Of the 3 days I spent in Saigon, 2 were filled with day trips out. One of the visits was a half day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels (pronounced “coo chee”), a major battle site of the Vietnam War. Having met a number of travellers who were moving from the south to the north of Vietnam, thus having already visited the Tunnels themselves, I heard mixed reviews on how good a visit this actually was. Good or bad however, the underlying message at the end of the day seemed to be, “…but you have to go and see it anyway”.
Located 50KM from Saigon, Cu Chi is an underground village with an intricate network of over 200KM of tunnels. This site was important strategically, as it allowed the communist fighters to gain a stronghold over this area, so close to Saigon. American ground operations were proven ineffective, claiming large numbers of casualties in the process. The final result was a complete obliteration of the area by the American carpet bombing.
The tunnels have since been reconstructed, preserved and opened to the public in the two areas of Ben Duoc and Ben Dinh. Certain sections of the tunnels have been widened in order to allow visitors to experience walking (/ shuffling / crawling) through the tunnels, allowing you to empathise further with the Viet Cong.
Being under 5 ft 2 myself, I had no real problems stooping and walking through the tunnels. Other less vertically challenged folks in my group had to shuffle slowly along however, banging their heads multiple times in the process. The tunnels can also feel a little stuffy and crowded at times, especially if you are travelling with a large tour group and the lot of you are underground at the same time (just something to keep in mind for claustrophobes)!
Besides the tunnels, visitors will also have the chance to:
- Watch a short documentary on the tunnels, complete with old, black and white war time footage
- See how the fighters used to enter and exit the tunnels from the surface
- Check out the numerous ground traps used by the Viet Cong
- See the last remaining American tank leftover from the war (they were a complete failure as the oil tanks were located OUTSIDE the body of the tank – one well-aimed bullet and the tank would be finished)
- Try some tapioca, which was the staple food of the fighters living in Cu Chi at that time
- View more leftover arsenal from the Americans
- Experience shooting a gun (one bullet costs USD2, minimum of 10 bullets)
So was it worth it? At around USD8 to join a group tour, and an entrance fee of VND80,000, I would say yes, though it is by no means a necessary stop. If you have other things on your itinerary and are short of time, you would not be missing out on much by skipping this one out.