Cu Chi Tunnels from Ho Chi Minh: Is A Guided Tour Worth It?

Created by Colleen Sims * 14 March 2024

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Are the Cu Chi tunnels worth visiting?  The short answer is yes. Is it worth booking a guided tour?  Absolutely. 

It’s true that the tunnels are popular and that you should expect them to be busy.  We opted to book the shorter half day tour which for us, proved to be a worthwhile experience.  If you’re on the fence I would 100% recommend the tour we took; if for no other reason than the guides were excellent and the tour represented very good value for money.

Read on for a deeper dive into the Cu Chi Tunnels, their history and what to expect from a visit.

Colleen climbing down to the entrance of one of the Cu Chi Tunnels

Pros and Cons of Visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels On A Tour

I read a lot of about this visit beforehand; a few friends said it was too touristy and that we should visit the tunnels on the Mekong Delta.  We did also visit the Mekong tunnels but with hindsight, I am still glad we followed our own judgement as overall this tour was a good experience.

Usually, we like to travel independently and we’re not fans of large group experiences but this tour proved to be the exception.  In our opinion, the guides make this tour and without their insight we would have had a very different experience. 

Pros of Visiting Cu Chi Tunnels In a Group

unique and Fascinating History

For us the tunnels provided a first-hand look at both the resourcefulness of the Viet Cong and the awfulness and horrors of war.  We learned a great deal from the guides, who either have personal experience of being in the tunnels or second-hand knowledge from close relatives or veterans. 

Our guide had studied War History at university and spent considerable time with veterans; her knowledge was extensive. 

Interactive Experience

Whilst the tunnels have been ‘improved’ for visitors, you nonetheless get to crawl through sections of tunnels, see the recreated living spaces and the booby traps. 

You may also choose to fire a weapon at a shooting range, for an extra fee. 

Relatively Easy Day Trip

The tunnels are located just outside Ho Chi Minh City; albeit you have to get through Ho Chi Minh traffic to reach them.

We opted for a morning tour and were collected from our hotel, driven to the tunnels, had a fully guided experience, a snack and then driven back again.  It was an easy trip and still gave us time to explore Ho Chi Minh at night (which is important if you’re short on time).

Educational

Without doubt you go away with a much deeper understanding of the war and the impact it had on this region. And knowledge of the horrors faced by the soldiers and civilians on all sides of the conflict.

It gives you a lot to think about beyond the tour experience.

Our Cu Chi Tunnels tour guide showing the tunnel network and the areas most affected by Agent Orange

Cons of Visiting Cu Chi Tunnels In a Group

Yes. It Can Be A Little Touristy

Any attraction that is worth visiting is going to be popular.  If you travel with a group you will be part of a group experience.  However, we never felt rushed or overwhelmed or lost in a crowd. 

There were several groups and once or twice we had to wait our turn.  I recommend that you go in expecting it to be busy; but we anticipated the worst and were very pleasantly surprised. 

Claustrophobic for Some

The tunnels are narrow and low.  You do have to crawl through them on your hands and knees.  If you do not like small spaces then these tunnels are not for you. 

But, the tunnels are only part of the visit; the crawling is perhaps only 5% of the day.  Not everyone in our group went in the tunnel; there is no pressure to do anything you’re not comfortable with.

Possibly Selective Viewpoint

Without doubt the tour and the guides focus was on the Viet Cong efforts to evade American soldiers. 

I remember my son once telling me that history is always taught from the viewpoint of the victor and for sure, there is inevitably some bias.  We’re Brits and for once this war was not part of our history and if you’re from the US the commentary may stir emotions (just as our Amritsar tour did for us).   

However, honestly we went away thinking of the horrors and the impact for the soldiers on both sides of the conflict; you really could not help but feel anything other than heartbroken for so many young men.

★★★★★

HALF DAY cU cHI TUNNELS TOUR FROM hO CHI mINH

  • 6 hours door to door, inclusive tour
  • Excellent English speaking guides
  • A glimpse at the horrors of war and a deeper understanding of Vietnam
booby trap devised to catch victims under the arms causing a slow and painful death

What are the Cu Chi tunnels?

The Cu Chi Tunnels are an immense network of connecting tunnels that stetch for over 220 kilometres, located in the Cu Chi District of Ho Chi Minh City. 

Originally construction of the Cu Chi Tunnels began in the 1940s during the war of independence from France. We were told that the tunnels provided a means of escape, linking houses and nearby villages.  The tunnels were dug by hand, a short distance at a time.

What was the role of the Cu Chi tunnels during the Vietnam War?

As the war with the US intensified the tunnels were expanded by Viet Cong soldiers.  They provided an effective way of hiding from American forces and served as a hidden base for their guerrilla warfare.

There were many tunnel systems across Vietnam but the Cu Chi are perhaps most famous and they linked Viet Cong bases from the outskirts of Saigon all the way to the Cambodian border and were a vital link in the famous Ho Chi Minh Trail.

The Cu Chi Tunnels played a critical role for the Viet Cong providing :

  • Hiding Places: The intricate network offered safe haven for soldiers, protecting them from enemy forces.
  • Guerilla Warfare Base: The tunnels facilitated surprise attacks and allowed for troop movements.
  • Hospitals – Since the tunnels were mostly underground, they provided a safe place to treat wounded soldiers.
  • Living quarters – The tunnels were surprisingly extensive and could hold a lot of people.  There were different rooms as different levels providing temporary housing if needed.
  • Storage – Food, weapons, and other supplies were all stored in the tunnels.
  • Communication – The tunnels used a complex system of ventilation shafts which also allowed the Viet Cong to communicate with each other without being seen by American forces.

As the Americans learned more about the tunnels existence, US soldiers known as Tunnel Rats, were selected specifically because of their size.  The Vietnamese soldier was considerably smaller than the average US soldier and the Tunnel Rats were small enough to enter the tunnels and seek out the Viet Cong soldiers.

Top Tip : Sections of tunnels have been widened at Cu Chi, specifically to accommodate larger, taller international tourists.

How were the Cu Chi tunnels constructed?

The Cu Chi Tunnels were dug by hand with minimal tools.  The construction took place over several decades.  The Viet Cong used picks, shovels, and whatever tools they could find to slowly carve out the tunnels and the excavated soil was cleverly hidden or used to create fortifications.

How deep are the Cu Chi Tunnels?

We learned during our tour that there are three levels to the tunnels.  Hidden doors and passageways and stairs enabled soldiers to move between the levels below ground.

If US forces entered a tunnel, the Vietnamese could move down to a hidden level and wait for the danger to pass.

  • Level one : 3 – 4m deep
  • Level two : 5 – 6 m deep
  • Level three : 8 – 10m deep (I cannot begin to imagine how that felt!)
tiny entrance to one of the cu chi tunnels near Ho Chi Minh

How To Visit the Cu Chi Tunnels from Ho Chi Minh City

There are a few ways to visit :

Whilst it is undoubtably cheaper taking the public bus, we felt the Cu Chi Tunnel tours represented such excellent value for money that the overall savings just weren’t worth the additional effort.

The guides are a huge part of what makes this tour excellent; going alone means that you miss this expert commentary. They offer :

  • Expertise: Guides provide valuable insights into the tunnels’ history, function, and the war’s impact.
  • Navigation: The tunnel environment and forest area can be confusing, and a guide can ensure you see the most important features and avoid getting lost.
  • Safety: The tunnels have been cleared of explosives, but a guide can explain any remaining safety precautions.

Top Tip : Some tours offer a full day and visit other locations.  We were advised during our Ho Chi Minh Walking Tour not to do this but to only visit the tunnels.  Those who did additional activities often reported that their day was very rushed; the advice proved to be spot on.

What Should I Expect To See at the Cu Chi Tunnels?

At a glance our tour included :

  • Whatsapp confirmation and communication
  • Pick up from our hotel (in district 1) in Ho Chi Minh
  • Air-conditioned bus
  • English speaking, expert tour guide
  • Water
  • Cu Chi Tunnel Entrance Fee
  • A snack of a drink and cooked tapioca (typical food of the time)
  • A visit to Handicraft Centre

Ho Chi Minh traffic is notorious so expect slow progress out of town, but equally treat it as a bus tour of part of the city you’ve not previously seen.  The journey takes around 1.5 hours.

Top Tip : We were collected at 7:45am from outside our hotel.  Some people were already on the bus so an early start is possible.

Handicapped Handicrafts

En route every tour stops at Handicapped Handicrafts; a workshop producing artwork using traditional Vietnamese lacquerware techniques. The artist and workers are war victims and despite their disability they are still able to work here and earn a living. 

A scary statistic that our guide gave us, is that there are 4th generation babies still being born disabled in Vietnam because of the lingering effects of Agent Orange.  And almost 4,500,000 million people are still living with the consequences of illness from Agent Orange. 

We had read reports that the stop was tacky and you’re pressured to buy.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  There are toilets (which are free to use), there is a small café for snacks and drinks and if you wish, you can look around the centre. 

There is no obligation.  We did have a quick look around alone and were never asked to buy anything. We choose to leave a small donation as we left, but that was also never mentioned or requested.  The Handicraft Centre visit is very low-key but it’s interesting and worth a look.

handicraft centre that we visited during our Cu Chi tunnels tour from Ho Chi Minh

Visting and Exploring the Tunnels

When we arrived we followed our guide through the ticket turnstiles and onwards to the tunnel area; walking through an underground entrance to arrive at the tunnel site. Once there you should expect :

  • Exhibits: Informative displays showcase the history of the tunnels and the lives of the Viet Cong soldiers.
  • Tunnel Entrances: You’ll see cleverly disguised entrances used by the Viet Cong.
  • Replica Bunkers & Living Spaces: Recreations depict how the Viet Cong lived, worked, and fought underground.
  • Booby Traps: Learn about the ingenious traps used by the Viet Cong to defend the tunnels.
  • Bomb craters and destroyed war machinery : They do point out areas where the B52 bombs landed and there are remnants of the war remaining
  • Shooting Range (Optional): Some tours offer the chance to fire an AK-47 at a shooting range (for an additional fee).

Top Tip : you will do a fair amount of walking today so wear comfortable shoes. 

First we were shown a map of the tunnels and our location in relation to the network and Saigon.  The guide also talked about Agent Orange; which was used extensively here.  She also explained the impact these chemicals where having on the ecology of the area and how environmentalists were now working to restore balance.

We also learned that the very famous photo of the child running through the streets, with her clothes burned off from the chemical onslaught was from this area; which was kind of sobering given what we now know of these awful chemicals.

The tunnel environment is within a forest and there are comfortable paths for walking.  The environment is surprisingly peaceful and pretty (except for the bursts of gun-fire from the shooting range).

You can explore a few different tunnels.  Some are tiny but anyone who wished is allowed to climb in and experience the space.  I was worried I might get stuck but thankfully other members in the group will be at hand to haul you out!

You’ll walk through reconstruction sites, showing how the Viet Cong lived. You’ll also see remnants of the war and the booby traps which were left for the US Forces.  These traps were developed to inflict fear, pain and death and that is a pretty sobering demonstration.

The guides fill the time with their knowledge and show us how the ingenuity of the soldiers, for example wearing shoes that left a foot print suggesting they were walking in the opposite direction.  Or even that one foot was travelling in one direction, whilst the other was not. 

Top Tip : The tunnels are narrow and dark, and are not suitable for people who are claustrophobic.

Finally you visit the tunnels where you can crawl. There are a range of distances to choose from.  If you’re like me and Gerry you’d opt for the shortest tunnel which was just 20 metres long.  Some folks continued on and you could come out at 40 metres, 60 metres and 80 metres.  A few in our group went the entire distance and the tunnels do get progressively narrower so not for the faint hearted!  

★★★★★

HALF DAY cU cHI TUNNELS TOUR FROM hO CHI mINH

  • 6 hours door to door, inclusive tour
  • Excellent English speaking guides
  • A glimpse at the horrors of war and a deeper understanding of Vietnam
Famous Napalm child victim photo, taken near the site of the Cu Chi Tunnels
A photo that changed the course of the Vietnam war; taken not far from the tunnels and showing child victims of US Napalm bombs (The girls cloths were blown off from the blast). The young girl in this photo is still alive.

What is the Shooting Range at Cu Chi Tunnels?

Our guide asked us if we knew what the sound was when we first heard the gunfire; she told us it was the sound of money and she was right.

If you wish you can have a go at shooting.  There are a range of weapons, including AK-47s.

We did not wish to participate but we understand the cost ranges for 20,000 – 40,000 vnd per bullet and there is a minimum purchase depending on the weapon you choose.

Our guide also told us that the cost does fluctuate depending on the season. 

Top Tip : The café and the sitting area immediately beside the shooting range is very loud.  I found it too loud so we bought a cold drink and moved as far away as we could. Be prepared for this.

How long Is a typical visit to the Tunnels?

Expect the visit at the tunnels to last around 2-3 hours.  The time passed very quickly, and it never felt rushed.  The half-day tour offers a good balance between exploring the tunnels and learning about their history without being overwhelmed or rushed.

What should I wear when visiting the Cu Chi tunnels?

Do wear comfortable clothes.  We visited in January and it wasn’t too hot.  I wore my hiking trousers and a t-shirt and this was a good choice. 

Since the tunnels are underground and in summer it can be a hot and humid climate, it’s best to wear loose-fitting, breathable clothing.  Long pants and sleeves are also recommended to protect from scratches and potential mosquitos and biting insects.

Comfortable, closed-toe shoes are ideal and I would also recommend that you have water, sunscreen and insect repellent. 

US Army tank destroyed and abandoned near the tunnels

What facilities are available at the Cu Chi tunnels site?

There are all the amenities here that you would expect from a popular tourist destination.  There are toilets at the entrance, a souvenir shop, the tunnels themselves, a shooting range and a café serving snacks and drinks.

Are there any safety concerns associated with visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels?

Historically landmines were a problem in this area but rest assured the Cu Chi Tunnels have been cleared of all explosives and are safe for visitors. 

The area is safe but pay attention to the guide’s instructions.

Gerry crawling hands and knees through one of the cu chi tunnels

Top Tip : The tunnels can be narrow and if you’re claustrophobic, you might find crawling through some sections uncomfortable. 

Are the tunnels too touristy?

What is too touristy? We didn’t feel this and we’ve certainly visited lots of places such as Bali and Nusa Penida or the Taj Mahal where we felt swamped. 

It wasn’t too busy and equally it never felt too fake.  You know that the tunnels are adapted, for safety if nothing else, but the tour felt authentic and the guides extremely knowledgeable.

Focusing on the historical significance behind the tunnels helps you appreciate the site beyond any tourist appeal.

Top Tip : Want More Things to Do in Ho Chi Minh? Take a look at my post about our favourite things to do in Ho Chi Minh and for a quick visit we’ll tell you how to spent 1 day in Saigon.

Is it Worth Visiting Cu Chi Tunnels?

Absolutely! Despite being a popular destination, the Cu Chi Tunnels offer a unique and insightful glimpse into Vietnamese history and the resourcefulness of the Viet Cong.  The experience provides a deeper understanding of the Vietnam War and its impact on the region.

They serve as a reminder of Vietnam’s tumultuous past and the resilience of the people.  If you’re interested in history and don’t mind a bit of a crowd, then the Cu Chi Tunnels offer a glimpse into a unique world. We felt they were definitely worth a visit.

We spent two months travelling through Vietnam, from Ho Chi Minh, to the Delta, along the coast all the way up to Hanoi and we never encountered anything like the tunnels again.  We have no regrets about taking this tour.

★★★★★

HALF DAY cU cHI TUNNELS TOUR FROM hO CHI mINH

  • 6 hours door to door, inclusive tour
  • Excellent English speaking guides
  • A glimpse at the horrors of war and a deeper understanding of Vietnam

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

Whenever you travel overseas it’s imperative to travel with a good travel and medical insurance policy.  None of us expect anything bad to happen, but in the event of an incident, you want to be sure that your insurance will be there for you.

I’ve had the mis-fortune to end up in hospital in Peru, Indonesia, Portugal and Ireland; every time my insurance took care of everything. I would never leave home without full and comprehensive insurance.

Globelink : We have used and recommended Globelink for years and we’ve not heard of any issues. They are a great choice for European and UK Residents.

TrueTraveller : We have this policy now for an extended global trip and we are very happy with the cover, especially considering our ages and pre-existing conditions

Safety Wing : Many of my travelling buddies from the USA have recommended this company to me, although we’ve not used them personally.

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