Tunnels of Cu Chi – underground constructions of the times of the Vietnam War

Modern Vietnam is a picturesque country with a rapidly developing economy. It is hard to imagine that these lands were once a real theater of military operations, a platform for the struggle of superpowers. Cities and villages here are intertwined with impassable jungles and mountains. Deep beneath them are underground military buildings dating from the Vietnam War: tunnels, trenches, caves and bunkers. Despite the fact that many years have passed, they are still preserved, you just need to know where to look.

How to get there

Name in Vietnamese: Địa Đạo Củ Chi
Address: Đường tỉnh lộ 15, Phú Hiệp, Phú Mỹ Hưng, Củ Chi, Hồ Chí Minh 733814, Vietnam
Opening hours: daily from 07:00 to 17:00.

The most convenient way to visit the tunnels is to join the excursion group. You can go to your destination on your own, but on the spot you still need a guide. Many visitors come to Ku-Chi from Ho Chi Minh City for half an hour or a whole day, sometimes in combination with a cruise along the Mekong Delta or the Saigon River.

Independent travelers rent a motorbike or catch a taxi. The first option is more dangerous, since the traffic in Ho Chi Minh City is very intensive, but it allows you to manage your time as freely as possible. Plus, the cost of a taxi will be the same as renting a scooter for a whole day, so that you still have time and the opportunity to see other sights.

How are the tunnels of Ku-Chi

Tunneling scheme
The system of underground passages with a length of about 250 km.

Going northwest of Ho Chi Minh City (during the war the name Saigon), you can visit real military tunnels called Ku-Chi (or Ku-Ti). They are a system of underground tunnels with a length of about 250 km. For tourists only 50 km are open. The width of the tunnels is very small – about 80 cm. Depending on the purpose and purpose, the tunnels had four levels:

  • At the top were traps, ventilation shafts and shooter spaces
  • On the second level there was a field kitchen and a sleeping chamber. Here the partisans were cooking cassava – a sweet root, reminiscent of potatoes. They did this always in the early morning so that the Americans could not notice the smoke
  • At the third level there was a station for helping the wounded, a storehouse for weapons and food. There was a route connecting to other tunnel systems
  • Finally, in the fourth tunnel there was a water well

It is hard to imagine how people could live in such conditions. The Vietnamese partisans were not only industrious, but also courageous. Closed narrow spaces can cause a real shock for ordinary people.

Trap with spikes at the bottom of the well
Trap with spikes on the bottom of the well

The unique environment of Ku-Chi

Vietnam was perfect for conducting underground guerrilla warfare. The enemy's troops had to make their way through the most impenetrable jungles in the world. But the tunnels could not exist without the unique environment of Ku-Chi. Flowing nearby the river created a specific soil, from which the underground passages were formed. The vaults, walls and floor of the tunnels were completely carved by hand, without the use of machines.

Underground passage
The vaults, walls and floor of the tunnels were completely carved by hand

Laterite clay was the main component of successful construction and safe staying inside tunnels. During the rainy season, it became soft and pliable for the formation of underground passages. This natural material allowed the air to flow freely through the soil, which ensured the strength and stability of the structures.

Tank of the Vietnam War
Bamboo trees created a strong frame that can withstand the weight of the tank

Growing around the Ku-Chi bamboo trees created their roots a particularly strong frame, which could withstand the weight of the tank. Because of the abundant vegetation of those places, it was difficult for Americans to determine the entrances to the underground labyrinths. Despite the unequal power, the forest presented the partisans with a preponderance of chances to win the war.

Vietnamese guerrillas are getting out
Vietnamese guerrillas are getting out


Tunnels were dug in the mid-1940s, when France occupied Vietnam. At that time, a small number of peasants lived in the Ku-Chi territories. These people did not have in their arsenal of advanced technology to survive, relied only on human strength and agricultural products. Ku-Chi were very beautiful, peaceful lands with rice fields, orchards, walnut trees and rubber plantations. France and Vietnam fought each other for eight long years. These years are better known as the war in Indochina. The French army was well armed, having in its arsenal aircraft and guns. Vietnam had no choice but to wage a guerrilla war.

When the French left, American President Johnson received permission from the congress to conduct military operations to “defend the United States” and immediately began sending troops to Vietnam. The Americans, like the French, were armed to the teeth, but were not ready for a guerrilla war. By the early 1960s, the United States began to increase its presence in Vietnam. In turn, the Vietcong and the Communist North began to rapidly expand their tunnel systems. The country split into the communist north (Vietcong) and the democratic south, backed by US troops.

Saigon (present Ho Chi Minh City) was the formal capital of South Vietnam and wished independence. In this connection, the tension in the society increased. Under the guise of farmers, the Vietcong gradually occupied South Vietnam. In the morning they mingled with the population, but when night fell, they attacked. It was difficult for Americans to distinguish friends (South Vietnam) from enemies (Vietcong). As a result, investments in tunnel systems have paid off, because The Vietcong and the North were able to defeat South Vietnam.

Strategic use of the Ku-Chi tunnels

It's amazing how an army of peasants and fishermen could resist the military power of one of the superpowers of the world. The tunnels were dug throughout South Vietnam and represented an underground center for the “Vietcong” with deadly traps. This allowed him to attack the enemy right at the center of his junctions, battling from different places. Inside, false routes, deadlocks and mined traps were created.

Tunneling system
A complex system of routes with false branches, dead ends and mined traps.

The enemy was aware of the existence of the tunnels, but to detect them was a deadly quest. Perhaps that is why the Americans preferred to fight air, dropping bombs on towns and villages. They also used a chemical agent Agent Orange, the impact of which was devastating.

Tunnels of Cu Chi - underground constructions of the times of the Vietnam War Bombs of American troops

Through the tunnels the guerrillas were constantly invisibly present alongside the Americans. The enemy launched so-called “tunnel rats” – soldiers who tried to get into the underground passages. The results were disappointing, if only because it was difficult for Americans to fit inside the moves, unlike the miniature, war-worn Vietnamese men. Attempts to flood underground tunnels also ended in failure, because in the tunnels there were drainage holes for water. Every twenty or thirty meters, the Vietcong ripped out a drainage hole to prevent flooding.

Tips before visiting Ku-Chi

When to visit Ku-Chi

The important factor determining when it is better to visit underground tunnels is the weather. From December to April in these places lasts the so-called dry season, which is also the hottest time of the year. The average temperature at this time is about 28 ° C. If you go on a trip from May to November, you will end up in the monsoon season. At this time it is cooler and rains every day.

Two tunnels of Ku-Chi

Tunnels of Cu Chi - underground constructions of the times of the Vietnam War

For tourist excursions are available two zones of tunnels Ku-Chi. The most popular among tourists is Ben Dinh. For this reason, it is often crowded. Next to it is a shooting gallery, where you can shoot. Shots can be loud enough.

Tyr near the Ben Dinh Tunnel
Near the tunnel Ben Dinh is a shooting gallery, where you can shoot.

The second part of the tunnels called Ben Duok is about thirty minutes from Ho Chi Minh City. On its territory is the memorial temple of the martyr Ben Duca, which is surrounded by quiet gardens.

The Memorial Temple of the Martyr Ben Duca
Memorial Temple of the Martyr Ben Duca

A visit to what is left of the Ku-Chi tunnels is an acute reminder of the difficulties of war. For the comfort of tourists tunnels have been slightly expanded, but they are still pretty close. This provides an opportunity to imagine what the soldiers felt living and acting underground.

You should think before you go to tunnels, if you suffer from fear of enclosed spaces (claustrophobia). Take care of comfortable shoes, be prepared for uneven surfaces. Do not forget to bring a mosquito repellent.

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