Are the Cu Chi tunnels worth visiting in your short time in Saigon? Absolutely! It is one of the best day trip options from Ho Chi Minh City, and makes for a great history lesson in combination with a visit to the War Remnants Museum. The purpose of this blog article is to serve as a complete Cu Chi tunnels guide for you. It has everything you need to know, from history, and facts to how to get there, what to eat and even includes some good travelers tip’s so your journey will be unforgettable. Read on…
A Brief History of the Cu Chi Tunnels + facts!
Located some 60 kilometers to the Northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, the Cu Chi tunnel network is an extensive labyrinth of underground tunnels stretching all the way to the Cambodian border. They were built over a period of some 25 years and initial construction began in 1948 by the Viet Minh during the war against the French. Back then, the tunnels were a means of communication between villages and to also helped the Vietnamese evade French soldiers scouting the area.
During the American War, the tunnels were extended over an area of approximately 250km and thus assumed huge strategic importance to the Viet Cong fighting troops and played an immense role in helping the Vietnamese troops win against the American insurgents. Not only was it home for thousands of Viet Cong guerrillas, but it was also a complicated structure consisting of numerous trenches, bunkers, booby traps, bomb shelters and an amazing air ventilation system. Soldiers cooked, ate, slept, worked, and even went to school in these tunnels as conflict raged above. Believe it or not, there were hospitals, theatres, schools, kitchens, all built into this extraordinary tunnel system. Cu Chi was also used as a base for sabotage teams and intelligence agents to infiltrate Saigon.
Fun (not so fun?) fact: The Viet Cong set up so many booby traps around entrances to the tunnels to avoid being found by American troops above ground. They actually caused 11% of all deaths related to the Vietnam war. To get around this, the Americans began using German Shepherd dogs to sniff out these traps, however the Vietcong were smart enough to prevent being sniffed out by these dogs too. Not only did the Viet Cong begin using American soap, but they also planted uniforms of captured American soldiers by these traps. The dogs thought these were friendly areas and so, many ended up getting killed or maimed by the traps that their handlers refused to continue using them.
It was said that if the Cu Chi Tunnels fell, the Vietnamese would have lost the war. But if they stood, they would win. They played a huge role in the Vietnamese wining the war for their independence.
Watch an interesting documentary on the Cu Chi tunnels to understand it more here: https://youtu.be/19ejFuEyHyk
Which tunnels can you visit?
Nowadays, there are only two sets of the Cu Chi tunnels open for public. These are the Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc sections. Ben Dinh was the base for the Cu Chi District Party Committee, while Ben Duoc (the bigger scale network) was the base of the Party Committee also serving as the Headquarters of Saigon-Cho Lon-Gia Dinh zone and military zone.
These two sites provide very different experiences to visitors. The Ben Dinh entrance is closer (around 50km from Ho Chi Minh City) and can be a more convenient option for you, but it does not provide the same quality of experience. Due to the closer proximity to Saigon has made this location a bit more a tourist trap, providing you with a less-than-authentic experience. If you only have a half day to visit the Cu Chi tunnels though, then this is likely your only option. But really, it does take away from your ability to see the beautiful countryside and rural life of Vietnam.
It was said that if the Cu Chi Tunnels fell, the Vietnamese would have lost the war. But if they stood, they would win.
By contrast, Ben Duoc (around 70km from Ho Chi Minh City) would be our recommendation if you have time. Because it is further out from the city center, you will be able to see more of the countryside, and also experience a less-touristy section of the tunnels.
On your journey, you will not only hear captivating stories about Vietnam’s history, but also experience what life may have been like for soldiers during the war as lived their daily lives underground avoiding conflict that went on above. You will also gain insight into the persistence and resourcefulness of the Vietnamese as you crawl on all fours through these tiny underground tunnels and explore various rooms that served different purposes to those living inside.
How to get to the Cu Chi Tunnels from Ho Chi Minh?
You have many options when it comes to transport to the Cu Chi tunnels – motorbike, car, bus or speedboat!
Cu Chi Tunnels by motorbike or car
You can of course rent a motorcycle or a car yourself for the day and drive yourself to the Cu Chi tunnels. While this is fun and exhilarating, we do not recommend it – mostly because you will miss out on the awesome things on the way! So you should take a tour, but only the right kind. Hear me out:
Experiencing the Cu Chi Tunnels by motorbike is the best among all. Most tour companies arrange tours to the Cu Chi tunnels by motorbike or car. It takes around 1.5 hours to reach the tunnels at Ben Dinh. Most tours sold by travel agents in town are mainly half-day tours (approx. 5 hours) and they take you to the Ben Dinh entrance and back. However, if you want to make a full day out of it and have some awesome experiences not pertaining to just the tunnels, then Ben Duoc is for you!
Try avoid big bus tours because it is unlikely that those tours make stops on the way to the Cu Chi Tunnels. You will be surrounded by 50 people and that will kill the vibe. So just imagine you and a bike, and dirt roads. That’s the way it should be.
A tour company with stellar reviews online is Onetrip. They provide both the car and motorbike options to the Cu Chi tunnels and these tours include so much more in their itineraries than just going underground. Check them out here.
Here is an awesome blog about Izzy’s adventure to the tunnels!
Cu Chi Tunnels by boat
If you are interested in the waterway route, there are a couple of boat tour services offering service to the Cu Chi Tunnels such as the Saigon Boat Company or Saigon River Tour. Les Rives is also another common name you hear that offer a full boat experience to the Cu Chi tunnels. Check them out here.
Cu Chi Tunnels by taxi
You can take a taxi to the Cu Chi Tunnels too, but this will be super expensive. And really a waste, cos you don’t get anything else out of it. Just comfort. You can expect to pay about $60USD both ways as it is a 120km journey. You will save a lot of money by being adventurous 😉
Cu Chi Tunnels on your own – by public bus
Apart from taking a motorcycle or a car by yourself, you can also take the public bus to the Cu Chi Tunnels. You only need to catch two buses in order to get to Ben Duoc. First, take the bus #13 from 23-9 park (nearby Pham Ngu Lao – the backpacker area) to Cu Chi bus station. Then transfer to Bus #79 headed to Ben Duoc. The total traveling time this way is roughly 2.5 hours and the price will be about 26,000VND (just over $1USD).
Make sure you go early in the morning so you have enough time to explore before the buses stop running for the day. Return bus #79 stops running at 5:30PM and #13 at 9:00PM. Please plan it well!
Opening / closing time and entrance ticket prices:
Both Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc entrances have the same operating hours, however, have different entrance fees.
Opening hours: 8 AM to 5 PM everyday, including Sunday! 😉
Ben Dinh: VND 110,000/ person
Ben Duoc: VND 90,000/ person
It is ironic how the tunnels that give you a better experience cost lower. See what we mean when we say Ben Dinh is a tourist trap! 😉
Map of the Cu Chi Tunnels
Here is a map of the Cu Chi Tunnels as displayed on the exhibits found at the tunnels. This is a little unclear – which only means that you have to visit there to fully understand 😛
What to do at the Cu Chi Tunnels
There are a bunch of things you can do at the Cu Chi Tunnels. Explore the area, go underground, watch documentaries, see exhibits, explore traps, take photos, and of course, shoot a gun!
When you enter, you will immediately be shown a video of how the lives of the Viet Cong and of the locals in the villages nearby were during the war. And then the exhibits begin.
Both Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc have shooting ranges for tourists to practice a few rounds. The catch is that you must be in a good health condition and at least 16 years old to be able to partake in this activity.
The bullets are sold in sets, and each set has around 10 bullets of the same type. Here is the price list for different types of bullets being sold:
- M16: 35.000 VND/1 bullet (~$1.6 USD)
- AK 47: 40.000 VND/1 bullet (~$1.8 USD)
- Machine gun M60: 40.000 VND/1 bullet (~$1.8 USD)
- Garand: 30.000 VND/1 bullet (~$1.4 USD)
- Machine gun M30: 30.000 VND/1 bullet (~$1.4 USD)
- CARBIN: 25.000 VND/1 bullet (~$1.1 USD)
Give it a go and see if your aim is good!
What to eat and drink in Cu Chi
There are three things you should try when visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels: Cu Chi beef, sugarcane juice with durian, and tapioca with peanuts!
Bo to Cu Chi – Cu Chi beef
To make Cu Chi beef, the meat has to be around 5 months old because it is a this stage that the meat is soft and juicy. There are a few ways prepare this such as boil it, grill it or fry it. . You can eat the beef with rice paper, or vegetable picked up from the forest and you can dip it in anchovy sauce (mam nem). There is also beef in vinegar hotpot (bo nhung dam) which is amazing and also simple grilled beef (bo nuong moi or bo nuong vi) is also amazing.
Where to find bo to Cu Chi:
Restaurant: Bo to Xuan Dao
Address: 700 Nguyen Giao, Cu Chi, HCMC
Business hours: 7am – 9pm
Boiled beef wrap and roll with vegetable: 120.000 VND/portion (~$5.5 USD)
Grilled beef: 140.000 VND/portion (~$6.3 USD)
Beef in vinegar hotpot: 150.000 VND/portion (~$6.8 USD)
Nuoc mia sau rieng – Sugarcane juice with durian
Sugarcane juice is a popular drink in Vietnam. It’s fresh and sweet and is always a good choice to boost your energy and get hydrated when wandering around. When mixed with durian, it’s even tastier! But you gotta be a lover of durian to enjoy it this way.
Where to find sugarcane juice with durian:
Address: 259A Quoc Lo 22, Tan Thong Hoi, Cu Chi, HCMC
Business hours: 6:30am – 8pm
Price: 10.000 VND (~$0.4 USD)
Boiled tapioca (cassava, manioc, what ever you want to call it) with grounded peanuts, sugar and coconut
This is what the Viet Cong soldiers ate during the war when food was scarce. Try it for yourself, it is quite delicious and filling, especially with some tea. You can find this dish in the only “restaurant” at either of the Cu Chi Tunnels locations. While eating this, imagine being a soldier on a rainy day, hidden inside the cramped and damp tunnels, unsure about how your life will end, with American soldiers running about on the surface looking for you and your friends. It’s incredibly hard to imagine the stress the soldiers went through – on both sides. War is terrible.
- There is no dress code for the Cu Chi Tunnels, however wear an item of clothing that you do not mind getting dirty as you will be going underground.
- A comfortable pair of sneakers is a good idea as you will be walking around quite a lot onsite.
- Sun block, bug spray and insect repellent are great to have in your bag.
- The Cu Chi Tunnels are open during rainy season (May to November), and there will be no flooding inside the tunnels, however your experience will be a little less comfortable. You will get even more muddy than usual.
- During Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year which falls during late January or early February), the tunnels are still open. You don’t have to worry.
- Tourists with claustrophobia and high-blood pressure are not advisable to make any attempt to go in the tunnels. You can still enter the larger dug outs however if you wish.
- There are ghosts inside. Just kidding.
- There are also bats inside. This I am not kidding about. I screamed my way out of the tunnels, once.
If you wish to exit the tunnels in Cambodia, make sure you have the appropriate visa 😉
Just kidding, you can’t do that! But let us know in the comments how your adventure went if you did try 😉
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