The Củ Chi tunnels are a definite must whilst staying in Ho Chi Minh City. They get their name from their location in the Củ Chi District, although they are actually only one section of a far larger network of tunnels which lie beneath much of Vietnam as a whole. At their peak, the tunnel system ran all the way from the Capital of South Vietnam to the Cambodian border! The tunnels were made famous due to their use by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. However, don’t image it as just one tunnel running directly under the surface, since the complex actually stretched several stories down underground. During the Vietnam War they were not only used as hiding places, but also as routes for supplies and communication, food and weapon storage, living quarters and even kitchens and hospitals!
It is a very worthwhile day trip to go on, even if (like me) you’re not especially knowledgeable or interested in the history of the Vietnam War. We were picked up from our hostel and transported to the tunnels, and along the way we stopped off at a workshop. At first I wasn’t entirely sure why we had stopped here in particular. But as we got off the bus the long line of wheelchairs provided an answer. The shop provides work for the descendants of those exposed to Agent Orange and other chemicals during the Vietnam War, and who were born with disabilities as a result. They are taught their trade and employed there, selling their wares in an enormous shop. Some of the artwork on display was truly beautiful. If I had the space to buy it, or the money to ship it home, I could easily have bought a dozen different items.
After some time to look around and shop we were put back onto the bus and taken to the tunnels. At Củ Chi 75 miles (121 km) worth of tunnels have been preserved and turned into a war memorial park. It’s actually possible to crawl through the tunnel system, although it’s amazing to realise that these tiny little tunnels have actually been enlarged to better suit Western tourists! (I dread to think how small they must have been previously). A word of warning, if like one of our group you’re not a fan of small spaces, don’t go down there. Whilst you’re not in the tunnels for a particularly long period of time it is small, quite dark despite the lighting, and incredibly hot!
As well as an opportunity to explore the tunnels we were provided with an English speaking guide who took us around the area. We were told how the Viet Cong created their tunnel system despite American efforts to destroy their efforts, how they produced weapons and tended their wounded underground. We were even shown the incredible variety of booby traps that were used against the American soldiers – truly astonishing all the different ways humans can think to kill or injure one another!
Once you’ve finished the tour there is an area where you can sit and enjoy a cold drink. Unfortunately I can’t say ‘in peace’ since you will inevitably be kept company by the continuous sound of gun fire! The park has its own shooting range where you can pay to use a variety of different weapons. There are assault rifles such as the AK-47 and even the M60 machine gun. Some of the groups on the tour seemed to have a great time playing with all the different toys there!
The tunnels offer an insight into a different type of warfare used during this war. It’s astonishing to think that there were people who lived in these tunnels for long periods of times – even years, when after only 10 minutes even I (who quite enjoys small spaces) was craving fresh air and sunlight. The booby traps offer a gruesome insight into the Vietnamese way of fighting, particularly striking after having visited the War Remnants Museum the day previously. Perhaps visiting these two sights one after the other is the best way of beginning to see both sides to this picture.
“If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel – as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go.” Anthony Bourdain