The ingenious, sprawling network of tunnels at Cu Chi, 70km north-west of Ho Chi Minh City, were used as a base by the Viet Cong to carry out their guerilla war campaign against the US between 1960 and 1975.
It’s hard to describe just how clever and extensive these tunnels are. From the ground, you’d never know there was a series of intricate tunnels under your feet. There’s no indication there’s a hidden world beneath the jungle floor. The entrances are expertly concealed, while the ventilation shafts, that ensured a circulating flow of air throughout the network, were built to resemble termite mounds (below).
What’s even more remarkable is that the tunnels weren’t just a network of tunnels. They boasted multiple floors and rooms, and were home to kitchens, living quarters, meeting places, as well as battle areas. In short, the Viet Cong had everything they needed to survive within these warrens.
On arriving at the site, we headed inside a large hut where we had a brief history lesson about the war and the resistance fighters, providing a useful context for what we were about to see. We then followed a series of trails around the complex, which showed how the Viet Cong lived, worked and fought during the war.
Among the notable sights was a workshop, where we learned how the Viet Cong fashioned shoes out of old tyres (above) and all sorts of other ingenious things; a kitchen; and a dining room, where we had the chance to try some tapioca. There were also re-enactments with models that showed what life was like for the Viet Cong. At one point our guide showed us the concealed entrance to one of the tunnels (above) – and if it wasn’t for him showing us, I’d never have known it was there .
The most gruesome part of the tour was seeing the booby traps set by the Viet Cong to capture the US soldiers. The Viet Cong devised all sorts of horrifying traps that were hidden from view, but accidentally step on one of them and you’d be maimed, or in all likelihood, killed. Some of these contraptions wouldn’t have been out of place in Game of Thrones and they made me mighty uncomfortable – some were unnecessarily violent and almost all involved painful looking spikes.
After walking around the complex above ground, it was time to explore the tunnels themselves. Most of the tunnels are off limits to visiting tourists as they’re home to scorpions and other dangerous critters, but one of the tunnels has been opened up to visitors. The tunnel was really narrow, dark, hot and claustrophobic – our guide told us that some American soldiers got stuck in the tunnels trying to infiltrate them and I could see why.
The deeper we got into the tunnel network, the smaller and smaller they became, and I was having to seriously squat and crouch to keep up with my guide. At various points along the way there were exit points so you could leave the tunnel if you felt you’d had enough.
After being assured by my guide that I wouldn’t get stuck, I chose to go the whole length of the tunnel and I’m glad I did. I found the experience exhilarating and I was amazed at just how narrow the tunnels became. It was fascinating and quite unlike anything else I’d experienced.
At the end of the tour, there was a small café area and a shop, as well as shooting range where visitors can try their hand at firing some weapons. I didn’t have a go on the shooting range as I felt uncomfortable with the idea as the site is a war memorial and I’ve never had any desire to shoot a weapon.
That aside, the Cu Chi Tunnels offer a fascinating insight into what life was like for the Viet Cong during the war and the extraordinary methods they employed to fight back against the Americans. It’s one thing reading about a war in a history book, but seeing how people lived and fought bring the horrors of war to life. It was an interesting and thought-provoking visit.