Cu Chi TunnelTags: cu chi, cu chi tunnel, Saigon to cu chi
If the tenacious spirit of the Vietnamese can be symbolised by a place, then few candidates could make a stronger case than Cu Chi. This district of greater HCMC now has a population of about 350,000 but during the American War it had about 80,000 residents. At first glance there is little evidence here to indicate the intense fighting, bombing and destruction that occurred in Cu Chi during the war. To see what went on, you have to dig deeper – underground.
The tunnel network of Cu Chi became legendary during the 1960s for its role in facilitating VC control of a large rural area only 30km to 40km from HCMC. At its peak the tunnel system stretched from the South Vietnamese capital to the Cambodian border; in the district of Cu Chi alone there were more than 250km of tunnels. The network, parts of which were several storeys deep, included innumerable trapdoors, constructed living areas, storage facilities, weapons factories, field hospitals, command centres and kitchens.
The tunnels facilitated communication and coordination between the VC-controlled enclaves, isolated from each other by South Vietnamese and American land and air operations. They also allowed the VC to mount surprise attacks wherever the tunnels went – even within the perimeters of the US military base at Dong Du – and to disappear suddenly into hidden trapdoors without a trace. After ground operations against the tunnels claimed large numbers of US casualties and proved ineffective, the Americans resorted to massive firepower, eventually turning Cu Chi’s 420 sq km into what the authors of The Tunnels of Cu Chi have called ‘the most bombed, shelled, gassed, defoliated and generally devastated area in the history of warfare’.
Cu Chi has become a place of pilgrimage for Vietnamese school children and Communist Party cadres.
A well defined walking track loops around the area, with things to see spaced at regular intervals, including examples of how people lived and what they ate. There is a 30m section of tunnel which visitors can crawl through (not recommended for the claustrophobic), examples of traps used during the war, and the remnants of bomb craters. Warning: Many travellers put themselves into small ventilation holes for phototaking. It is great fun but consider your body before getting in as some had difficulties getting out and had to crawl to the exit point.
What to do
- Fire Weapons - choose between the AK-47, M16,.30 Caliber Machine Gun, M60, M1 carbine, M1 Garand and Russian SKS. Great fun, if you can put from your mind what these “toys” were really designed for! As of May 2012, firing an AK-47 costs 35,000 dong per bullet.You do not have to go the Cu Chi tunnels in order to fire a gun, the range and tunnels are separate. It is located outside the Cu Chi complex, by walking it is 1.5 miles or take a motorbike.
There are numerous souvenir shops at the end of the walking track. Given the location there is some focus on war memorabilia, as well as the traditional Vietnamese souvenirs found elsewhere.
What to eat
There are a number of stalls selling food and drinks near the entrance. Mid-way around the walking track is a kiosk/restaurant selling drinks and food and ice-cream at reasonable prices, and at the end there are samples of traditional “Tapiaco (Asian Potato)” to try.