Cu Chi Tunnels

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.

The 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.

The 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 flooding

Despite 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.

However, the loss of life on the Vietnamese side was heavy – well over 10,000 and possibly as high as 15,000.

The 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.

Two 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.

However, 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!

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