While on holiday, would you like to crawl on your hands and knees through centipede-infested, stinking hot, dirty, cramped, hand-dug tunnels?
Oddly enough, thousands of tourists do this every day at the Cu Chi tunnels war memorial park near Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.
The Cu Chi tunnels were hand-dug by members of the Viet Cong (North Vietnamese army) during the American War. These tunnels are part of a massive network that stretched across much of Vietnam and also over the Laos border. They were used as hiding spots during the war and also as communication and supply routes. Many people also lived in the tunnels, some for weeks at a time.
Visiting the Cu Chi tunnels with Les Rives
Most people visit the Cu Chi tunnels by taking a bus or van from Ho Chi Minh City a few hours into the countryside. These tours can be incredibly cheap – starting at less than $10! They’re probably a good option if you’re a super budget backpacker.
At the other end of the scale, there is the luxurious Les Rives experience. We tried out this awesome option of getting to the Cu Chi tunnels, thanks to Les Rives.
It’s not cheap, but it is certainly the best way of getting to the tunnels. How do you get there?
By luxury speed boat. YES, that’s right!
Our lovely blue and white boat picked up our small group from near central Ho Chi Minh City, and we were away, zooming up the Saigon River towards the Cu Chi tunnels.
As is the norm in HCMC, it was a stinking hot day so the breeze coming in the open sides of the boat was most welcome. It was so interesting seeing another side of the city that you wouldn’t usually get to see if you were travelling by road.
There were shanty houses along the river banks, sand being loaded onto boats by cranes, and the ubiquitous boats with eyes carrying who knows what up and down the river. It was a fascinating glimpse into life away from the dirty sweaty streets.
One unexpected inhabitant of the river was the water hyacinth. This aquatic plant absolutely clogged the river, so much that sometimes our boat had to bump right over the clumps! And then we’d have to stop and reverse to get the plant material out of the propellor. It made for a fun wild ride up the river for just over an hour to the Cu Chi tunnels.
A war experience at the Cu Chi tunnels
Because our journey upriver took far less time than the bus trips, we arrived early at the tunnels. This was definitely a bonus because by the time we left, it was getting packed full of busloads of people.
The Cu Chi tunnels park is full of different points of interest, some of which are actual remnants from the war (the tunnels, some buildings and bomb craters) and some of which are reconstructions (the booby traps).
Our Les Rives guide, Wing, told us all about how the tunnels were built and used during the war. It was so interesting to learn how the North Vietnamese soldiers (the Viet Cong) spread into what was then South Vietnam using the network of tunnels.
We saw an old tank that had been blown up by a land mine, as well as a huge B-52 bomb crater. The reconstructions of the booby traps were pretty graphic, with bamboo and metal spikes that would certainly impale anyone who came into contact with them!
We learned how Agent Orange and other defoliants were used by the US Army to destroy the jungle, trying to uncover where the Viet Cong were hiding. But the tunnels and their entrances (made to look like termite hills) were so well hidden that they remained invisible. Pepper was used around the entrances to hide the smell of people from sniffer dogs, and the traps stopped people from coming too close.
There were different rooms for meetings, making traps, hospitals, kitchens, and so on. It was fascinating to see how they lived for years during the war.
Down into the tunnels
Our favourite part of the day was when we got to venture inside some of the tunnels that had been dug during the war. These days, they’ve been widened to allow for large tourists to fit through – the Vietnamese are tiny in comparison!
It was a crazy experience crawling down into the stuffy heat of the tunnels, lit by a single line of bulbs and accompanied by giant centipedes (ew!). Some people only lasted 20 metres until the first exit, but we did the whole 100 metres and then another skinnier section of tunnels. It was awesome! I actually can’t believe that they lived down there though, what madness!
Bang bang bang
Another major attraction at the Cu Chi tunnels is the shooting range. For a few dollars you can fire all sorts of crazy weapons, from the AK-47 to the M1. I’ve got to say that I wasn’t that keen to give it a go, but Shaun fired a round from an M16 – and loved it. I think it’s a boy thing!
After spending a few hours at the Cu Chi tunnels we had a nice lunch on the side of the river, before hopping back into our boat and speeding downriver towards Ho Chi Minh City again. Once more we wove and bumped our way around the clumps of water hyacinth.
We got back to the city around 1.30 pm, which meant we still had half the day for exploring – unlike the bus tours which are all-day affairs. We’d totally recommend Les Rives Cu Chi tunnel experience – you get the awesome speed boat tour, but you also beat the crowds to the tunnels. It was a fantastic half-day tour from Ho Chi Minh City, a real must do while in Vietnam.
Thanks to Les Rives for sponsoring our Cu Chi tunnels trip. As always, you’ll receive our honest opinion regardless of who is footing the bill! Check out the Les Rives Facebook page here.