground that dishes a unique environment. One can revel in a memorable experience outside of the norms and also one of the iconic representation of the Vietnam War. It is something both history and even non-history junkies will appreciate.
Have you visited Cu Chi Tunnels?
Let us know about your experience in the comments below. If you’re visiting Ho Chi Minh City, picked 5 fave halal food places. And if need to book a Muslim-friendly package, visit our Vietnam country guide for Muslim travellers.
Those who want to visit Cu Chi tunnels and prefer to have all the travel arrangements taken care of instead, visit our website for more info that includes a visit to Ho Chi Minh and Cu Chi Tunnel with an experienced guide.