History of the Cu Chi Tunnels
It was Ho Chi Minh, the leader of North Vietnam, who in 1965 ordered the expansion of the existing tunnel complex and turned it into a shelter for communist rebels from the south, the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese army. The most important point of this tunnel complex was in the Cu Chi region. The tunnels extended at least 300 kilometers! In addition, the tunnels had multiple levels that were interconnected and tunnels with traps. Some tunnels were up to 13 meters deep.
The construction of the tunnels are very special. There are many bends for protection against explosions and passages in a U-shape that were filled with water. This was to protect against toxic gases. Moreover, the tunnels were very narrow, so that the Vietnamese could easily get through, but not the Americans. Many animals from the jungle also used the tunnels as hiding places, making it even more dangerous. In the tunnels entire villages were reconstructed, including ammunition depots, hospitals with operating rooms, bedrooms, meeting rooms, food storage areas and even theaters.
Many Vietnamese stayed in the tunnels all day long to come out at night to fight. This led to success in the war and confused the Americans because the Vietnamese disappeared like ghosts in the tunnels. However, it also led to health problems due to the living conditions in the tunnels and the lack of sunlight.
Ben Dinh or Ben Duoc – the secret entrance
There are two areas where you can see the tunnels, Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc. Ben Duoc is the best example of the original tunnels. Ben Dinh also has tunnels, but they are all widened for tourist purposes. The entrance to the Ben Dinh is also closer (about 50 km from Ho Chi Minh City) and is a more convenient option, but does not offer the same experience. Due to the shorter distance to Ho Chi Minh City, this location is more touristy and also the main choice of most of the the Cu Chi Tunnel tours that depart from Ho Chi Minh City, so you have a less authentic experience. Ben Duoc (about 70 km from Ho Chi Minh City) is recommended if you have more time.
Opening times and admission prices
Both the entrance to Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc have the same opening times, but have different admission prices.
Opening times: daily from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Ben Dinh: VND 110,000 per person
Ben Duoc: VND 90,000 per person
The cheap backpacker tours to the Cu Chi Tunnels don’t include the entrance ticket to the tunnels, but all the regular tours do include entrance fees.
A visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi tunnels now serve as a museum. Many tourists come to this place. Still it’s worth it. Especially the horrible booby traps are really interesting to see. The tunnels have been widened to make it accessible to tourists. Although it is still tight. Weird to see the small, long tunnels, where so many Vietnamese have lived underground for years. A must-see for anyone who wants to know more about the (horrific) history of Vietnam!
An underground guided tour takes about 45 minutes to an hour and consists of a number of impressive demonstrations and stories.
During your visit to the tunnels you can get a reasonable picture of the harsh living conditions and how people used to operate here. Especially the booby traps make an impression, because they are very inventive and at the same time very horrible to see. Concealed hatches lead to sharp pins, intended to injure and deceive the American enemy. A guide will be happy to tell you how these techniques were used and why.
There are a number of things you can do at the Cu Chi Tunnels. Explore the area, crawl through the tunnels, watch documentaries, exhibitions, traps, take photos and of course shoot with a gun!
Both Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc have shooting ranges for tourists. The conditions are that you are in good health and at least 16 years old to participate in this activity.
The balls are sold in sets and each set has about 10 balls of the same type. Here is the price list for different types of bullets that are sold:
M16: 35,000 VND / 1 bullet (~ $ 1.6 USD)
AK 47: 40,000 VND / 1 bullet (~ $ 1.8 USD)
M60: 40,000 VND / 1 bullet (~ $ 1.8 USD)
Garand: 30,000 VND / 1 bullet (~ $ 1.4 USD)
M30: 30,000 VND / 1 bullet (~ $ 1.4 USD)
CARBIN: 25,000 VND / 1 bullet (~ $ 1.1 USD)
There is no dress code for the Cu Chi tunnels, but wear something that you don’t mind getting dirty because you go underground.
A comfortable pair of sneakers is a good idea.
Sunscreen and insect spray can be handy to take with you.
The Cu Chi tunnels are open during the rainy season (May to November) and there are no floods in the tunnels, but the experience may be a little less comfortable.
During Tet (Vietnamese New Year, which falls in late January or early February), the tunnels are still open.
Tourists with claustrophobia are not advised to go into the tunnels. You can still visit other places and enter the larger excavated places.