It is one thing to visit Vietnam and wallow in its atmosphere of bustling street markets, beautiful temples and fabulous landscapes. But some visitors relish the opportunity to immerse themselves in the region's history – literally!
Ho Chi Minh City offers a unique experience for the more intrepid visitor to Vietnam – the chance to delve into the complex tunnel system engineered by guerillas during the various phases of Indochina conflict.
Hidden beneath today's unassuming vistas there is a remarkably well-preserved labyrinth of tunnels, once used as a hideaway by Viet Cong fighters, close enough to the former South Vietnamese capital of Saigon to take military action, then melt into the countryside. These underground lairs stretched for an incredible 200 kilometres, comprising a main artery system, with numerous branches connecting to shelters and hideouts,
Far from being basic underground corridors, the Cu Chi tunnels contained hospitals, operating theatres, schools, kitchens, mess halls and general accommodation. Constructed over several levels, they were also built with complex ventilation grilles, and were sunk so deep underground that neither carpet-bombing nor tanks travelling overhead could do the slightest bit of damage.
Around 75 kilometres of the maze have been preserved as a historical attraction by the Vietnamese government. This highly unusual tourist spot lies one hour's drive from Ho Chi Minh city, to its north west. Open all year round, visitors to this unique and highly interesting cultural experience can undergo the variety of activities. As well as exploring the tunnels themselves (perhaps not so highly recommended for those of a claustrophobic nature!) you can let off some steam by squeezing the trigger of an M16 assault rifle at a shooting range. You can also sample the type of basic meal those intrepid subterranean dwellers would have endured all those years ago.
Along the way there are also displays of Viet Cong volunteers (well, very lifelike mannequins) to illustrate how they operated various weapons. After stooping along long stretches of winding corridors you might find yourself entering a vast room, where a table stretches before you containing authentic battle plans. Many of the narrower tunnels have been more fully excavated to allow for western visitors, with the welcome addition of low-powered overhead lights.
As well as the fascinating tunnel complex there are souvenir shops, and a restaurant serving more contemporary cuisine. Nearby there is also a mini hotel.
The Cu Chi tunnel experience last around 5-6 hours, with daily outings picking up from the front entrance of the Central Post Office in Ho Chi Minh City. All languages are catered for by the experienced tour guides.