Vietnam’s Cu Chi Tunnel System

One special area just outside of Ho Chi Minh City played an extraordinary part in Vietnamese history just over 35 years ago. John and I are both interested in the history of the Vietnam War, so a visit to Cu Chi Tunnel system, Ben Duoc Tunnel has been on both our bucket lists for some time now. Located 70km North-West of Ho Chi Minh City, this unique architectural structure forms a system of underground tunnels spanning over 200km in length.

Cu Chi Tunnel System

An artist’s rendition of the tunnel system

The tunnels run several layers deep in the ground and form an intricate winding maze designed for accommodations, meetings and battle preparations during the Vietnam War.

Awarded the title of “Iron Land and Bronze Citadel”, the Cu Chi Tunnel system represents the extraordinary heroics of revolutionary Vietnamese and remains a symbol of pride and unwavering determination and will power.

The area features structures which demonstrate how the people of Cu Chi lived and fought before and during the resistance.

The tunnels are a huge tourist attraction and some of the safer parts have been hollowed out to allow visitors a glimpse of what life was like inside. I entered through a hidden trap-door in the ground that is no bigger than John’s foot. Within minutes, I was sweating profusely as I crawled through the tunnels to another trap door 50 meters away. Perhaps it wasn’t the smartest thing to do as these tunnels used to be infested with all sorts of poisonous creatures. Ah well. I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge.

These next three photos illustrate the size of one of the tunnel exits. In the first photo, John measured the opening with his foot to give you an idea of the size.

Trap Door

Cu Chi Tunnels

Cu Chi Tunnel

The heat in mid-April is stifling. I can’t imagine what the living conditions in those tunnels was like for the people living in them during the war. Just a few short minutes in the tunnels had me feeling dizzy. I don’t understand how people could live in them with the heat. Literally hundreds of people lived in the tunnels with American camps sitting right over their heads. Malaria ran rampant throughout the tunnels during the war and the Vietnamese only ventured out of them under the cover of darkness. Cooking must have been next to impossible, but the ever-resourceful Vietnamese worked out ways of concealing smoke while cooking meals.

Here is another entrance to the tunnel system. This one has been hollowed out significantly.

Tunnel Entrance

In the Tunnels

Here’s a photo of John stuck at the first turn in a tunnel. He was about six feet from the entrance and he had to back out. In addition to exploring the tunnels, we also got to see first-hand what American soldiers had to be on the look-out for. There were several horrifying home-made booby traps that leave little to the imagination in terms of the kind of damage they inflict. We also had a chance to go to the firing range, where we tried our skills with old AK-47 assault rifles.

The Cu Chi Tunnel system is an amazing historical relic from the war and says a lot about the distinctive character and will-power of the people who created it. It is also a true testament to the ingenuity of the Vietnamese people and to their ability to adapt and survive no matter what the circumstances are.

Booby Trap

 

Post Author: Carrie Kellenberger

I'm a chronically ill Canadian expat who has been living abroad in Asia since 2003. I moved from China to Taiwan in 2006. My husband and I have owned our own business in Taiwan since 2012. In addition to my own work, I've been writing professionally about Asia, travel and health advocacy since 2007, providing regular content to several publishing companies and travel publications in Asia and North America. Follow Carrie on on Twitter @globetrotteri or on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/carriekellenberger/.

22 thoughts on “Vietnam’s Cu Chi Tunnel System

    Sandy

    (June 2, 2008 - 8:06 pm)

    These tunnels look so interesting! Can anyone go and climb through these then? It doesn’t look like it has been officially made a tourist site.

    Nomadic Matt

    (June 3, 2008 - 12:11 am)

    After stalking around the site for so long, I figured it was time to say hello. I also contribute to Steve’s site. Just saying hello.

    Carrie

    (June 3, 2008 - 2:20 am)

    Hi Sandy,

    This part of the tunnels is open to the public. We were lucky and arrived on a day when it was relatively quiet. The tunnels are maintained, so I didn’t feel too badly about scrambling around inside.

    I don’t think I would have been so adventuresome if we’d come across a tunnel on a walk outdoors. John, however, is more likely to get into quick scrapes. If he had been able to fit, I’m sure we would have been there til nightfall!

    Carrie

    (June 3, 2008 - 2:22 am)

    Hi Matt,

    Nice to meet you! I confess, I just heard about your site a couple of weeks ago through Steve, and I’ve been lurking around yours too. It’s nice to meet another travel addict! Didn’t you just recently write an article for Erica at Blissful Travel? I met her about a year ago online. Her site is really booming these days. Thanks for stopping by to say hello!

    Nomadic Matt

    (June 3, 2008 - 1:37 pm)

    Hey, Yeah I wrote a guest blog last month and am going to write another soon. Her site is kicking off. I’ll prob see her in person when I get to Europe this summer.

    cfimages

    (June 3, 2008 - 2:31 pm)

    Cool post. Now you need to explore all the tunnels in Taiwan – there’s a lot of them.

    Stevo

    (June 3, 2008 - 11:26 pm)

    Great story. I have a thing for tunnels. Maybe Vietnam will be next on my list. So many places, so little time….

    Carrie

    (June 4, 2008 - 1:26 pm)

    Hi Craig,

    There’s a series of underground tunnels near The Grand Hotel here in Taipei but I don’t think it’s open to the public yet. Do you know where I can get more information?

    Carrie

    (June 4, 2008 - 1:30 pm)

    Steve,

    I agree. So many places and so little time. We were on a tight travel schedule in Vietnam and we’re both aching to get back and explore some of the places we missed. While we were there, John and I realized it’s a terrific place to explore by motorcycle. It’s high up on our travel list over the next few years. This year, we will be returning to China for a few weeks before heading back to North America and then on to Mexico for the wedding. Sigh. You summed it up perfectly. Still, three months a year for traveling is better than most people get!

    Stevo

    (June 4, 2008 - 9:40 pm)

    Sigh. I wish I had three months year. Since I stepped into management my time is more limited. I hope to do a weekend in Cambodia in July.

    If you’ll be in Guangdong while in China give me a call.

    michelle G

    (June 5, 2008 - 1:35 pm)

    great post

    Carrie

    (June 5, 2008 - 2:28 pm)

    Stevo,

    Well there you have it. I managed a chain of stores in Canada for eight years before moving to Asia and I’ve been offered two management positions since coming to Asia. After observing how my friends had to deal with the problems, hassles and constant expectations, I decided it wasn’t for me and it’s not worth the money. It’s a thankless job. I certainly hope your experiences are positive.

    Siem Reap/Ton le Sap/Angkor Wat is definitely do-able over a long weekend. What a carrot to dangle! Can’t wait to see what comes out of that trip. 🙂

    And of course, you are the first person I thought of when we decided to go to China. If we’re in the area, we’d love to hook up!

    Krzysztof

    (June 10, 2008 - 2:45 pm)

    Interesting story. I’m trying to remind if I have claustrophobia 😉 It must have been very exciting and a little scary to crawl through those tunnels and shoot an AK47. Was there any target? How many times did you hit it? 🙂

    Carrie

    (June 10, 2008 - 4:30 pm)

    Ha! No claustrophobia for me, but I was definitely worried about creepy-crawlies. Ew. The AK-47 was fun but I’ve never shot a gun before. I hit nothing but dirt. ;-(

    Joanna

    (June 11, 2008 - 4:53 am)

    Wow Carrie these pictures are amazing. I can’t believe how the Vietnamese managed to crawl into tunnels that were that small. It really shows you just what a society of people will do to survive. Excellent post.

    Preyanka

    (June 12, 2008 - 6:01 am)

    You know, I’ve never been to the Cu Chi tunnels! Or at least not that I can remember. I’m sure my butt would get stuck if I tried going down one of the tunnels now, but looks like you guys had fun:)

    Carrie

    (June 13, 2008 - 2:50 pm)

    Preya,

    We did have fun, but it was also a sobering day. Some of the photographs on display were quite disturbing. And wowee, it was hot!

    Longo Chua

    (December 31, 2008 - 4:28 pm)

    Hi All,

    This morning i had tried to squeezed through the tunnel for 20 meters long, it was scary, i had to bow and squeezed my body in such a small dark space. Inside tunnel is very humid and my breath was getting difficult. Its a very good experience and exposure.

    Carrie

    (January 2, 2009 - 11:03 am)

    Hi Longo,
    Great job! It’s scary squeezing through those tunnels. It’s hard to imagine how small they were back then. They’ve been made bigger to allow tourists to get a feel for what it was like for the Vietnamese.

    Thomas

    (June 26, 2009 - 4:04 pm)

    Realy loved your website. Im very into all things war. I just have a question. I heard some of these tunnels where opened up somewhat for the tourist. Im a bit of a fatty and just wondering would some of those touristed tunnels accomidate my large backside? It would be sad for me to go there and not have a little look inside one of these tunnels.

    Thomas.

    jessiev

    (September 27, 2009 - 12:27 am)

    incredible story. i can’t blv that people actually lived in those. i am claustrophobic, just LOOKING!
    .-= jessiev´s last blog ..Who Does She Think She Is? =-.

      Carrie

      (September 28, 2009 - 3:02 am)

      Me, too. It totally freaked me out crawling through them.

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