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Cu Chi Tunnels – Complete Travel Guide (2020)

Cu Chi Tunnels – Complete Travel Guide (2020)

Cu Chi Tunnels are a popular attraction for those traveling southern Vietnam. Whether you decide to organize the trip on your own or join one of the many Cu Chi Tunnels tours offered, we recommend you include these historical tunnels on your southern Vietnam itinerary. Continue reading this comprehensive guide to the Cu Chi Tunnels to make your trip unforgettable.

Cu Chi Tunnels holds the grim history of the Vietnam War, and it’s hard to believe the conflict that once existed in the beautiful and now peaceful district of Cu Chi. Underneath the rubber trees in Cu Chi lies a vast network of underground tunnels, extending from the outskirts of Saigon to the Cambodian border.

Entering Cu Chi Tunnels

Cu Chi Tunnels Quick facts

  • The construction began in 1948 and took 25 years to complete.
  • They extend from Saigon to the Cambodian border.
  • At its peak, the total length of the tunnel system is though to be 250 km (155 miles).
  • They go 10 meters (32 feet) into the ground.
  • Tunnel rats used the term “black echo” to describe the conditions in the tunnels.
  • Over 45,000 people died defending the Cu Chi tunnels during the Vietnam War.
  • Most of the tunnels were less than a meter wide and 1,5 meter tall
  • The Cu Chi Tunnels are now one of the most popular travel destinations in southern Vietnam.

The History of the Cu Chi Tunnels

The Cu Chi Tunnels construction began in late 1940 by Viet Minh while fighting the French colonialists. They used the tunnels as a hiding place from the French airstrikes. The communist guerrilla troops known as Viet Cong continued construction of the tunnels into the Vietnam American War.

Vietnam War

Cu Chi district is part of the Iron Triangle, a 300 square km area that was supportive of the Communist regime, both during the French and the American War. The area remained a stronghold of the National Liberation Front during the war.

Strategically, the Cu Chi Tunnels location was a crucial post in the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The Ho Chi Minh Trail was critical for transporting troops and supplies from northern Vietnam to the U.S. controlled southern region of Vietnam.

By the end of the Vietnam War, the tunnel system extended close to 250 km (155 miles). Peasants and villagers from nearby villages, friendly to the National Liberation Front, dug the tunnels along with the Viet Cong fighters. Excess mud had to be disposed of during the night, either to the Saigon River or nearby rice fields.

The Cu Chi Tunnel became an underground village. It would have a kitchen, school, workshops, living quarters, meeting rooms, bomb shelters, weapon factories, and even hospitals.

The Viet Cong or the National Liberation Front used the tunnels to hide against the U.S. Military and South Vietnamese troops. But they would transport communication, supplies, and soldiers within the tunnel system as they moved closer to Saigon in their quest to take over the city.

The Vietnam War Tunnels proofed to be a strategic advantage for the Northern Vietnamese Army. The U.S. Military had built much of its military strategy around aerial bombing, which had forced the Viet Cong underground. Facing a much better-equipped military, the Viet Cong turn to guerilla tactics. They would leave the tunnels at night for an ambush and make a quick return to their shelter.

Cu Chi Tunnels Hidden Opening

The U.S. Military and the South Vietnamese forces recognized the advantage of the tunnels and made several attempts to take them over. Most of the efforts were unsuccessful. The two notable attempts to take over the region was Operation Crimp in 1966 and Operation Cedar Falls in 1967.

Operation Crimp was combined effort of B-52 bombers and 8,000 U.S. and Australian troops. Despite the massive effort and extensive bombings, it was unsuccessful.

In Operation Cedar Falls, the U.S. had 30,000 troops, including the infamous tunnel rats, and massive firepower fighting the Viet Cong in Cu Chi. The powerful carpet bombs and tunnel rats only brought short-term success as the Viet Cong took the tunnels over again a few months later.

The well-built tunnels were an engineering masterpiece, and the complexity of them is astonishing, especially considering they were mostly built by farmers using hands and shovels.

It is incredible how they were able to dispose of any smoke from the kitchen, air ventilation, and collecting water. The tunnels had escape routes and booby traps that made them very difficult to deal with for the U.S. troops.

The Viet Cong used a sophisticated ventilation system to dispose of smoke from the kitchen and weapons factory. They used termite mud tubes and anthills to disguise the chimneys and ventilation holes.

Cu Chi Tunnels

Life in the Cu Chi Tunnels

The tunnels might have been strategically important and gained many advantages to the Viet Cong, but the life in the tunnels wasn’t easy for its inhabitants. Insects, poisonous centipedes, ants, and rodents constantly harassed the solders.

Malaria plagued the people living in the tunnels. After battle wounds, malaria was the leading cause of death in the Viet Cong Tunnels. Malaria plagued as much as half the Viet Cong living in the tunnels at any given time.

Food and water were scarce, and during the most extensive bombings, Viet Cong would have to remain in the tunnels for days on end.

Few places in Vietnam are as symbolic of the toughness of the Vietnamese people like the Cu Chi Tunnels.

The Viet Cong would only come out at night to get supplies, mind crops, and make attacks. During the day, they would all have their tasks in the tunnels as it operated like any other village.

The tunnels had four levels, reaching down to 10 meters below the ground. 1st level was 3-4 meters down and housed ventilation and firing posts while the 2nd level housed kitchens and living quarters. 3rd level had a hospital and storage room for food and weapons. 4th level included a well for a freshwater and underwater escape route to the Saigon River.

The Vietnam War Tunnel Rats

The Tunnel Rats were specially trained U.S., Australian, and New Zealand volunteers that searched and destroyed the tunnels created by the Viet Cong. They would be tasked to navigate the booby traps, gather intelligence, and kill enemy soldiers.

The Tunnel Rats were small figured soldiers, but even so, they had a hard time crawling the tight tunnels, which were often must over a meter tall.

After the country opened up in the 1990s, the government cleaned up the Cu Chi area, and the tunnels have since become a popular tourist attraction in southern Vietnam.

Cu Chi Tunnels Today

Cu Chi Tunnel Opening

Much of the tunnels have now collapsed, but parts have been maintained and are now open to travelers. When visiting, you’ll get to access the tunnels in addition to seeing how life was in the tunnels. You’ll see the booby traps and weapons, and you’ll even have a chance to shoot some of them if you want.

You will have several options for traveling to the tunnels. Almost every travel agency in Saigon will offer tours to Cu Chi Tunnels. Or you can go on your own and take the bus, motorcycle, or private car, all depending on your preference and budget.

The entrance fee is VND 90,000, and you will have to pay additional VND 20,000 for a guide unless you’re on a scheduled tour. Don’t rely on the compulsory tour guide for much information. He or she is mostly there to make sure you stay on the tracks on don’t go wandering into the thick forest.

The tour usually starts with a 30-minute,  entertaining propaganda documentary film from the 1970s about the history of the tunnels, the construction, the design, and how the Viet Cong fought the enemy.

Saigon River

You will watch the movie in a dug down amphitheater covered with a camouflaged roof. From there, you will see a disguised entrance to the tunnel, and you will have the opportunity to have your photo taken while you crawl into the opening, something that most tourists do.

The main attraction of the site is, of course, the tunnels itself. They have maintained a small part of the tunnels for tourists to crawls through on all-fours. The tunnels are larger than the original tunnels to accommodate tourists.

They are not for the claustrophobic, though, as you still have to crawl through the 5-10 meter tunnels. Entering the tunnels is not mandatory, so you can skip that part if you are not comfortable doing it.

During the approximately 2-hour walk through the area, you’ll see several depressions in the ground from all the B-52 bombs that bombed the region during the war.

The tour ends at a souvenir shop where you can get Vietnam War memorabilia along with more standard Vietnamese souvenirs. And if you didn’t get enough of the propaganda video at the beginning of the tour, you can buy it there. You will also have the opportunity of shooting AK-47s and M-16s at the shooting range.

The tunnels are open from 8 am to 5 pm every day.

The Cu Chi Tunnels have two different access sites for tourists to visit. Ben Dinh Tunnels and Ben Duoc Tunnels. The admission fee for both is the same, and the setup of the tours are similar.

The Ben Dinh Tunnels

Ben Dinh Tunnels is where most tourists go. It can get jam-packed with thousands of tourists visiting each day. It is cleaner and more appealing to travelers than Ben Duoc Tunnels. And a significant advantage is that it’s closer to Saigon than the other tunnels.

The Ben Duoc Tunnels

Ben Duoc Tunnels will give you a more authentic experience. It is also a lot less crowded, but it will take you about an extra hour to get there compared to Ben Dinh.

The Cu Chi Tunnels Shooting Range

Cu Chi Tunnel Shooting Range

The shooting range has become famous as there aren’t many places left in the world where you can shoot Ak-47s, M16s, and jeep-mounted machine guns. You have to be at least 16 years of age to shoot, and they charge a price per bullet.

Shooting range per bullet prices as of 2020:

  • M16: VND 50,000 (USD 2.15)
  • M30: VND 45,000 (USD 1.93)
  • Carbine: VND 40,000 (USD 1.72)
  • AK-47: VND 60,000 (USD 2.58)
  • M60: VND55,000 (USD 2.36)
  • Garand M1: VND 45,000 (USD 1.93)

How to get to Cu Chi Tunnels from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

Most tourists go to Cu Chi Tunnels on scheduled tours through tour operators or travel agencies. As that is the most convenient way to get to Cu Chi. But you have other options such as speedboats, private cars, motorcycles or even public buses. No matter which option you take, it will take you 2-3 hours to travel from Saigon to the Cu Chi Tunnels.

Traveling to Cu Chi Tunnels by Bus

Private bus and minivan companies are offering scheduled services directly from Saigon to Cu Chi Tunnels. It will cost you as little as USD 10 for a round trip. But if your budget is tight, you can easily take the public bus and only pay VND 7,000 (USD 0.30) each way.

Take bus 13 from Saigon’s main bus terminal in District 1 to Cu Chi. At Cu Chi terminal, you will have to change the bus and take bus 79 to the tunnel entrance.

Traveling to Cu Chi Tunnels by Boat

Traveling to Cu Chi Tunnels by Boat

There are several companies operating boat trips to Cu Chi on modern speedboats such as the Saigon River Tour. It is very convenient, as you won’t be affected by the traffic and you’ll enjoy the scenic view on the way.

You can expect to pay around VND 2,000,000 (USD 85) for a half-day tour on a speedboat. It is about a 2-hour boat ride from Saigon to the tunnels.

Tips for traveling to Cu Chi

  • Go early. It’s cooler, and there will be fewer people.
  • Bring water.
  • Bring insect repellent.
  • Expect to get dirty. So bring clothes that can get dirty.
  • Crawling the tunnels is not for claustrophobic.
  • Bring some snacks, especially if you’re not part of an organized tour.

Best Cu Chi Tunnels Tours

There are endless options for organized tours to Cu Chi Tunnels, most of them operated from Saigon. You can jump on a back of a scooter, take a private car, bus or boat. And you can do half or full-day tours and even combine it with a trip to the Mekong Delta. Here are our most recommended tours to the Cu Chi Tunnels.

The Cu Chi Tunnels Private Scooter Tour

Travel back to the times of the American-Vietnam War by visiting the legendary Cu Chi Tunnels, accompanied by a local student guide on a motorbike. Crawl into the underground labyrinth and see for yourself how the Viet Cong managed to survive in an elaborate system of tunnels while the Americans forces warred overground.

The Cu Chi Tunnels by Car

Explore the famous Cu Chi Tunnels on a full-day tour from Ho Chi Minh City and immerse yourself in the history of the Vietnam War. Learn about the architecture of the tunnel system, see how the Viet Cong lived, and taste the food they ate. You cannot visit Ho Chi Minh City without taking a tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels.

Visit Cu Chi Tunnels by Luxury Speedboat

Experience the rich history and culture of the Cu Chi tunnel system on a half-day luxury speed boat tour. Learn about the daily life of the Viet Cong and get a first-hand look into their struggle for survival on an unforgettable journey that is ideal for travelers of all ages. 

Cu Chi Tunnels & Mekong Delta | 2-Day Tour

Discover the very best southern Vietnam has to offer on this 2-day 1-night tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels and the Mekong Delta. Avoid the crowds by visiting the non-touristy section of the Cu Chi Tunnels, see the world-famous Cai Rang Floating Market, and experience authentic Mekong culture in the beautiful city of Ben Tre.

Take in the rich history and stunning beauty of southern Vietnam on a tour that is ideal for those who want to make the most out of their two days in the Mekong Delta.