In order to battle American and South Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam War, Communist guerrilla troops known as Viet Cong (VC) dug tens of thousands of miles of tunnels running underneath the Cu Chi area, called Cu Chi Tunnels.
Cu Chi Tunnels were constructed on the land known as "Steel Land", located at the end of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Communist forces began digging a network of tunnels under the jungle terrain of South Vietnam in the late 1940s. Tunnels were often dug by hand, in just a short period of time. The tunnel system includes infirmaries, living quarters, kitchens, storage, meeting rooms, weapons manufacturing factories, and bomb hideouts. When the United States rapidly increased its number of soldiers in help of a non-Communist regime in South Vietnam starting in the early 1960s, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops gradually expanded the tunnels. It is about 250 kilometers long from the outskirts of Saigon all the way to the Cambodian border and has ventilation systems at the bushes.
The tunnel system is deep underground, able to withstand the most destructive power of bomb attacks of the US military. Different areas of Cu Chi Tunnels can be isolated when needed. The underground tunnel is from 3 to 8 meters high, just enough for one’s crawling. The first tunnel at the edge of the forest has an underground well that provides water for the living activities of this whole area. The tunnel system comprises of 3 floors with separately numerous short and long branches, even running to the Saigon River. The way up and down among tunnels is secretively arranged and camouflaged by hatches, so that they look like part of their surroundings. Most people living in the tunnels often get parasites, dermatitis and bone diseases resulting from humidity, heat, lacking of light and poor sanitation. In addition, the shortage of food and other basic necessities is also the biggest problem of the tunnels.
During the Tet Offensive of 1968, the Communist forces used this system to attack Saigon. VC soldiers lurking in the tunnels set off various booby traps, grenades or overturn boxes of scorpions or poisonous snakes for U.S. and South Vietnamese infantrymen. To combat these guerrilla tactics, the U.S. and South Vietnamese forces trained soldiers known as "tunnel rats" to explore the tunnels to detect booby traps and enemy troop presence. The most effective method was to use military dogs. Initially, a number of inlets and vent holes were found because they could smell people. But then, VC troops had put US soap in hatches and vents, so the dogs could not detect them. After B-52 bombers dropped a large amount of explosives onto the jungle region, the U.S troops searched the activity area of VC soldiers but were mostly unsuccessful, because Communist forces had disappeared to safety into the network of Cu Chi Tunnels.
After 1975, the Vietnamese government decided to preserve the Cu Chi Tunnels. Presently, it has become a popular touristy destination. Visitors, especially veterans, often choose this attraction when visiting Ho Chi Minh City. They have the opportunity to experience life in the tunnel as the real residents before.
On Private Cu Chi Tunnels Tour with VN Bike Tour, tourists can now crawl through some of the safer areas of the tunnels, view command centers and booby traps, fire an AK-47 rifle on a firing range and even eat a meal featuring typical foods that soldiers living in the tunnels would have eaten.