If you told me a year ago that I would be willingly visiting war related museums and attractions I’d have thought you were mad. But there’s something about the Vietnamese/ American war which fascinates, shocks, saddens and intrigues me. On reflection, I think this may be because it was such a misunderstood war: no one really understood why America got involved, and no one really understood how brutal the war was besides those fighting and those who suffered. Having been to The War Museum in Ho Chi Minh City and learning a little more about what really went on, I was eager to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels to see for myself where some of the most brutal and famous warfare happened.
Most hostels/hotels or travel totes in Ho Chi Minh City will arrange a half-day excursion from the city to the tunnels. Tours operate twice per day (in the morning or the afternoon) and will cost around 120,000 VND ($6) plus a 100,000 VND ($5) entrance fee. It takes approximately an hour and a half to drive to the Cu Chi province which gives you approximately 2 hours at the site with your tour guide. Whilst there are a lot of tourists, it is certainly worth the visit as it’s such a poignant place for the Vietnamese and their culture.
It was amazing to walk through the jungle and imagine the fear that gripped the American troops who were not at all prepared for the traps laid out for them, and also to imagine the resilience and comradery of the Viet Cong soldiers. Our group was guided through the jungle where we were shown the gruesome traps which awaited the Americans, a huge cavity in the ground’s surface where an American bomb was dropped and even allowed to walk through one of the original tunnels. The tunnels were incredibly claustrophobic and sweltering hot, it was difficult to imagine anyone surviving down there for more than an hour (in fact I bailed at the second exit)!
The tunnels are a three-tiered network of underground passages which span 200km over and around the Cu Chi district, homing nearly 10,000 Vietnamese civilians and soldiers for near enough 10 years. If this isn’t impressive enough, I was most amazed by how resourceful the Viet Cong troops were; making weapons and traps from pieces of sharp bomb shells, making shoes out of American tank tyres, and disguising kitchen vents with termite hills.
What really brought the experience to life was the firing range you could participate in if you wished. Personally this is something that I’m against, however from afar the gunfire and vibrations from the shooting range resonated the terror the American troops must have been experiencing wondering through the unknown and walking into the palms of danger. If you want to, the shooting range costs 300,000 VND ($15) for ten bullets.
Whilst it’s easy to sympathise with the American soldiers, I couldn’t help but feel quite proud of the Vietnamese. The American army were obliterating villages and vast quantities of nature through their use of illegal chemical warfare, yet it was basic knowledge of the land, sneaky and cunning tactics and brutal traps which enabled the Viet Cong to defeat the Americans altogether. We had a really inspiring morning at the Cu Chi Tunnels and highly recommend the excursion to anyone visiting Ho Chi Minh City or Southern Vietnam.