Vinh Moc Tunnels: Life Beneath the Ravaging Vietnam War

Vinh Moc Tunnels (Vietnamese spelling: Địa đạo Vịnh Mốc) were civilian shelters from bombing raids during the Vietnam War aka the American War(1955 – 1975). The tunnels are in Vinh Moc Village, Vinh Linh District (huyện Vĩnh Linh), Quang Tri Province (tỉnh Quảng Trị), 100 km north of Hue.

Vinh Moc is the inspiration for the film ‘Vinh Moc Tunnel- A World beneath the War’ by Director Janet Gardner. The story revolves around a North Vietnamese father taking his son on a tour of his war experience.

History of the Vinh Moc Tunnels

Tunnel systems
[ by The Wolf Adventures from Facebook ]

Vinh Moc Tunnels belonged to a tunnel system north of Ben Hai River (sông Bến Hải) and Hien Luong Bridge (cầu Hiền Lương) from 1965 to 1972. It took a year from 1966 to 1967 to dig the tunnels with the main line over 2000m in length.

Besides sustaining civilians, Vinh Moc was also a station for the transportation of food and arms for Con Co Island/ District (đảo Cồn Cỏ) 40 km offshore in the middle of the sea. In 1995, Vinh Moc Tunnels became a historical attraction in the former Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and a National Heritage Site in 2014.

In Vinh Linh District, there used to be a total of 114 tunnels spanning across 42 km and Vinh Moc is the most well-preserved. The district is the most heavily bombed area in Vietnamese modern history with over half a million tons of explosives from 1965 to 1972. 

People’s Lives during the War in Vinh Moc Tunnels

Vinh Moc Tunnels
[ by Địa Đạo Vịnh Mốc from Facebook ]

During the war, the houses above the ground were along the tunnels so people could quickly get to them in case of bombardment. The people of Vinh Moc had to spend most of their time in the tunnels. The humidity and lack of sunlight inside the tunnels caused many health issues. Even oil lamps were for emergencies only.

Even though the US bombardment destroyed many tunnels across the country during the war, the people of the Vinh Moc Tunnels suffered no casualties. Furthermore, 17 babies were born right inside the tunnels. One of them, now in his 50’s, is an informal guide to the tunnels and one is the father of another guide.

Things to See in the Vinh Moc Tunnels

Things to See in the Vinh Moc Tunnels
Entrance no5
[ by The Wolf Adventures from Facebook ]

The clay that makes up Vinh Moc Tunnels gets harder over time so most of the tunnels have stayed the same until this day. The Vinh Moc Tunnels Museum has objects on display about the lives and battles of the local people.

The tunnels have 13 reinforced doors, 7 facing the sea and 6 the hillside, which also act as airways. At one of the exits, you’ll emerge facing the East Vietnam Sea.

Vinh Moc Tunnels are divided into three floors with wells for water, a medical room, an LDR (labor, delivery, recovery room), an operating room, a communal kitchen, food storage, and a communication station. The first floor is 12 to 15 m below the surface and acted as cover during bombing raids.

The second floor is 3 m deeper housing  the living quarters and the HQ. A family of 3-4 people live in a space of 0.8 m wide and 1.8 meters long. Each living space is 4 meters apart branching from the main line.

Another 4 m down is the last floor with supplies for the people of Vinh Moc and Con Co Island. It’s still 3 m above sea level so it remained unaffected during the rainy season.

Ben Hai River and Hien Luong Bridge

Ben Hai River and Hien Luong Bridge
[ image from Facebook ]

Ben Hai River used to be the border between North and South Vietnam from 1954 to 1976. Nominally described as being at ‘the 17th parallel’ (vĩ tuyến 17), the demarcation only straddled the area of that longitude.

Hien Luong Bridge used to be the only crossing line and South Vietnam would try to paint their half in a different color, only to be repainted by the North shortly after. After independence in 1975, the bridge was painted blue, the color of peace, all the way through.

A new Hien Luong Bridge was built connected to the highway and the old bridge was reopened in 2003. The old one became the ‘17th parallel Hien Luong Bridge’ as part of a historical complex.

To commemorate the ‘battle of colors’, the bridge is sometimes painted half blue and half yellow. Occasionally, the bridge will be painted in one color all the way through then half-half again.

The DMZ Tours

RockPile Hill
RockPile Hill
[ by Sarah Ball from Facebook ]

The DMZ was a result of the First Indochina War according to the Geneva Agreements in 1945. It ceased to exist after reunification but many explosives remain.

Nowadays, the safe area is opened for visitors and is a popular attraction for tours running from either Danang or from nearby Hue. One-day DMZ tours, including the Vinh Moc Tunnels as the highlight, can be found via online travel agencies.

They also include the former US military bases of RockPile Hill (Căn cứ quân sự đồi RockPile), Doc Mieu (Căn cứ quân sự Dốc Miếu), and Khe Sanh as part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The bases preserve architectural ruins and display some vehicles used during the war.

Are the Vinh Moc Tunnels Worth Visiting?

Entrance no4
Entrance no4
[ by The Wolf Adventures from Facebook ]

Vinh Moc Tunnels are in a rural area with few people so the trip can double as a quiet day outing. A trip to the Vinh Moc Tunnels averages around 50 USD.

Alternatively, a DMZ tour including the La Vang Holy Land (Thánh địa La Vang), where apparently the Virgin Mary manifested, is a worthwhile trip on the way to Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park and the longest cave in the world, Paradise Cave.

Vinh Moc Tunnels aren’t as narrow and cramped as the Cu Chi Tunnels (Địa đạo Củ Chi) in Ho Chi Minh City, but they offer a similar experience if you can’t make a Cu Chi Tunnels tour. Nonetheless, they’re still not very claustrophobe-friendly.

It’s all the more worthwhile if you include an English-speaking to lead the way and explain the history behind Vinh Moc. Tickets include the guide, but feel free to tip them if you find them informative.

If taking your time is what makes your day,  you can get a map at the Vinh Moc Tunnels Museum. If you buy something at the nearby stall, like extra water, you can also borrow a flashlight.

How to Get to the Vinh Moc Tunnels

How to Get to the Vinh Moc Tunnels
[ by Mel Fletcher from Facebook ]

View all locations mentioned

Private transportation from Hue is far more convenient than public buses and relatively inexpensive. You can also rent a motorbike in Hue or Da Nang for the day if you’re going on your own itinerary.

Hue and Da Nang both have connecting flights to Hanoi and HCMC. If your objective is to visit the increasingly popular Ke Bang National Park, flying to Hue then adding in a Vinh Moc Tunnels tour on the way there is worth considering.

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