I’ve been to Vietnam a few times. Mostly traveling on my own on to do a Visa run. Last year though I made a trip over to Ho Chi Minh City with a few friends from Bangkok. And one of them suggested going on a half day tour of Cu Chi Tunnel. I don’t normally take tours but this was the type of place that looked really interesting on the brochure. I was born a year after the Vietnam War ended when the city of Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh. And since I watched a lot of Vietnam War movies I though it would be interesting to see a part of the war’s history.
Cu Chi Tunnel in a way was a North Vietnamese Army (NVA) stronghold against the US military and their allies. The NVA lived, hid , and planned in the tunnels. It’s possibly one of the main reasons why they could outlast the Americans in the Vietnam War. And surviving in the tunnels was not a walk in the park for the NVA. So it would be interesting to learn what they had to go through.
Anyways the price for a half day tour to Cu Chi Tunnel was really reasonable. As I recall it was around $15USD which the hotel arranged to have a van with a driver and tour guide pick us up at the hotel. We stayed at the T. Espoir Saigon Hotel (formerly Truong Hai Hotel) by the way, which is near the popular Ben Thanh Market in central HCMC.
After getting picked up by the van on schedule the driver made several stops at different hotels to pick up more tourists. After that the drive to Cu Chi Tunnel was on the way. But a stop was made to some sort of lacquer factory where artworks were hand made by locals. Yes, it’s the type of joint where the tour guide and most likely the driver makes a commission. But who cares, it’s not expensive and supposedly the proceeds from sales goes to training locals and giving them jobs. I bought two pieces of art and it only cost about $20USD.
After spending about 45 minutes inside the factory, every one was back in the van and on off to our real destination, the Cu Chi Tunnel.
So before entering the tunnel our tour guide would give everyone a short history of how the NVA survived in the tunnels even though conditions were bad. They had to deal with all kinds of diseases inside the tunnels as well as fight battles. What he didn’t tell everyone was that we were actually going inside of one. Granted the tunnel system we entered was fixed up with some lighting and fumigated to get rid of all the insects and rats. What he didn’t mention is that the tunnel is small and you’d have to either crawl or crab walk through. It’s probably fine for people with small frames and around 5′ and a half feet. But if you’re taller with a bigger frame like me you’re a bit shit out of luck. The NVA were smaller in stature and suited their needs.
Luckily I was directly behind the park ranger who led our whole tour group through a sissified tunnel system. I followed him as close as I could. Because he was moving fast. At least he was nice enough to stop ever so often and take a few pics for me. Lucky I didn’t crack my camera because I was hand holding it the entire time. I have to admit, I was getting scared and looking forward to getting out. I could hear my friends behind asking where was I. Somehow they fell behind along with the rest of the group.
Anyways the park ranger kept going and I believe we crawled through 50 yards until and exit came up. The width of the tunnel was about 3 feet across and 4 feet high. Some points of the tunnel was a few inches smaller. Even though it’s only a few inches, in a space so small already, it was a big difference. Once I was back out the park ranger went back in to get everyone else out. And I was sweating like a pig by then. I’ll tell you, this kind of tour is not for those who are claustrophobic or have a physical disability. The rest of the group along with my friends came back out in about 3 minutes. I had to admit, I was a bit worried for my friends.
So what else was there besides crawling through a tunnel and getting the wits scared out of you? There’s a shooting range where you can fire off a bunch of bullets on Vietnam war era weapons and you’d have to pay for that separately. I didn’t try it out though but it was kind of unnerving to hear the loud sounds of rounds going off just a few yards away.
Visiting Cu Chi tunnel was a nice little side trip. And I got a chance to glimpse the area just outside of Ho Chi Minh City. One thing that might irk a lot of travelers who join tours is that often most tour companies include stops at a local souvenir shop. Yes, that’s where the tour guide or driver makes some extra cash when someone buys something because the places they bring you to have expensive souvenirs.
I saw quite a few people in our tour group have a “WTF” look on their faces. Sure, I understand, nobody paid to go to a souvenir shop. But that’s just the ways things are with Asian tour companies. I’ve even had tour guides sell stuff on a tour bus while in Japan. Which is why I don’t usually go on tours. At least you don’t have to buy anything. I say just go with the flow. After a short 30 minute stay the guide started dropping off everyone to their hotels.
I had a good time at Cu Chi tunnel. It was a good learning experience about a controversial times in history that I’ve seen so much on television and movies. So I’m glad I went to check it out.