Nothing could symbolise the tenacity of Vietnamese people more than the iconic Cu Chi Tunnels. Located 75km northwest of Ho Chi Min City, it is an elaborate 121km network of tunnels and chambers under the town of Cu Chi. Astoundingly, they were dug with bare hands or very simple tools during the French occupation in the 1940s, and further expanded during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. The network, parts of which were several storeys deep, included countless trapdoors, living areas, storage facilities, weapon factories, field hospitals, command centres and kitchens. The tunnels were preserved after the war and have been converted into a large war memorial complex.
Today the complex consists of two main display sites that are open to the public, at Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc. The Ben Dinh site has tunnel reconstructions and some tunnels have been made larger to accommodate tourists, but they provide an accurate idea of what life must have been like in the tunnels. Here the Viet Cong ate, slept, planned attacks, healed their sick and educated their children in the chambers of the Cu Chi Tunnels. Some even wed and gave birth here. Underground conference rooms where campaigns such as the Tet Offensive in 1968 were planned have been restored. There’s even a restaurant serving simple meals that Viet Cong fighters would have eaten.
Even if you prefer to stay above ground there’s still much of interest, such as learning about the ingenious resistance tactics and how the tunnels provided a defensive advantage over the Americal soldiers. Both sites have gun ranges where you can get to assault rifles such as the AK47! But be warned, you pay per bullet, and an automatic weapon spits them out very rapidly!
Don’t worry, you won’t encounter unpleasant rodents on your visit. But you will learn about an elite group of American volunteers trained in the art of tunnel warfare armed with only a gun, a knife, a torch and a piece of string. These specialists, known as “tunnel rats”, were the Americans’ response to the ineffectiveness of their bombing campaign and the dilemma of the tunnel activity. The “rats” would enter a tunnel and inch their way along by the light of their torch, staying alert to booby traps or cornered Viet Cong.
One detail from the 1st and 5th Infantry uncovered the Viet Cong district HQ and countless documents containing vital intelligence. Maps of US Bases… accounts of troop movements from Cambodia into Vietnam… lists of political sympathisers… even plans for a failed assassination attempt on US Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara.
A crawl through a 100-metre section of the tunnels is an option for visitors. The tunnels have been cemented and widened, and low-power lights are installed to make the journey easier and less harrowing than originally. Also, there are emergency exit points every 10 metres. However, if you have breathing difficulties or any kind of claustrophobia it may not be a suitable choice for you.