May 1, 2013
The Cu Chi Tunnels are a massive network of underground tunnels and chambers in the Cu Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that linked Viet Cong support bases over 250 km, from the outskirts of Saigon all the way to the Cambodian border during the Vietnam war.
Here’s a brief description of the Cu Chi Tunnels thanks to Wikipedia:
“The tunnels were dug with simple tools and bare hands during the French occupation in the 1940s, and further expanded during the Vietnam War in the 1960s to provide refuge and a defensive advantage over the American soldiers. Despite all the bombings in their town, the Cu Chi people were able to continue their lives beneath the soil, where they slept, ate, planned attacks, healed their sick, and taught their young. Some even wed and gave birth underground, but over 10,000 lost their lives here.”
“The Củ Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and were the Viet Cong’s base of operations for the Tet Offensive in 1968. The tunnels were used by Viet Cong guerrillas as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous guerrilla fighters.”
If you spend some time exploring Ho Chi Minh City on foot, you will likely see one travel agency after another, and more so if you’re staying near Pham Ngu Lao (the backpacker street).
Booking a tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels is pretty simple and inexpensive. The lowest price we’ve seen a half-day tour for was 100,000 dong, or about $5 CAD. Note that this does not include the tunnel entrance fee of 90,000 dong ($4.50 CAD).
The half-day tour generally picks you up at 8:00 am, take you to the tunnels, and then returns you to Ho Chi Minh City around 2:00 pm. You can opt to be dropped off at the travel agency storefront, or at the War Remnants Museum, where you will have to find your own way onward. The War Remnants Museum isn’t too far from the city core, so it’s not too much of an inconvenience.
Another option is to do the trip yourself by taking the local busses. This is what we did because we wanted to check out the public busses, and we wanted to go to the Ben Duoc tunnels, while most (or all) tour companies take you to the Ben Dinh tunnels.
The difference between Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc is that the tunnel sections at Ben Dinh were specifically created for tourists and were never part of the real tunnel network, partially because most tourists are built slightly larger than the average Vietnamese person. Ben Duoc is where all the Vietnamese locals go, is further out from Ho Chi Minh City compared to Ben Dinh, and was actually part of the real network of tunnels.
To take the local busses for a total of 26,000 dong / person round trip ($1.26 CAD):
Go to the Ben Thanh bus station. It is opposite the Ben Thanh market.
Hop on bus #13 to Cu Chi station (end of the line).
Update (Dec 2, 2013. Thanks to Kevin from Belgium!):
The Ben Thanh bus station is no longer served by bus 13. Instead, hop on bus 88 at Ben Thanh and jump off at the next stop. This will take you to park 24/9, which serves as the new end station for bus 13! Please do leave a comment if you have successfully reached the Cu Chi Tunnels with this new bus route.
The fare should be 7,000 dong / person ($0.34 CAD). Just get on the bus and take a seat, a ticket agent will come around and sell tickets to everyone. He/she will have a stack of change, so you don’t need to worry too much about having exact change.
There will also be vendors trying to sell you snacks or drinks. Some get off before the bus takes off, while some will stay on the bus, but they won’t keep pestering you.
The bus is comfortable and has AC. There was a TV at the front playing “Celebrity Dancing”, or Vietnamese Dancing with the Stars. I can’t guarantee that you’ll get to see Celebrity Dancing on your trip however 😉 This ride took us about 1.5 hours.
At Cu Chi station, ignore all touts offering to take you to the tunnels. They will be waiting right outside the bus as you get off. We met two guys who agreed to pay $7 USD for a round trip from Cu Chi station to the Ben Duoc tunnels, and this was after they had bargained it down from whatever the starting price was.
Hop onto bus #79. The fare should be 6,000 dong ($0.29 CAD)
On bus #79, you could either pay very close attention to the road, or ask the driver to notify you to get off at the right stop.
This bus had weaker AC, and the ride was about 50 minutes.
If you sit near the front of the bus, you will see that you eventually come to a T-intersection in the roads, where a large blue sign will point to Ben Dinh to the right, and Ben Duoc to the left. If you want to go to Ben Dinh, you would get off at this T-intersection and walk the rest of the way, or stay on the bus to go to Ben Duoc.
The map below is intended to provide a rough idea of the distance between Ho Chi Minh City and the tunnels. Google maps has not been most reliable with the exact location of the tunnels. A is Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City, B is Ben Dinh, and C is Ben Duoc. This map also does not show the route taken by the bus.
When we first got on bus #79, we asked “Benh Duoc?” several times to make sure we were on the right bus, both to the driver and the ticket agent. There were also other Vietnamese locals who were trying to get to Benh Duoc and did not know which stop they needed. The ticket agent waved at us and signalled to get off the bus when we arrived just outside of the entrance to Benh Duoc.
The Cu Chi (Ben Duoc) Tunnels
The entrance fee is 90,000 dong ($4.40 CAD), made up of two different tickets. One of them was 70,000 dong ($3.40 CAD), and the other 20,000 dong ($1 CAD). We tried asking what the two tickets were for, but didn’t really get a proper answer. It seemed like you needed both to get in anyway.
Aside from the tunnels, there were a few other structures worth taking a quick look at.
A tour guide is included in the entrance fee. Adam and I were milling around the beginning of the tunnels, checking out the displays of American bombs and weaponry left behind, when we were approached by somebody in uniform asking if we’ve had a tour yet.
The guide was friendly enough with a sense of humour, and good English skills. But as we were previously warned, they do tend to rush you through the tour. If you want to take a bit more time, just hang back or make the request nicely. They will oblige.
We were joined by a family of Taiwanese tourists and were on our way, starting with a display of the uniforms worn, followed by more American bombs and artillery.
Before we headed into the first tunnel, we were shown an interesting black and white, very old, 15 minute propaganda video. The gist of it was:
We were minding our own business when the Americans bombed us. They bombed our women, our children, our old and weak, our pots and pans. What the heck?? So we fought back like champs. We modified our simple farming skills that were once used to trap animals, and we reclaimed our land.
At the entrance of each tunnel segment, our guide alerted us that if we do not feel comfortable going in, or if we were claustrophobic, or had any health issues, we were encouraged to wait at the exit while the rest of the group went in. Each segment was quite short, so it wouldn’t be too long of a wait for those who could not go in.
We were a little concerned about whether Adam could fit into these tunnels, seeing as how Ben Duoc was frequented by Vietnamese locals as opposed to foreigners. Our guide joked that Adam was just as wide as he was, just taller, so it would be fine.
The tunnel entrances have been dug bigger, and the tunnels themselves have been re-enforced by concrete for tourism and safety purposes.
During the tour, we were shown several methods the Vietnamese used to avoid detection.
And that concludes the tour! Once the guide takes off, you’re still free to wander around the grounds. There were several other displays of weapons, photos showing Vietnamese war heroes, explanatory diagrams, more examples of booby traps, and of course, souvenir shops.
Back to Ho Chi Minh City
Note that bus #79 stops running at 5:30 pm. Seeing as how we didn’t get to Ben Duoc until 3:20 pm (we started our trip at 1:00 pm), we were watching the time closely. If need be, we would’ve had to hire a motorbike back to Cu Chi station at an inflated-desparation-rate, but luckily we got on what may have been the last bus of the day.
We got on bus #79 at 4:40 pm, and arrived at Cu Chi station at 5:35 pm.
The bus was quite full to start off with, but we shoved ourselves on regardless. We did not want to be at the mercy of a motorbike driver if that was in fact the last bus of the day.
It definitely was not the most comfortable hour long bus ride. Despite the bus being full, it continued to make stops for more passengers to squeeze on. The road was not very smooth, and the driver would sometimes make sudden stops, thus throwing all the standing passengers off balance. (It was quite a test on my non-existant arm muscles.)
Adam and I eventually got separated as more people got on. One little Vietnamese guy (I get to call him little because he was shorter than me :p) shamelessly rested his head on my shoulder and proceeded to take a nap. I can’t complain though, because Adam had three little Vietnamese guys sleeping on him at the other end of the bus. And yes, we were both standing the entire time, as were these men sleeping on us.
We would suggest not leaving so late in the day as we have done, because we had likely met up with rush hour.
At Cu Chi station, we watched two fully loaded bus #13s leave before we could get on the third one. We could’ve shoved our way onto those busses, but we really didn’t want to stand for another 1.5 hours.
We eventually caught on with what the smart people did, and waited in the tiny bit of space in between busses to get in from the back door.
The third bus #13 backed in, and we ended up standing right in front of the back door. An older Vietnamese gentleman smiled at us for standing in the perfect spot. When the bus was ready to open its doors, he signalled for us to get ready to jump in. That was very much appreciated as lots of pushing and shoving ensued.
- Go to the Ben Thanh bus station, opposite the Ben Thanh market
- Hop on bus #13. 7,000 dong. 1.5 hour bus ride to the Cu Chi bus station. Update Dec 2, 2013: Ben Thanh station is no longer serviced by bus #13. Instead, hop on bus #88 and get off at the next stop. This will take you to park 24/9, which is the new end station for bus #13.
- Hop on bus #79. 6,000 dong. Request the driver or ticket agent to flag you for the Ben Dinh (right of the T-intersection, tourist tunnels) or Ben Duoc (left of the T-intersection) stop. About 50 minutes to Ben Duoc.
- Cu Chi Tunnels – 90,000 dong entrance fee
- Take bus #79 back to Cu Chi bus station (6,000 dong). Note that bus #79 stops running at 5:30 pm
- Take bus #13 back to Ben Thanh bus station (7,000 dong). I believe this bus runs until 10:00 pm, but best to double check. Update Dec 2, 2013: Bus #13 now takes you to park 24/9, the new end station. Hop on bus #88 at park 24/9 to get back to Ben Thanh station.