Arguably Ho Chi Minh City’s most famous tourist attraction and one of its most significant historic sites, the Cu Chi Tunnels are an undisputed must-see when visiting this part of the world. Spanning more than 200 kilometres, this remarkable network of underground passageways at one time ran from the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City all the way to the Cambodian border.
Started in the 1940s but expanded during the Vietnam War, the Cu Chi Tunnels both provided shelter and concealment for Viet Cong soldiers and served as a means of undetected transport and communication; they are a fascinating example of wartime desperation and ingenuity.
Not just a network of tunnels, this extensive underground system also incorporated living quarters, fully functioning kitchens, weapons factories, storage facilities, schoolrooms, support bases, command centres, bomb shelters and even hospitals. A true feat of engineering, the tunnels extend several levels down, with the topmost layer of soil being from three to four metres thick – enough to support the weight of a 50-tonne army tank.
These days, two sections of the Cu Chi Tunnels are open to the public, the most popular being near the village of Ben Dinh for its proximity to Ho Chi Minh City. A large war-memorial park has been constructed around the site, which provides supervised access to a small section of the tunnels. If you dare, take the opportunity to lower yourself through a narrow trapdoor and into the darkness of the tunnel below. Once inside, try your hand at navigating a section of the tunnel and get a glimpse into the lives of the soldiers and the incredible challenges they faced on a daily basis. A word of warning: the claustrophobic need not apply.
Those who stay above ground will still get a lot out of the experience – whether you choose to take your turn firing an AK47 weapon or simply take some time out to reflect on the lives and sacrifices of those who fought and died here. This place does, after all, bear the weight of one of the most devastating episodes in the country’s history. Throughout the course of the Vietnam War, more than 45,000 men and women perished defending the tunnels, which is worth keeping in mind when visiting.