I was looking through photographs of previous trips on my hard drive, when I realized that I have only written about the motorcycle culture and beer sampling from our trip to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly named Saigon) last year, so I’ve decided to feature some other things you can do there.
One of the most popular tourist attractions is the Củ Chi Tunnels, a network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Củ Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest city. As the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, the tunnels were the Viet Cong’s base of operations for the Tết Offensive in 1968.
Aside from serving as a hiding spot for Viet Cong guerrillas during combat, the tunnels served as vital communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and even living quarters. The tunnel systems were of great importance to the numerous guerilla fighters in their resistance to American forces and ultimately helped achieve military success.
The 75-mile (121 km)-long complex of tunnels at Củ Chi which has been preserved by the government of Vietnam, now primarily serves as a war memorial park and extremely popular tourist destination. Visitors get to visit weapons galleries and view man-made trips, pose with tanks and model figures of guerilla fighters, jump into foxholes, crawl through tunnels and shoot guns at a firing range.
In one area, the guide asked a few volunteers to try going down the tiny fox hole to get a feel of how guerillas escaped in the times of war. The fox hole was pretty narrow and some of the guys couldn’t even get their hips through the hole while others got stuck at the shoulders. I was able to fit into the hole, but couldn’t get myself out. Apparently, you need a lot of arm strength so I had to be unceremoniously lifted out by our guide.
There were a number of ingenious traps made from simple materials like sharpened wooden spikes and trap doors which clearly showed the resourcefulness and skill of the Vietnamese people during the war. Many of the entrances leading down into the tunnels were almost undetectable, concealed, and camouflaged with cleverly designed trap doors.
The main draw in Củ Chi tunnels is that visitors could crawl around in the safer parts of the tunnel system. The 100-meter long tunnel (designed specifically for tourists) situated 7 meters underground was very dark, narrow, and feels claustrophobic. The maze of tunnels seemed a tight fit for some of the Western visitors in our group. We learned that part of the tunnel complex was made wider and taller just to accommodate tourists. There were portions where we had to climb up or go down to advance to the next section.
There were some portions of the tunnels lit by lamps, but fore the most part it was pitch dark, giving visitors a unique experience (though it made photography very difficult). Kids could crawl through easily, but adults had to crouch and squat or duck walk for a long portion. Since the tunnel got narrower and narrower, some of our companions ended up escaping via exit points strategically located every 20meters along the route. I think it took about 15-20 minutes to to crawl through tunnel. Those of us who finished emerged at a medic station, our knees wobbling from the cramped position we had been in.
Another point of interest was the shooting range, where visitors could fire a variety of Vietnam War era assault rifles. The weapon selection included the ff: M-16 Assault Rifle, AK-47 Assault Weapon, M-30 Caliber Machine Gun, the 50 Caliber Machine Gun, M1 Carbine and more. Bullets for the different weapons came with their corresponding fees.
You don’t go all the way to another country for a vacation and then balk at a few dollars worth of bullets, because it seems expensive and a waste of money. Or at least I don’t. We picked the AK-47 (which incidentally is a usable weapon in the game zombie video game Left4Dead for killing common infected) and took turns firing at the target.
At the end of the tour was a souvenir shop that sold scarves, commemorative books, t-shirts, bullet necklaces, and other war memorabilia. Fair warning, if you are not a history buff (or even a slight fan of war movies), a gun enthusiast, a travel blogger, or if you suffer from claustrophobia, this tour might not be for you. Some visitors consider this “too touristy” especially if you go with a large group and have limited time to explore.
But I think it’s commendable that Vietnam has been able to make a successful tourist destination out of war and tragedy. I like to think of it as an eye-opening experience that teaches you about history, while giving you the opportunity to fire high-powered guns at the same time. (Instant Win.)
- The entrance fee for the Cu Chi tunnels is 80,000 Vietnamese dong (roughly US$4 ) per person.
- It’s more convenient to join package tours for this activity instead of arranging or commuting to get to the place. We booked our tour at The Sinh Tourist, which will pick you up at your hostel and drop you off.
- The Cu Chi tunnels are located 1.5 hours away from Ho Chi Minh City. While the tour itself is good for about 2 hours, the whole tour can take half-day or longer because of the traffic, distance from the city, and the time it takes to pick up all the people in the tour group.
- Guests can opt to take a speed boat from the Cu Chi Tunnels to the Saigon pier instead of a land trip via the shuttle bus on their way back to the city at the end of the tour.
- The cost of firing guns at the shooting range is about 35,000 Vietnamese dong per bullet (USD$1.68). For 10 bullets, that’s 15 to 20 USD or less than 1,000 pesos (depending on the current exchange rate).
- Souvenirs like bullet necklaces, zippo lighters, and other war memorabilia ranged in cost from 65,000 – 105,000 VND at the time of our visit.
- I would recommend that you bring your own snacks and water for this trip, as the snack options in the kiosks/stalls selling food, drink and ice cream were very limited and not enough for the number of tourists visiting.
- If you’re in a group, be considerate with your photo ops. Limit yourself to 1-2 shots per spot because there are many people waiting to take photos with the signs, dioramas or are crawling through the tunnels after you.