Cu Chi Tunnels (75 kilometers northwest, or a two hour drive, from Ho Chi Minh City) is the famous underground warren of tunnels used by the Vietcong to attack targets around Saigon during the Vietnam War. Built under fortified
villages, where peasants had been forcibly moved, Cu Chi was a 200-kilometers-long mile network of passages with underground hospitals, meeting rooms, multi-level sleeping quarters, trap doors, smokeless kitchens, air raid
shelters, weapons factories, strategy rooms and even entire underground villages with theaters and movie halls. In some places the tunnels had three stories.
One of the radio command centers was made from a South Vietnamese tank stolen by the Vietcong in 1966 and buried and linked to the tunnel system. There was even one tunnel with a trapdoor inside a U.S. military base at Dong
Du. The conditions in the tunnels were harsh. Many Viet Cong who lived in them survived on one meal of manioc a day.
According to the Vietnamese government: “For a place that's physically invisible, the Cu Chi Tunnels have sure carved themselves a celebrated niche in the history of guerilla warfare. Its celebrated and unseen geography straddles
"all of it underground" something which the Americans eventually found as much to their embarrassment as to their detriment. They were dug, before the American War, in the late 1940s, as a peasant-army response to a more
mobile and ruthless French occupation. The plan was simple: take the resistance briefly to the enemy and then, literally, vanish.”
“First the French, then the Americans were baffled as to where they melted to, presuming, that it was somewhere under cover of the night in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta. But the answer lay in the sprawling city under their feet
- miles and miles of tunnels. They became not just a place of hasty retreat or of refuge, but, in the words of one military historian, "an underground land of steel, home to the depth of hatred and the incommutability of
the people." It became, against the Americans and under their noses, a resistance base and the headquarters of the southern Vietnam Liberation Forces. The linked threat from the Viet Cong - the armed forces of the National
Liberation Front of South Vietnam - against the southern city forced the unwitting Americans to select Cu Chi as the best site for a massive supply base - smack on top of then 25-year old tunnel network. Even sporadic and
American's grudgingly had to later admit, daring attacks on the new base, failed for months to indicate where the attackers were coming from and, importantly, where they were retreating to. It was only when captives and
defectors talked that it became slightly more clear.”
The tunnel system was so large and complex that roads signs were used to help the Vietcong soldiers navigate their way around and avoid bamboo-stake booby traps meant for the American and Australian soldiers that tried to ferret
them out. Favored traps included punji stake pits with hidden upward-pointing bamboo stakes, and bamboo sticks that released an extremely poisonous snake called the three step snake, because its venom was toxic that a person
collapsed three steps after being bitten.
Today, the Cu Chi tunnels are one Vietnam's most popular tourist sights. There are two separate places that tourist visit, usually as part of an organized tour: the Tunnels at Ben Binh and the Tunnels at Ben Douc. The Tunnels
at Ben Binh are definitely the better of the two. The contain sections of real tunnels that have enlarged and restored for tourists. The ones at Ben Douc are complete reconstructions that are part of a Cu Chi amusement