Cu Chi Tunnels – Ho Chi Minh City
Day Trip Directions
Visitors to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – previously known as Saigon – have the opportunity to get a close up, Vietnamese view of the history of the Vietnam War. The perspective is interesting. Even the name of the war is different in Vietnam where museums and official sites refer to it as The American War of Aggression.
The Tunnels of Cu Chi are located approximately 35 km northwest from central Ho Chi Minh City. The tunnels connect and are part of an elaborate network of underground hideouts, living quarters, medical facilities and storage depots used by the Viet Cong during the war. Much of the complex was destroyed during bombing raids in the 1970s but today visitors can visit portions of the system which have been preserved and maintained as a reminder of the war.
Many travel agencies and companies offer group trips to tour the Cu Chi Tunnels with prices ranging widely between $20 and $250, apparently depending on the group size, type of transportation, and what is included such as meals, etc.
For travelers who prefer to avoid tours, it’s not terribly difficult to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels on your own. It makes for a nice day trip adventure. You can save a bit of money while having the opportunity to experience Vietnam as a local. But regardless of how you go, be sure to take some water. The jungle gets hot. Also bring along some insect repellant. If you plan to crawl through the tunnels be aware that they are small and cramped. They also are somewhat dirty and you might encounter frogs, snakes and bugs. I’ve read reports of scorpions but never saw any personally.
Independent Visit To Cu Chi Tunnels
A solo or independent visit to Cu Chi Tunnels starts in Ho Chi Minh City. Catch a ride heading northwest on Bus #13. The sign is fairly clear if you know what you are looking for – note the “Cu Chi” at the end of the #13 route name. Just hop on the bus, an attendant will collect for the ticket. Cost – $0.26. Yes, that is not a typo – cost is 6,000 Vietnamese dong, around 26 cents U.S.
Ride Bus #13 to Cu Chi bus terminal on the edge of town where it will stop – it’s the end of the line. . The terminal is essentially a large open parking lot with many buses coming and going. There is also an open air market / shop where you can purchase some snacks or water. Depending on where you board the bus, the ride to the terminal should take between 1 hour and 1.5 hours.
Hop off the bus and look around for Bus #79. Again, the “Cu Chi” name is listed prominently on the bus. Get a seat and wait for the attendant to sell you a ticket. Cost – $0.31
The ride from the terminal to the tunnels takes around 50 minutes.
There are actually two different tunnel sites in this area. Most tour companies take visitors to Ben Dinh which has been specifically created for tourist. The second area, Ben Duoc was actually a part of the original tunnel network. Let the driver and the ticket agent know which area you are going to and, if you are lucky they will let you know when you should exit the bus. To be on the safe side I’d suggest sitting near the front of the bus and paying attention to the road and signage. You will first come to a T type intersection with signs indicating Ben Dinh. Stay on the bus if you are heading to Ben Duoc. You will soon come to an intersection with a road coming in from the left. Signs at this stop are shown below. Exit the bus and take the short walk up the road to the tunnel area.
The bus route runs along Road TL15. Your exit will be in the area indicated by the circle on the map below. You can then walk into the tunnel park area.
The tunnel area is rather spread out and it is a bit confusing. I’d suggest using Google Maps or a similar app if you have internet access. Or the map above may be of some help. You will need to pay an entrance fee of 50,000 Dong / $2.37. Then if you are lucky you may find someone who can give you directions. The advantage of going to this area is that it is not overrun by tourists. The disadvantage is, you pretty much have to find your own way. Not difficult but you might get confused a bit. If you find no one to ask, try following the signs. In general, just follow the road which will eventually take you to the tunnels.Of course the souvenir shop is well staffed so if all else fails head there to get some assistance.
The area also has a few rules or suggestions for visitors. They would rather visitors not be drunk. They also advise against visiting the tunnels if you are afraid of small dark spaces or if you are too old and unable to manage physically.
As you walk along the road you will see various signs – The one below roughly says, “Peace & Prosperity.”
This sign off to the side of the roadway translates roughly, “The Highest Honor Belongs To Vietnamese Heroic Mothers.”
Eventually, if you follow the road you will come to the main entrance area for the tunnels where you will find various displays of war material reportedly from the U.S. military.
Before entering the tunnel area, turn in your ticket. You may join up with several other visitors and you will be matched up with a guide. The guide fee is included in the ticket price.
Then it’s time take a short hike into the jungle.
The view below looks directly at the surface of an underground tunnel area with a gun port opening directly facing the camera. Don’t see it? Guess that was the idea. The guide will help you identify and locate things of interest.
The gun port at a different location is more evident in the image below (circled).
Below, the guide is standing directly above the concealed entrance to a tunnel.
He then removes the cover, revealing the entrance.
These tunnels are not large, they are small and dark and cramped. But they connect larger and more expansive underground “rooms.” You can climb down into these tiny tunnels if you would like. You can see how small these openings are in photo below. It was really a tight fit for this visitor to get in and out of the opening.
For the less adventurous they have added more accommodating entrances to some of the underground spaces so the less agile can get a sense of the place.
They have also enlarged some of the connecting tunnels as in the image below. Even so it is a cramped, “duck walking” or crawling type of experience. No fun for a person over 6 foot tall – take my word for it.
The tunnel complex was designed and built for people more the size of my Vietnamese guide. He scrambled through the tunnels with ease.
There is a small floating restaurant in the tunnel park area on the banks of the Song Sai Gon River. Not a bad spot to stop for a rest and a bit of refreshment after crawling through the tunnels. I had a nice little snack for $2.37
To return to Ho Chi Minh City just retrace your steps. Walk back to the main highway intersection where you can wait for the return Bus #79 at the little shop on the corner seen below.
Take Bus #79 to the terminal and change to Bus #13 back to the city. A trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels is a very interesting Vietnam experience. Traveling on your own allows you to move at your own pace and linger when you want. The entire day’s trip cost me a total of $5.88 as follows:
Bus Fare to & from – $1.14
Admission – $2.37
Lunch – $2.37
It was a great day trip and it certainly didn’t “break the bank.”
VISIT CHU CHI TUNNELS …………………..AND ENJOY THE ADVENTURE!
For Destination & Travel Photography by B.W.Bean
© 2017, Bruce W Bean, Ph.D. All rights reserved.