The tunnels of Cu Chi is a defense system of 250km of connecting underground tunnels located in the Cu Chi district, 70km to the northwest of Ho Chi Minh City.
The tunnels network was built over a period of 25 years starting from 1940 connecting multiple villages and communes stretching from the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City to the Cambodian border. Dug into laterite clay by local villagers with hand and simple tools like hoes, shovels, the tunnels were divided into three levels of 3m, 6m and 8m. Living areas, hospitals, schools, kitchen, storages, innumerable trapdoors, command centers are integrated in tunnels. Going deeper, the tunnels became smaller in height and width which only enough to allow a person to pass through.
Cu Chi tunnels served as a military base for Viet Cong soldier and local people to hide, live, plan and fight against the Americans through the war. Life in tunnels is very hard, lack of air, food and water and moving around is extremely difficult. Most of time, people would spend the day inside the tunnels for working or resting and only come out at night for supplies or engage the enemy in battle. During heavy bombing, they may live inside for days without fresh air and supply for food and water from outside.
Todays, about 120km of the tunnels still exits and are turned into a war memorial park with two different tunnel display sites: Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc. Cu Chi tunnels are now a famous tourist destination for day trip from Ho Chi Minh City. Many parts of the tunnels have been widened for easier access for Western foreigners, however, it is definitely are not for claustrophobics. Visitors here will find themselves crawling on their knees and hands, squeezing their way through the dark. As part of an underground experience, tourists will be offered a snack of boiled cassava with sesame – a main food of tunnel inhabitants in the war. Above-ground attractions include caged monkeys and a shooting range where visitors can fire a number of assault rifles such as the M16 rifle or AK-47.
If the tenacious spirit of the Vietnamese can be symbolized by a place, then there is no other candidate could overcome Cu Chi. A trip to the tunnels will be a worthwhile experience when you are traveling in Vietnam no matter whether you are interested in the war or not. It is not about the war but also represents the Vietnamese’s creativity and ingenuity in the face of life and death.