Some of the first tourists to visit Vietnam when the country began to open up to Westerner visitors were the veterans from the United States who fought in the war. Vietnam War tunnels were on the list of places they returned to, and the Cu Chi Tunnels outside of Ho Chi Minh City (once known as Saigon) have become a huge draw for international visitors at a rate of about 1,000 per day.
Cu Chi Tunnels
These tunnels in Vietnam encompass an immense underground network of more than 75 miles of tunnels underneath what was one of the most famous battlegrounds of the war that ended in 1975. This part of the country’s history is not so much reverently remembered by the adults of Vietnam; most of the visitors are foreign tourists and buses full of Vietnamese schoolchildren.
Thousands of Viet Kong fighters and villagers hid in the tunnels of Cu Chi during the fiercest fighting. There was an entire underground city here, and today it is one of the country’s most important war museums. You also find war tours and museums in the city of Hue, which played an important role in the Tet offensive of 1968. Other tunnels in Vietnam are also sure to be developed, including the Hai Van Pass tunnels along the route that connected Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City during the war.
Nonetheless, it is the claustrophobic Cu Chi Tunnels system that remains the most significant remnant of the conflict that raged in the country for years. It is a sobering reminder of the kind of hardships faced by the people of Vietnam during those years and the daring of the American and Australian “tunnel rats” who braved the tunnels during the war.
Along with the Cu Chi Tunnels and other similar war memorials like the Marble Mountains and China Beach, there are plans to develop the DMZ—the demilitarized zone that separated the north and south during the war—as well as the Ho Chi Minh Trail that ran nearly the full length of the country and even into neighboring Laos and Cambodia. Most Cu Chi Tunnels tours allow you to crawl around in the safer parts of the network. Lest you complain about what a tight fit it is, be aware that these sections have been enlarged to accommodate larger Western tourists.
Above ground after your Cu Chi Tunnels tours you can enjoy dining on samples of the meager diet the Viet Cong soldiers and villagers subsisted on—thin tapioca, sugar, and peanuts. You can also do some shopping for souvenirs, and there’s even a shooting range where you can fire a variety of war era assault rifles. The site is located about 45 miles from downtown Ho Chi Minh City, and there are numerous companies in the city that offer day tours to the site. In addition to the tours of these tunnels in Vietnam the companies can assist you with visiting some of the city’s other museums and beautiful pagodas, including the stunning Giac Lam Pagoda near the tunnels. If you want to stay in this area, there are some Ho Chi Minh City hotels nearby.
Top image: David McKelvey (flickr)