I visited the Cu Chi Tunnels as part of Intrepids Vietnam Adventure 2 week tour. I had head great things from friends who had been and not being that knowledgable on the American/Vietnam war, I didn;t really know what to expect.
On arriving in the car park our leader paid for our tickets at a both. I wasn;t told the cost, ut judging by every other tour I experience in Vietnam, it wouldn't of been very expensive. Whilst we waited I went to the toilets which were ok, nothign too grim, but as with all toilets in Vietnam, not the cleanest. There was a small cafe which iw ould advise going to to stock up on water, and a small gift shop which you can see at the end, but there are plenty mroe inside. Once our leader had sorted our tickets we went down a steep manmade tunnel. I half expected there to be a maze of tunnels at the other side but instead we were faced with homemade bunker type buildings which we went into and watched a short (very pro vietnam) bias video which refered to the American war against Vietnam. It was a little boring for most people in the way it was presented. Our guide was amazing and explained in depth about the area, history and tunnels. In fact many people cae over to listen thinking he was staff from the Cy Chi!
Next stop was to walk through the jungle area, looking at old bomb craters and getting to go into a hide out which was a hole in the ground (just) big enough for one person to hide in. These were used by the Viet Cong to confuse the enemy allowing them to attack and hide. We then saw some traps which were used by the Viet Cong and placed in the ground, really nasty stuff! We also saw some other displays and models of people. I enjoyed the first half but got a bit restless to see the tunnels after this point!
When we saw a real tunnel, as the ones we are allowed to crael through have been widened for westeners you are amazed at how small they are. It is unreal to imagine a child fitting through let alone all of the Viet Cong army. When it came ot the tunnel we had access to it still felt very cramped. I am 5"8 and had to bend over to fit through the first 10 metres and after that a lot was almost crawling. It was a great experience but one you couldn;t do if you have fears of being in enclosed spaces!
After the tunnel we had a break and drank traditional green tea and snacked on some fruit which tasted and looked like sweet potato. It was nice to sit down and chat about your experience and take in what it was like 30 years ago to be in the very same area, at war.
Next I jumped at the chance to buy ten bullets to fire on a real M16 gun. I'd never shot a gun before and was very excited. It was expensive though, $1 a bullet, and those using machine guns spent a fortune without realising. You pay for the bullets, a guide takes you to the guns in the firing range, you get some earphones and your off!
I loved this trip, it is so amazing to see how the Viet Cong survived and the whole trip is full of history and is very much hands on. I would recommend this to everyone.
The Cu Chi Tunnels are about an hour and a half drive from central Ho Chi Minh City and I accessed them through a tour organised by my travel company. Prices vary, but US$22 seems typical for a half day (5 hour) tour including hotel pick up and drop off. The Cu Chi Tunnels were built during the American-Vietnam War by the Viet Cong (liberation army), there was apparently 120km of tunnels at different levels, which the Viet Cong used to traverse the area - they slept there, ate there and prepared for war there.
When you arrive there are toilets (satisfactory) and a shop, before you walk to the main part of the tunnel museum. You walk through an underpass; the pass would be suitable for wheelchairs and for those with a limited mobility. This isn't always the case here, as you given an introduction in a small hut with three or four very steep steps down. Your guide will show you a map of a cross section of the tunnels and you are shown a propaganda movie made by the Viet Cong. Our guide was keen to emphasise that the movie was made some years ago and that the outlook of the Vietnamese has changed somewhat, as the movie is quite anti-American (as was the feeling of the Viet Cong). The movie is not long, and we then leave to explore the area further. We had an English speaking guide with our party but you will also be accompanied by a local Cu Chi guide, but I am not sure how well these guides speak English. The Cu Chi guide will demonstrate how things worked for you - you will see lots of traps that were laid down by the Viet Cong for any unsuspecting US soldier, and learn how they protected the entrances from any passing troops. As the Vietnamese are a lot slimmer than many Europeans, our guide demonstrated how they slid into an actual hole and disappeared in a matter of seconds. You can have a go if you like, some of our party did, but I was too concerned that my bottom might have gotten stuck!
The tunnels led to a network of rooms where the Viet-Cong spent their days (a hospital, weapons store, kitchens etc), coming up at night (if it was safe), through different traps to either fetch food or to create further booby traps for the US troops. There was also a tunnel exit apparently within a US army compound that the VC used to steal plans and secret information. You do get the chance to go down a tunnel. It has been specially widened to fit Westerners and most should be able to traverse it bent over, or could crawl if they preferred. The tunnel was lit (which our guide didn't tell us) and quite short, our guide's estimate of 4-5 minutes was far too long, it took longer to get down the steep, narrow steps into the tunnel. Personally this was too hard for me as I had a foot injury, so I could only poke my head in (where I saw more steps). The whole area of the tunnel exhibits is in forest so there are uneven steps and ground as you are walking on forest paths, so would not be suitable for wheelchair users, and those with limited mobility or foot/leg injuries would find it slow-going.
As well as going in a tunnel and seeing the harsh traps awaiting the unsuspecting soldiers, there were a few huts demonstrating how life would have been for tunnel dwellers and what jobs they did down there. You will struggle to spot tunnel entrances or ventilation shafts but they will be pointed out to you and your guide will inform you as to how they worked and how they thwarted US attempts to find them. You also see craters where bombs had been dropped as part of the US policy to get them out. You do get a chance for a short break to have a cold drink or ice cream or snack and visit a larger gift shop. Drinks seem fairly priced. If you wish to fire an AK-47 or similar you can purchase bullets at the rather pricey rate of $1 a pop. Having visited the War Remnants museum that morning (see separate review), it seemed a bit inappropriate to fire weapons, although you can hear them going off as you walk around the area. At the end we got to sit down and try some tapioca (cassava) that they ate regularly in the tunnels, in fact was part of their daily diet. I don't think I could eat that every day!
If you have your own transport it would no doubt be cheaper to come here directly, but as most visitors will be staying in Ho Chi Minh City, an organised tour seems the best way to get here. I do recommend a visit here, to help add a greater understanding to the life of the Vietnamese during the American-Vietnam War, and a respect for the lengths these resistance fighters would go to thwart their enemy.
About an hour's drive out of Ho Chi Minh City are the Cu Chi tunnels which the Vietcong used to conceal themselves during the war. The tunnels were not originally built for the war, but the Vietcong took them over as a means of hiding from the Americans, which they did mostly successfully for ten years or more. There are two sets of tunnels - one for foreign tourists and one for the Vietnamese. The tourist tunnels have been widened by 25cm, however I'm sure many of us now are about 25cm wider than most of the Vietcong 50 years ago so the ratio of person-to-tunnel is probably still quite similar to how it was back then.
My boyfriend and I went to the tunnels on a privately organised trip through our travel agent, so I can only comment on our experience. We had a private guide to show us around the site however we did see much larger groups of twenty or so being herded around so I expect that is probably the norm. As it was a private tour, we were able to choose how long we stayed at the site for, however it would take at least two hours if you want to see and experience everything.
It will depend on how knowledgeable your guide is as to what sort of information you get, but there are leaflets on the way in so you can glean some information from that if need be. Upon reaching the site you are ushered into an area to watch a 15-minute video of the tunnel system and see maps and the sideways view of the tunnel system as it was. After that you are shown around some original entrances to the tunnels (which are absolutely tiny - the only people who could fit in them were a child and a small Vietnamese man who was working there). The tourists are given the option of trying to fit in, but most could only fit up to their thighs before getting stuck and needing to be pulled out by their friends. You are also shown around the 'self-made weapons factory' where they have recreated some of the traps that were set for the American soldiers (mostly consisting of big spikes in a disguised hole). They have also recreated various rooms around the site (e.g. hospital, kitchen, dining room), all identical to how they would have been, only about 5 or 10 feet higher up than they were originally (so you can simply walk down some steps to access them and don't need to worry about crawling around the tunnels).
Throughout the tour you get led past various mannequins dressed up in authentic clothing, but we were told that they were much bigger than they would've been because the mannequins were very western. But they work fine for getting the idea though. There is also the remains of an American tank which was captured during the war. We also saw a woman making rice-paper and leaving it out to dry, we saw a man making Vietcong sandals out of tyres and we saw (and got to sample) the making of tapioca and green tea which is pretty much what the Vietcong survived on in the tunnels. At one point you can hear this horrendous banging noise and this is the shooting range where the tourists get to fire real guns (should they so wish and are prepared to pay extra for). We each tried an AK47 and it cost about $1.30 per bullet (and you have to buy a minimum of 10 bullets each) which is quite expensive for what you get, but we decided we wouldn't get the chance to do it anywhere else. There are a choice of guns there though, although they weren't keen on letting me use anything larger than a handgun (because I'm female) but I stood my ground with the AK47. A word of warning with this though - you will be given protective ear covers but they are more for show than anything else. They were basically made out of foam and did not block out any of the noise whatsoever. Our hearing was slightly impaired for the next few hours although it didn't take away from the enjoyment of it.
The tunnel system which the tourists can go into are 160 metres in length and every twenty metres there is an exit point for those who feel a bit claustrophobic. I had really feared going into the tunnel before I got there however once inside the tunnel I found it was nowhere near as bad as I had expected. There are a few lights in the tunnel now, but they are not terribly bright and, because the tunnels do not go in straight lines, as soon as you turn a corner you are plunged into darkness again. The floor and walls are hard, so crawling on your hands and knees would probably hurt quite a bit. I managed to make my way round by walking whilst squatting down. It worked well enough but my thighs hurt for days afterwards! When we got to the tunnels themselves we were the only people there, so the guide went in first, following by me then my boyfriend. After twenty metres he gave us the option of going further or getting out. We carried on and went down to a deeper level. At one point the guide stopped and offered to take our photo, which came out really well although it doesn't show up how dark it really was because the flash went off. All in all we were actually only in the tunnel for 5 minutes at most and opted to leave after 60 metres because we didn't feel the experience would get much different. You can go the full 160 metres though if you wish. The tunnels have three levels to them but tourists are only allowed to go to the top two levels because the deepest one is full of snakes and spiders, according to our guide. They were quite hot inside but not unbearable, although we went in April which I don't think is the peak of summer.
There are a couple of obligatory gift shops on the site - one at the shooting range and one at the end of the tour before you leave. You can buy all of the typical Vietnamese gifts here that you see in all of the shops, but there are a few more unusual items such as model tanks and aeroplanes fashioned out of beer cans, and jewellery carved out of bullet shells.
All in all this is a very interesting and once-in-a-lifetime experience. I am so glad I managed to get the courage to go into the tunnels themselves because it was actually quite fun and the fear of doing it was far worse than the experience itself.
Chu Chi Tunnels.
The Chu Chi tunnels are an amazing collection of tunnels just outside Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) stretching about 75 miles long that were part of a network of tunnels that went all over Vietnam.
They were built and used by the Vietcong who were guerrillas fighting the war against the Americans and they were very successful in concealing themselves in the tunnels. They used to stay in the tunnels during the day time and come out at night to scavenge for food, to sabotage buildings and to fight the Americans and thwart their campaign. Eventually the Americans gave up and headed home after the fall of Saigon.
Most Vietnamese are very thin people and therefore the tunnels are very narrow. Most Westerners would not fit into the tunnels and part of the Chu Chi Tunnels have actually been widened so that Western tourists and sightseers can fit into them and see what they are like imagine people the size of a size 6 or 8 in women's sizes or waist 20 or 22 for men living below ground for days or weeks at a time. The tunnel entrances were no bigger than a shoe box and the Vietcong would raise their arms above their heads and slip below the surface. The trap door would be lifted and gently lowered while brushing leaves over the top so that it was unrecognisable and undetectable. There are massive ant hills dotted around that were used as a disguise for air intake ventilation shafts.
Life was very harsh in these conditions as they had to live constantly hidden from their enemy in the steamy heat of the jungles. The entrances were superbly hidden and it would have been very difficult to discover one of the tunnels. They were often faced with very harsh living conditions including poisonous centipedes, snakes and spiders that would find their way into the tunnels. There was also a high incidence of Malaria amongst the Vietcong and it was estimated at least half of the Vietcong were suffering from Malaria.
The American army took to bombing and defoliating large areas of Vietnam by using massive incendiary bombs that caused massive fires burning the thick jungle and chemical based insecticides and plant killers trying to force the Vietcong out into the open. Many effects of these chemicals are present today in many of the people who were there which had resulted in significant health problems.
A massive bombing campaign took place dropping 30 ton bombs on large areas but it was a futile exercise as many of the tunnels survived the bombing. Those tunnels that were discovered were never investigated because there were some terrible booby traps set up in them to kill invasions for example swinging planks of wood laden with long nails and knives or pits that would collapse that would be filled with razor sharp honed bamboo. The only way that they could deal with them was to try and smoke them out.
Some of the tunnels were dug very deep into the ground and large command centres were built deep in the earth. They were able to live for long periods and had developed a system to filter out the smells and the smoke while they were cooking. There was an underground hospital and operating theatre, big kitchens and dining rooms, dormitories for sleeping and even at one stage a cinema. The tunnels twist and turn however it was very claustrophobic to live down there all the time.
In fact initially one of the American army bases had been built over the tunnels and they Americans were confused as to how they were being subjected to attack from within their own compound. A Vietcong soldier could slip out of the tunnel shoot a few Americans or set off a bomb and slip back into the warren of tunnels before the Americans even realised what had happened.
We drove out to the tunnels about 45 miles outside Saigon and were met by a tiny man who was to be our guide. We gathered together and entered a small pit like area which had once been an underground command centre and sat around tables. The little man told us about the tunnels and then put a film on showing the bombings by B52 bombers which went on relentlessly day after day. We then had a look around some more pits one depicting an operating room, another a kitchen and dining room and an armoury. What was surprising was that these rooms had originally been built below the hard clay like ground just feet beneath the surface where we were standing.
We then saw an area that showed the different types of booby traps the Vietnamese used to deter the Americans from finding them. Of course they were well camouflaged and none of us would have been able to detect them but the Vietnamese fighters knew exactly where they were. Anyone who had been caught by these wicked nasty traps would have had the most awful death imaginable being impaled on sharpened bamboo.
Moving on we followed a pathway through some jungle and stopped for a while to listen to our guide. All of a sudden the earth moved and a tiny lid of a trap door slid back and opened revealing a tiny little man who then climbed out of the tunnel. Some of the group were asked to try and enter the little tunnel and some of the skinnier men were able to lower themselves up to the chest but their arms were still out of the tunnel. They were unable to lift themselves out of the tunnels without help and had to be hauled out by us. When there were no more volunteers willing to try, the little man popped down the hole again never to be seen again.
We were then led onto an area where some of the tunnels had been widened to take westerners. We all crawled down onto our hands and knees to crawl along the tunnels. I only managed to go about ten yards when I had an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia and fortunately for me there was no one else behind me. I had to get out. I could not go forward I could not stand up, I could not turn around as it was too narrow I felt as if the tunnels would collapse and the walls were closing in. I felt I couldn't breath my breathing became very rapid. It was not a nice feeling and one of panic. What a wimp I felt quite ashamed but relieved to get out. The only way out without going forward was to back out of the tunnel which I did. I am glad that I was not in the middle of the group otherwise there would have been a terrible panic for me to get out of the tunnel.
I Just can not imagine what it must have been like to have lived down the tunnels sometimes not coming to the surface for days or weeks. It must have been hell.
We finally went back to the main entrance where there were paintings, t shirts and spent bullets that had been turned into key rings and souvenirs. There were a couple of bombs decorating the shop area which had not exploded when they had been dropped but the Vietnamese used to drag them back into the tunnels and painfully and very slowly extract the explosives inside to make their own bombs and ammunition.
It was a very interesting visit to see the tunnels and is probably one of the most visited places in South Vietnam to visit. I would recommend if you are in South Vietnam to go and see for yourself what it is like. I know for certain I could not have possibly spent any time down there. If you know you are claustrophobic don't try it.
It costs approximately $25 or £16 for the trip to the Chu chi tunnels and lasts for around 4-5 hours including admission and dropping off back to your hotel.