If you long for an immersive insight into how the country operated during the war, then these tunnel complexes will provide an unparalleled peek into Vietnam wartime past. A testament to the country’s ingenuity and resilience, the secret tunnels remain some of the most popular tourist attractions in the entire country.
The legacy of the wars are still very much felt in Vietnam. Though the country has become more and more globalized over the years, the impact of wartime can be seen throughout the country – including underground.
Cu Chi Tunnels
The most famous tunnel complex in Vietnam, the Cu Chi Tunnels can be found in the forest northwest of Ho Chi Minh City. They played an essential role in the 1960s war effort.
History of Địa đạo Củ Chi
Although they were originally constructed in the 1940s, it wasn’t until they were expanded by the Viet Cong that they reached their current size. Originally, the Cu Chi Tunnels were built to accommodate arms and ammunition, but they soon became ideal hiding places for fighters themselves.
The sprawling, 250km tunnels stretched from Saigon to the Cambodian border. In their heyday, they were essential in nullifying the threat from American forces as their size and deliberately confusing construction rendered most attacks useless.
The small and narrow entrances presented an issue to the taller, heavier American soldiers and, despite their attempts, attacking the Chi Chi Tunnels never worked very effectively.
There was, however, a large price to pay for those situated within the tunnels. Heavy bomb fire destroyed the surrounding vegetation and the air quality became toxic due to the prominence of poisonous gases sprayed throughout the area. It has been estimated that at least 12,000 guerillas and sympathizers lost their lives in protecting the Cu Chi Tunnels.
Plenty of life could be found within the Cu Chi Tunnels. At their peak, they featured bedrooms, kitchens, treatment rooms, tactical areas, and even a hospital. An air filtration system, built to suppress gas attacks and suffocation attempts, was constructed during the apex of the war. Conditions, however, were diabolical.
The unsanitary conditions, stomach-churning smells, and unbearable heat made life almost unbearable. Fighters lived day-to-day maintaining themselves on whatever sustenance they could get their hands on. Morale often ran low and fighters often sang songs of hope to keep their spirits up.
Touring the Cu Chi Tunnels Today
After the war ended in 1973, the Cu Chi Tunnels were preserved and later turned into a highly popular attraction. Now, you can meander through a stretch of the original pathway, which has been slightly enlarged for tourists. During the brief stint inside the tunnels, there are a few exits on-hand to ensure you can leave at your own discretion, continue further.
Though the tunnels are a fraction of their original size, they still provide a candid insight into what wartime life was like for those living inside them. In addition to the tunnels, there are exhibits showing booby traps and life around Cu Chi, as well as a shooting gallery where you can fire an AK-47. There are two main areas of Cu Chi:
The Ben Dinh site is the most popular of the two. Preserved largely how it would’ve appeared in the 1960s, visitors can witness the famous booby traps and trap doors that made the Cu Chi Tunnels so infamous.
This site is closer to Ho Chi Minh City and is considered the more historically accurate section of the tunnels.
The Ben Douc area, however, has been altered to serve the tourist population.
The original tunnels have been expanded, ventilated, and illuminated with lights. If you fancy getting your hands dirty, you can sport a soldiers’ outfit and crawl through the tunnels on your hands and knees.
The Ben Douc tunnels are further away than the Ben Dinh tunnels, but provide a more ‘hands-on’ experience of wartime life in the trenches.
There’s also an on-site shooting range and a restaurant serving authentic food from the period.
The Cu Chi Tunnels are located in the Cu Chi District of Ho Chi Minh City. The most popular way to reach them is by bus, via an organized tour. To get there, you’ll need to take either a bus or a taxi (which is not recommended due to the price) from Saigon. Be sure to visit the stunning Cao Dai Temple on the way.
You can also arrange a guided tour that speeds up the river to the tunnels by boat, a much preferred experience. Not only is this easier and less grueling, but you’ll also be treated to the cooling river breeze on the way. It does cost extra, though you’ll generally arrive earlier than the buses, since it’s a faster/shorter trip. This gets you to the all the exhibits aster.
Vinh Moc Tunnels
During the American bombing of Quang Tri Province, villagers moved underground to escape. Faced with the threat of American invasion, the humble communities called upon their resourcefulness and iron will to construct the Vinh Moc Tunnels.
History of Địa đạo Vịnh Mốc
The galvanized community soon built the Vinh Moc Tunnels around 1966. This impressive tunnel complex served as the birthplace of 90 people and acted as a makeshift town complete with a kitchen, washrooms, living quarters, and even a movie theatre. Unlike the complicated Cu Chi Tunnels, the Vinh Moc tunnel network’s simpler design was tailored purely for civilian use
The Vinh Moc Tunnels grew in size as the war continued. Only a few moderately-sized tunnels were dug at the start and only a handful of people lived there. Yet at the time of the Vietnam War’s conclusion in 1973, the tunnels grew to a size of over 5,000 feet. There were also 13 entrances on the sides, and the deepest level went down to 75 feet below the surface.
Touring the Vinh Moc Tunnels Today
Though the War is long finished, the legacy and ingenuity of the Vinh Moc Tunnels very much remain. Today, they’re preserved in their original state (though with the addition of electric lights) and visitors can develop an intimate knowledge of life in the tunnels by meandering through them and observing the historical markers and reconstructed scenes subsequently added.
Tours are given in English, and as you emerge from the exits, you’ll be standing on a stunning beach with panoramic views of the sea. The Vinh Moc Tunnels are located in the village of Ho Xa – 6.5 miles north of the Ben Hai River.
Tunnels have played an integral part in Vietnam for over 50 years. Though these underground networks aren’t in use anymore (other than as museums), their importance is still very much alive.