The Cu Chi tunnels are located in Cu Chi district next to the Saigon River, about half-way between
Ho Chi Minh City and the Cao Dai Holy See – the journey usually
takes around 1½ hrs from either end, depending on the traffic.
original tunnels were dug long ago by the Viet Minh to provide
hiding places from which to attack French soldiers. During
the 1960s, the Viet Cong reopened them and greatly extended
them both horizontally and vertically. At their peak, an integrated
200km network of passages, on five or more levels in places,
stretched to within thirty kilometres of the centre of Saigon.
Their total length was somewhere between 200km and 300km,
and the deepest levels were more than 30m underground. The
complex included entire underground ‘villages’ – accommodation,
canteens, and even schools and hospitals.
tunnel entrances, exits, ventilation pipes, chimneys, and
waste channels were all ingeniously camouflaged and guarded
by an array of vicious booby traps designed to maim intruders
(there are many examples in the War Remnants Museum). Blast
screens and water traps protected inhabitants from grenades
and gas, and the passages could be quickly sealed off to prevent
the use of chemicals, defoliants, napalm, huge ploughs and
carpet bombing by B45’s, the integrity of the tunnels was
never seriously compromised by the enemy.
The tunnels played a pivotal role in the American War - it
is said that the 1968 Tet Offensive was masterminded from
there. Without doubt, the impotence of the GIs in penetrating
the network and the effects of fighting an enemy that could
appear at any time, strike with deadly force, then vanish
like a wraith sapped the resolve of the US soldiers and contributed
to their defeat.
the loss of life on the Vietnamese side was heavy – well over
10,000 and possibly as high as 15,000.
devastation wreaked upon the area is no longer obvious. The
massive craters are overgrown and scrub forest has reclaimed
the land despite the untold gallons of toxins sprayed on the
ground. Short lengths of the tunnels have been renovated and
made safe to provide access for visitors.
areas of have been opened up – one has been heavily modified
and is a standard tourist attraction. We use the less-visited,
but more authentic, site.
although the tunnels have been widened to accommodate the
larger dimensions of foreigners, anyone much above average
girth and height would find it difficult to get through. Anyone
claustrophobic would be wise to stay above ground!