We only had less than two days to explore Saigon, so it was quite a hard mission to plan where to go and what to do. A part of us wanted to go around and tried some unique dishes, but in the end, we decided to visit Cu Chi Tunnels – one of the spots related to the Vietnam wars. As my dad and grandfather joined the Vietnam – American war, they wished to come back to those battlefields and listen to what local people think about the war.
We made Cu Chi tunnels a must-visit site during the journey, which consists of numerous hand-carved tunnels with a total area of 75 miles, erected during the French colonial period, then expanded in the later fights, between the 60s and 70s of the 20th century. In addition to the tunnels, there is a complex of connecting rooms, air vents, escape routes, and booby traps. All of those things create a perfect tunnel network.
As a side note, Cu Chi Tunnels are not considered as a typically honored war memorial, despite a pagoda and monument at Ben Duoc. There is no respectful reflection on the cruelty of wars, just an exit via a souvenir shop that trades souvenir bullets. We have read that the propaganda created negative consequences, especially around the border. However, we don’t think it needs to be annoyed if we praise the courage and patriotism of Cu Chi locals and the usefulness of the tunnels, it will be more meaningful and positive.
Apart from an intricated relation with American war and heroes, the tunnels didn’t remind me of anything in America. Instead, I felt like I was in the Churchill War Rooms in London as soon as I saw an itsy-bitsy area simulating how a group of people got over a hard time without given extra time to find reasons, debates, or perspectives from the other side.
If you crave a profound lesson of the war, the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City is indeed the right place for you. Nonetheless, in my opinion, the tunnels are worth-visiting.
How to Head to Cu Chi Tunnels?
There are a lot of choices for you to move to the site. For example, public transportation will cost only a few dollars. Besides, you can reserve bus tours, limousine tours, or boat tours, with or without meals, half-day or full-day trips, including other destinations. You can select whichever journey you want, depending on your finance and schedule. During the travel time, we were glad to go outside Saigon and enjoy a fascinating historical attraction.
- Discover street food in Saigon
- Pretty things making you “fall in love” with Saigon
- A trip to the Mekong Delta
Ben Dinh or Ben Duoc?
Besides money, you must choose one out of two tunnels to visit. Most recommend you to take Ben Dinh, an immense operation welcoming thousands of tourists each day with a firing range where you can use machine guns to shoot. The tunnels must have been restored and considerably expanded so that visitors can have a more joyful exploration.
On the other hand, Ben Duoc is a bit far from Ho Chi Minh City, since it may take an additional hour to travel. If you are tired of the crowd, Ben Duoc is a good option as it does not attract people as many as in Ben Dinh. Furthermore, the majority of the site remains intact; thus, you will have a more authentic experience. On that day, a Saturday during holiday time, we encountered just two other crews with the total number was about twenty people.
Because the tunnels at Ben Duoc have kept their size, we could learn how the Vietnamese used it during the wars. The narrow gap was not comfortable for us to move at all! We had to bend our back while keeping looking onward to see the path. After all, it was a precious memory.
The tunnels got smaller and smaller, and we also had to change our poses to get out, from crawling on hands and knees to sprawling on stomachs and forearms. I think the tunnels worked well since a Western soldier with a more prominent body than a Vietnamese’s is impossible to get through the final path, not to mention he has to carry along a weapon.
You can visit any tunnel you want to; each is less than several hundred meters long. In case you don’t know the exit, the staff will tell you and take you out.
From my point of view, I would like to go to Ben Duoc for a more realistic experience, even if you just stay outside and don’t approach the tunnels.
How to Reach the Tunnels?
No matter which place did you choose, you should reach that site by a speed boat to save time. If you want a more conventional vehicle, buses sound good, but you have to spend more time, about one to two hours, and make sure you don’t have a carsick.
During the boat travel, we had to stop to remove water hyacinths from the propeller on the way. It was the season of water hyacinths, so they covered the surface with green leaves and purple flowers. However, the trip was so perfect for our first long day in Vietnam. Although the engine was loud, the atmosphere was quite fresh and pleasant, mainly when we run away from the noisy city to enter the agricultural, rural area.
Commonly, we still satisfied to take part in a group. However, in that visit, we decided to hire a boat for our own due to a particular combination of circumstances, comprising a specific day during Tet holiday, a short amount of time, wanting to visit Ben Duoc, needless to have lunch, and preferring to take a round-trip boat. You can share the boat with other groups if you feel comfortable and hope to save the budget.
Selecting Crews, Tours, and Guides
One more time, there are countless selections, but my advice is to hire a tour guide to travel with you on the entire trip. Some tours include both guides and vehicles, while the others supply only either of them; hence, make sure you read the description carefully.
At the tunnels, there is a member of staff to join your group, but he is just to assure you to go in the right direction. Likewise, other exhibits do not provide a lot of labels; therefore, a guide will help you take in a great deal of interesting and useful information.
We had a chance to witness an area used to be a field kitchen for cooking. It looked as if a standard kitchen but equipped a complicated network of tunnels and bamboo pipes for appropriate ventilation, as well as dispersion and redirection steam and smoke to obfuscate the real order of the kitchen. It was exciting and intelligent.
There were also a few depressions in the forests, as a result of B-52 explosions. My grandfather, a B-52 Navigator-Bombardier in Vietnam and the Cold Wars, told us about the progress and defenses on the ground, which made us excited to hear.
Fortunately, we got an enthusiastic guide, who gave us a wide range of options about accommodation, schedule, meals, and transportation during the trip to Cu Chi Tunnels. He also was the guide to widen our knowledge through useful speeches. If we had a change in the schedule, he would not hesitate to give us the best suggestions and adjust the whole trip according to our wishes. The most crucial point was that he was kind to everyone and willing to satisfy our demands. What a passionate guide!
I don’t often recommend any destination as a must-visit, but Cu Chi Tunnels are worth your time and expectations. Also, rather than Ben Dinh, Ben Duoc will leave you a more comfortable and less crowded experience.
The site plays a role as an excellent outdoor classroom to support your historical understanding of Vietnam.
Finally, I would suggest you spend at least half a day and travel by boat to discover the tunnels.
We, Far East Tour Travel Agency, boast of having long-time experience in organizing package inbound tours for more than 50.000 visitors all over the world to admire beautiful landscapes in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar. If you are looking for a leisure-travel vacation in Cu Chi Tunnels and Vietnam, we would like to recommend several trips, including: