Vietnams 200km Underground Tunnel System – The Cu Chi Tunnels

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by Marc Valentine

By the time we reached our final destination in Vietnam, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) we were pretty pumped about moving on to the next country on our list for Southeast Asia… Cambodia.

HCMC from above

Sprawling Ho Chi Minh City

The dismal weather was unrelenting & it was really taking it’s toll on our experience in Vietnam… A stop at Nha Trang (a seaside town with beautiful beaches) for a few nights on route to Saigon, was a disaster as it poured for the entire two days that were supposed to be spent soaking up rays and sipping Mojitos on one of the gorgeous beaches.

Anyhow, partly due to the rain – we didn’t spend a ton of time in HCMC… and thanks to our short timeframe, we were forced to use our time efficiently…


Weather in Vietnam

Vietnam Really Turned The Weather On For Us!

One of the big ticket attractions we knew had to be ticked off our ‘must-do’ list in HCMC were the Cu Chi Tunnels.

If you’ve not heard of the Cu Chi tunnels before… I’l give you a quick run down of what you can expect if you ever make it to HCMC.

Rumoured to consist of over 200 kms of underground tunnels – just large enough for a very very small person to crawl through…

They’re around an hour & a half drive outside of Saigon and are famous for playing a big role in the Vietnamese war.

The Vietnamese used the tunnels to great effect as a means of launching surprise attacks on the Americans… basically popping out of the tunnels where they were not expected & fighting brutal, guerrilla style combat… then disappearing underground again after they had administered enough carnage to the American forces.

The story goes that a section of the tunnels even ran right underneath & inside the american compound – so the Vietnamese could access the compound at whim.

Whether it’s true or not – who can say for sure?


Inside Cu Chi Tunnels

Inside The Widened Cu Chi Tunnels

The Vietnamese Guerrillas spent an incredible amount of time hiding inside the relative safety of their bunkers… the underground labyrinth included rooms for sleeping, eating, cooking & even fetching water from special tunnels that were dug deep below the waterline… so the occupants could literally spend weeks underground without the need to surface.

Above ground, small entrance holes were one of the giveaways to the Americans that there were tunnels in the area, but they had learned through passed experience not to enter for a few reasons…

  1. The Americans were too big physically to move through the tiny tunnels
  2. Booby traps. Most of the tunnels were fitted with traps of one form or another to stop unwanted visitors in their tracks,
  3. The ones that were brave enough to venture inside were susceptible to surprise attack from behind as the guys who built the tunnels knew every square inch and could easily move from one area to another, inflict damage, then quickly disappear.

The Cu Chi Tunnels

The Americans were eventually forced to adapt new methods for attacking the Viet Cong… like throwing grenades into the holes & sending dogs into the tunnels to try to flush out the Vietnamese…

I’m not convinced how effective this strategy was… I’m sure the Vietnamese were grateful for their next meal though!

… Bad joke?

Another giveaway on the surface, were the small air pipes that fed fresh oxygen to the occupants underground…

These were cleverly masked by man made ‘mole hills’ and often the Vietnamese would be tipped off to an American squads location above…

… when the soldiers would stop for a cigarette, the Guerillas could track their exact location as the cigarette smoke would drift into the tunnels via the air ducts and the Vietnamese would launch a surprise attack on the unprepared Americans – then disappear like ghosts back into their fox holes.

Cu Chi Tunnel Tour

A Tunnel Entrance

You may be thinking… If the tunnels are that small, there’s no way my Big-Mac-a-day ass is guna fit inside – so what’s the point in going to stare at a few holes in the ground?

Well yeah, it’s true that the Americano’s couldn’t fit into the tunnels during the war days, but today a section of the tunnels has been widened to accommodate (well rounded) western tourists (although I can tell you from experience… they still ain’t that wide)

I’m a pretty small guy, and at one point, as I made my way through the tunnels… I was forced to crawl on my hands and knees, while my back & shoulders were pressed against the ceiling.

Claustrophobic anyone?

So after a short history lesson, you do indeed get the opportunity to drop down into the tunnels at one entrance point, then crawl, drag, & squirm you’re way through to another exit point out in the jungle.


Cu Chi Tunnels

It's A Tight Fit - Even For A Little Guy

Now You See Me, Now You Don't

Now You See Me, Now You Don't

You also get to drop down into one of the original (Vietnamese sized) entrance points…

… dropping into a small chamber to see just how difficult it must have been for the Vietnamese to slip into the tunnels quickly (especially in numbers) as they were having grenades thrown in their direction, being shot at from the ground, and bombed from above.

Maybe veering slightly towards the inappropriate side, there’s a shooting range at the end of the tour for those who want to let a few rounds off before the 1 hour 30 minute drive back to Ho Chi Minh City.

Food In Ho Chi Minh City

Worth a special mention is HCMC’s beloved Pho 2000 restaurant… a specialist noodle house in Ho Chi Minh City across from the Ben Tanh markets…

This particularly famous noodle shop happens to be where the one & only Bill Clinton dined during his trip to Vietnam as part of a US reconciliation campaign… it’s not much more expensive than other noodle restaurants, but they genuinely crafted the best noodle soup I ate/drank in Asia.

Although Anna would argue the best noodle house was Lucky Pho in Phnom Penh.

Like the Nike advert – Just Do It.

Phatty's Bar Saigon

Phatty's Bar HCMC

If you’re in the mood for a drink or two, and maybe a little western food… Phatty’s bar, is a good place to start.

Expect to pay a small premium for dinner & drinks as it’s a western style bar.

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