At its peak, the Củ Chi tunnel system stretched from Saigon, the South Vietnamese capital, all the way to the Cambodian border. The network, parts of which were several storeys deep, included countless trapdoors, constructed living areas, storage facilities, weapon factories, field hospitals, command centres and kitchens. The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces, and helped to counter the growing American military effort. Now these intricate tunnels are open to tourism.
If the tenacious spirit of the Vietnamese can be symbolised by a place, then few sites could make a stronger case than Củ Chi. At first glance there is scant evidence today of the vicious fighting, bombing and destruction that convulsed Củ Chi during the war. To see what went on, you have to dig deeper – underground!
For the Viet Cong, life in the tunnels was difficult. Air, food and water were scarce and the tunnels were infested with ants, poisonous centipedes, scorpions, spiders and vermin. Most of the time, soldiers would spend the day in the tunnels working or resting and come out only at night to scavenge for supplies, tend their crops, or engage the enemy in battle. All around the experience at Ben Duoc, you are reminded of what life must have been like for the soldiers. In many ways, I thought it was like an open air museum.
The 75 mile complex of tunnels at Củ Chi has been preserved by the government of Vietnam, and turned into a war memorial park with two different tunnel display sites: here at Ben Duoc and another less touristy site at Ben Dinh (which I have not visited myself). The tunnels at both locations are popular tourist attractions, and visitors are invited to crawl around in the safer parts of the tunnel system. However, many western people may be too tall to be able to stand up straight inside these tunnels, so if you are claustrophobic then I would think twice about going under!
Above-ground attractions at the Củ Chi Tunnels include caged monkeys, vendors selling souvenirs, as well as a shooting range where visitors can fire a number of assault rifles, such as the M16 rifle or AK-47. I did not want to partake in this kind of thing, so I was more than happy to just experience the tunnel vision here at Ben Duoc, despite its claustrophobia! I think once in a lifetime is more than enough for me. I can only imagine how putrid the living conditions would have been here for the Viet Cong soldiers.
I paid $18 for the group tour at Ben Duoc tunnels (museums in Europe cost a similar price), although this price didn’t include the tour bus return trip from Saigon. I would say it is well worth the admission, especially if you are interested in Vietnamese War history.