If you are brave, crawl through the Vietcong Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam

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History Cu Chi Tunnels

The Cu Chi Tunnels are located in the Cu Chi District of the Vietnamese city Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). The Cu Chi tunnels used to be part of a massive underground network in the larger part of Vietnam. The Cu Chi tunnels have been preserved, maintained and are adapted for (Western) tourists. It is one of the most famous tourist sites in Ho Chi Minh City.

But before you go there to visit, or read about what you can see or do there, it makes sense to gain some knowledge about the tunnel history beforehand. So here it goes:

The Vietnam War, also referred to as the “American War” in Vietnam started as a war between North and South Vietnam as North Vietnam wanted to implement communism in the whole of Vietnam, however South Vietnam was against communism. North Vietnam was supported by the communist countries of Russia and China, while South Vietnam was anti-communism and was supported by France and the USA. The USA’s reason for taking part in this war was to prevent communism from spreading over the world. In the South of Vietnam, close to Saigon, a communistic group was present, (backed up by North Vietnam), called “The Vietcong”. In their battle against the Americans, the Vietcong built underground tunnels for protection and attack purposes. The Americans came down hard on the Vietcong with airstrikes and ground attacks. The war started in November 1955. At the end of 1973, the USA started to withdraw from Vietnam as it became clear that a win would be unlikely. Following this withdrawal, the Vietnam war ended in April 1975 when Saigon was taken over by the North Vietnamese.

“Basically, the Vietnam War was an (anti-) communism battle between the Titans: USA and the West against Russia and China, played out in the small country of Vietnam, causing millions of death.”

When visiting the Cu Chi site, you can still see the bomb sites caused by American bombs and the tunnels used by the Vietcong for years and years to survive and serve their cause.


Cu Chi Tunnel entrances

The entrances are small, and that means really tiny! The ‘normal’ entrance was not more than literally a shoe wide. There are currently some entrances that have been widened, just so that the tourist can have a taste of what life was like inside the tunnels.

The tunnels can feel a little claustrophobic. There is a section for tourists to experience what it is like in the tunnels. The tunnel starts relatively wide, but gets smaller and smaller once you proceed. There are exits every so often. So if you are not feeling comfortable anymore, you can always get out.

Picture: Original size entrance tunnels Picture: Tourist size entrance tunnels 

Just try the first tunnel and see how far you get!


Tunnel system

Life in the tunnels was hard. Children were born underground, food was prepared underground, basically life was underground. The Vietcong was subjected to many dangers in the tunnel system too.

The Vietcong was far from safe in the Cu Chi tunnels!

Of course the danger came from the enemy, the Americans, once they found out that the Vietcong lived underground, tried to smoke them out by using fire, drown them out by pumping water in the tunnels and shoot/bomb them out.

But besides that, there were many natural hazards as well. Poisonous animals such as scorpions and spiders were a danger, but also illnesses such as malaria or parasites caused sickness or even death among the Vietcong.

Yet, the Vietcong built an ingenious system of tunnels, with different ‘chambers’ used for different purposes such as cooking, sleeping or storage of weapons. Besides that, they made sure that the ventilation holes were hard to detect for the Americans. For instance, the Vietcong built ant-hill lookalikes to disguise their ventilation holes.

Picture: Breading holes ant-farm Picture: Cu Chi Tunnel entrances

Also, the Vietcong built several smart anti-attack systems. For instance, they could close off an entire tunnel or tunnel section in case of a direct attack from above the ground with fire, smoke or other means. The Vietcong had an immense tunnel network made.

But where did they put all the earth coming out of the tunnels? You might wonder? We understood that the sand was dropped either in the Mekong river, or in bomb-holes. This to prevent the Americans from finding out in the beginning of the war, that they were hiding underground..


Weapons used for above ground fighting

When you enter the Cu Chi site, in the main building you find a display of weapons used in the Vietnam War and other information on the Vietnam War, the Vietcong and the Vietcong tunnels.

Picture: Weapons Picture: Weapons

The Vietcong, the front-men of North Vietnam had a whole arsenal of weapons, aided by Russia, China and North Vietnam.

Picture: Bombs Picture: Boobytraps

The Vietcong had many boobytraps placed in the area, designed to wound the Americans. Read more on Vietcong boobytraps here. You can view the gruesome boobytraps at the Cu Chi site and get an explanation on how they work..

Furthermore, at the Cu Chi site, you can shoot with different kinds of guns if you like at the shooting range. You do have to pay extra for that.

Picture: Bomb impact ponds Picture: Bomb impact site 

so what is the sentiment nowadays towards the Americans in Vietnam? Is there still resentment? Our tour guide confirmed that there still are mixed feelings present against Americans in certain (not all) people. Note that we are absolutely not saying that it is more unsafe for Americans to visit Saigon than it is for other western tourists.


How to get there

From HCMC, it is most easy to book a day trip through any of the local travel agencies. Often you get to choose between a trip with a bus or a boat. A boat tour over the Mekong is recommended as the wind will provide cooling during hot days.

Picture: Mekong river Picture: Mekong river

We did a day trip on a boat too! We paid EUR 80, per person for the whole trip including boat, lunch, Cu Chi entrance and guide.

Picture: Boat ride over the Mekong Picture: Boat ride over the Mekong

Visiting the Cu Chi tunnels is a very impressive trip. Especially when you let it sink in what happened on the premises. We can definitely recommend it.


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