Cu Chi Tunnels

Cu Chi Tunnels

The Cu Chi Tunnels (Vietnamese spelling: Địa đạo Củ Chi), also known as the Vietcong Tunnels or the North Vietnamese Tunnels, are truly one of the most remarkable underground constructions in the world. Even though it’s almost 50 years since the Vietnamese American War ended in 1975, they continue to tell their fascinating story. 

Located on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City about 50 km from the city center, the Cu Chi Tunnels are one of the top-ranked tourist attractions in the world. If you’re visiting or transiting Saigon, make sure these tunnels are on your list. 

Cu Chi – the Tunnels That Won the War 

Historians have remarked that without the Viet Cong Tunnels, the war wouldn’t have been such a decisive victory for the north. The war would’ve taken a different course, or at least lasted much longer than it did. 

Although mostly associated with the American War, construction of these tunnels started in the late 1940s in the struggle against French colonialism. Their expansion continued from that time until reunification.

They grew into an elaborate network of at least 250 km of tunneling connecting various villages and hamlets. Today 121 km have been preserved in two key areas. 

Cu Chi - The Tunnels That Won The War
Tunnel Rat during Operation Crimp
[ by manhai from Flickr ]

Attempts to destroy or neutralize the tunnels never truly succeeded. The two biggest operations against the Cu Chi tunnels were Operation Crimp and Operation Cedar Falls.  

The truly astounding thing about the Cu Chi Tunnels is how they were dug by hand, and incorporated underground kitchens, medical units, weapon production, large theaters, and command centers all supported by ingenious ventilation systems. 

Interesting Facts About the Viet Cong Tunnels 

Interesting Facts About the Viet Cong Tunnels

If you go to the Cu Chi or North Vietnamese Tunnels, you will hear many anecdotes and fascinating, if not legendary, things about them. But, here are a few interesting facts: 

  • The tunnels exploited old alluvium terraces with high clay and iron content. When this type of soil dries, it quickly takes on properties similar to concrete. 
  • Tunnels also tapped into underground water tables generally 10 to 20 meters below the surface, and this also determined their limited depth.
  • Tunnels extended beneath US military bases, and others even had submerged entrances from the Saigon river. 
  • Snakes, scorpions, and other nasty critters found in the tunnels were popped into booby traps that emptied onto the heads of American, Australian, and New Zealand tunnel rats
  • Bicycles were used to drive power generators and bicycle pumps were even adapted for doing blood transfusions. 
Disguised Kitchen Ventilation
Disguised Kitchen Ventilation
[ by Jorge Lascar from Flickr ]

Two Locations for the Cu Chi Tunnels 

There are approximately 120 kilometers of preserved tunnels open to tourists. You can choose from two tunnel systems and they are about 12 km or 15 min apart. Both are located towards the north west of Saigon. 

The closer tunnels in Ben Dinh (Bến Đình) district can be reached by speed boat in about 1 hr 15 min or by road which takes 1 hr 30 min or more. The way to the other tunnels at Ben Duoc (Bến Dược) is only by road.

Ben Duoc or Ben Dinh – Which to Choose

Which tunnels to go to really depends on what you want to do with your day. The nice thing about Ben Dinh is that you can take a river speed boat and get to explore a bit of the mighty Saigon river. 

Both tunnel systems have sections that have been enlarged to fit bigger people, and there are exit points every 10 meters. More of the tunnels at Ben Dinh are actually reconstructions, while Ben Duoc is more authentic and there are more open tunnels to explore. 

Ben Dinh can get rather crowded as many foreigner tourists are funneled to this slightly closer to Saigon area. Both locations have shooting ranges, which some find perturbing but others quite enjoyable. Paintballing, however, is only found at Ben Duoc

Ben Duoc or Ben Dinh - Which to Choose
[ by Dennis Jarvis from Flickr ]

At Ben Duoc you can get a little more into the solemnity of this historic war. There you can visit the War Memorial Hall and Temple (Đền Tưởng niệm Bến Dược) to those who sacrificed their lives. It covers a large area so you can walk through quieter jungles areas or buzz around on an electric car.

Ben Duoc caters more to families and Vietnamese tourists in that there’s a swimming pool, an artificial lake with swan boats and kayaks, an entertainment center with a 4D cinema, and even a camping ground. You can also easily get there on the cheap by public bus from HCMC.

The Cu Chi Tunnels at Ben Dinh 

The Cu Chi Tunnels at Ben Dinh
[ by dronepicr from Flickr ]

Things To See and Do at Ben Dinh Tunnels 

  • Tunnel tours
  • Short documentaries
  • Outdoor displays
  • Rifle shooting 

Once you get there, you pay a 90 000 VND entrance fee which includes a free guided tour in English. It will take approximately one hour to go around. There are four tunnels you can explore and see things like underground sleeping quarters, medical facilities, and command posts. 

Other things to see around are displays of all sorts of traps, historical or traditional artefacts, outdoor dioramas, a homemade weapons display, and a tank you can clamber onto. When you need a break from the hot sun, you can watch short documentaries and propaganda features. 

Things To See and Do at Ben Dinh Tunnels
[ by Anthony Tong Lee from Flickr ]
[ by Dennis Jarvis from Flickr ]

Afterward, there’s a rifle range where you can shoot original M16 or Ak47 rifles used by the Viet Cong. Nowadays, all you can shoot are moving toy animal targets. It costs around 600 000 VND for 10 rounds— which is a little pricey. 

How to Get to Ben Dinh Tunnels 

If you want to enjoy a spectacular ride along the river, then it’s best to catch the morning speed boat at 7:30 am from Tan Cang Pier ( Bến tàu Tân Cảng) which is just across the Saigon River Bridge on the opposite side of the highway from the Landmark 81, or just across from Thao Dien Ward.

Other travel options include package tours, a Grab Car, private car hire, or for a small group of younger people you can easily rent a couple of motorbikes for the day. Half-day tours can be as little as 350 000 VND, but by boat costs a lot more.

The Cu Chi Tunnels at Ben Duoc  

Ben Duoc Memorial Temple
Ben Duoc Memorial Temple
[ by dronepicr from Flickr ]

Things to See and Do at Ben Duoc Tunnels 

  • Memorial hall and temple 
  • Guided tunnel tours 
  • Smokeless kitchen 
  • Rifle shooting 
  • Paintballing
  • Swimming pool
  • East Sea Lake 
  • Entertainment center 
  • Canoe and kayaking

The Ben Duoc tunnels cover almost 100 hectares or five times the area of Ben Dinh. There’s a lot to see, and if you want to cover long distances, there are electric cars. The entrance fee including the guided tour is 90 000 VND.

Most activities are located in the southern part of the area. If you’d like, you can start your trip with a visit to the Ben Duoc Memorial Hall and Temple which honors the dead from the war and the sacrifices they made.    

Like at Ben Dinh, there are also demonstration models of traps that were used in the area or in the tunnels. Many of the rooms in the tunnels have diorama depictions of what they looked like at the time. 

Outside, you can wander through reconstructions of war time villages with some structures built partly underground, also with diorama models. There are some interesting everyday items, contraptions, and displays of how people lived not so long ago. 

Villagers and Dioramas
Villagers and Dioramas
[ images by Roger]

Like Ben Dinh, there’s a shooting range, but here you can enjoy a bit of simulated action at the paintballing range

The other kind of attractions are the lake replica of Vietnam’s eastern seaboard with replicas here and there of historic monuments like the Hue Purple Palace or One Pillar Pagoda in Hanoi. You pedal a swan boat or take a kayak out on the waters. There’s also a swimming pool, but it’s kind of small. 

How to Get to Ben Duoc Tunnels

The most popular way there is with a tour company. Prices vary according to the type of tour, length, and season. You can pay anything from 350 000 VND to over 1 million. If you’re traveling on a shoestring, you can get to and from Ben Duoc by public bus for as little 34 000 VND 

Go to the 23/9 Park bus stop (September 23th Park) near Pham Ngu Lao Str. and hop on the No.13 bus. The ticket is 10 000 VND and it takes 1 hr 40 min to the Cu Chi bus station. There you have to switch to bus No.79 for Ben Duoc for 7 000 VND and it takes 25 min. You can view the route information online, or even download the application. 

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