Discover The Saigon River and Cu Chi Tunnels by Waterways

cu chi

Photo Credit: Pham Luc

The Cu Chi Tunnels is a favorite tourist site for many international travelers. One of Vietnam’s most famous war memorials the, Cu Chi Tunnels is where visitors come to experience what life was like for revolutionary soldiers fighting in the jungle. The tunnels allowed the Vietnamese guerillas to control a large rural area. At its height, the tunnel system stretched from the economic hub to the Cambodian border. All travelers go by road to Cu Chi, which takes about a half-day excursion by waterway to the famous tunnels, which stretched for over 124 miles and became legendary during the 1960s when they played a vital part in the Vietnam War.

The yacht cruise is a new development on Saigon River, as local business seeks to develop new products to attract travelers to Ho Chi Minh City and encourage them to stay longer. Our yacht was new and comfortable. The uniformed captain welcomed us on board with a smile, and we had a safe feeling on our river adventure. Our guide, Chung, was a friendly young lady, and she served us fresh water and fruits. Chung explained that many businessmen prefer the privacy of the cruise, as well as a sunset cocktail or dinner aboard ship.

After some conversations with the tour guide and tour members, we arrived at the Ben Dinh Pier near the Cu Chi Tunnels. Then we stepped into a jungle of banyan trees and took a short walk to the iron triangle of Cu Chi. We had plenty of time to explore the tunnel system and watch a video about them, which included commentary from former soldiers to help visitors better understand the history. There are two sections of tunnels open to visitors, at Ben Duoc and Ben Dinh. The latter are in original condition, while the Ben Duoc tunnels have been recreated for tourists and visitors. The network, parts of which were several levels deep, included innumerable trap doors, specially constructed living areas, storage facilities, weapons factories, field hospitals, command centres and kitchens. Also, an impressive temple was built to honor martyrs at Ben Duoc.

Upon request, travelers can meet living Viet Cong veterans, many of whom are ready and willing to tell their stories to the world. Yet on the surface, Cu Chi is like every other rural district in Vietnam. Women chat over mounds of vegetables at the local market while young men lounge in the dusty, open restaurants. Today it is hard to believe that this area, part of which is just 18 miles from downtown Ho Chi Minh City, occupies some of the most heavily bombed land in the history of warfare. This area was a “free bombing” zone, which allowed the U.S. army to bomb at any time and anywhere they suspected enemy activity.

The secret of the Cu Chi lies underground. Beginning in the late 1940s, resistance fighters dug a series of tunnels into the rust-colored earth of Cu Chi to allow them to evade French army patrols. The old tunnel network was renewed and enlarged when the National Liberation Front (NLF) insurgency began around 1960. Within a few years, the tunnel system became the lifeline of NLF operations, snaking all the way from Saigon to the Cambodia border. The attacks that rocked the southern Vietnamese Capital during the Tet Offensive were launched from Cu Chi. In a bid to break local community ties with NLF forces, the southern regime launched its strategic hamlets program in 1963. Government forces destroyed villages in suspected pro-communist areas, and relocated the people to their controlled, fortified encampments.

Instead of isolating the people from NLF influences, the program had the opposite effect, strengthening sympathy for the communists. Thanks to the tunnels, the NLF had access to the strategic hamlets anyway. To try to regain control of the Iron Triangle, as the region was known, the Americans built a larger base camp at Cu Chi. Only after several months of unexplained sniper attacks did they discover that their camps lay directly on the top of an intricate network of NLF tunnels. Thousands of Americans, Australians and southern Vietnamese ground troops descended on the Iron Triangle to try and seize control of this strategic area. Malcolm and Fran Surman, working for the UK Embassy in Bangkok said “Of all the wonderful places that we were taken to I think that Cu Chi tunnels made the greatest impact as we came to realize the awful conditions that were endured by those who want their freedom.”

Also as part of the tour, we arrived at Bach Dang, in time for lunch, and we walked to the impressive bonsai garden (Vuon Kieng) on the bank of Saigon River. As all the tourists headed back to the city and their next adventure, they all agreed that a tour of this area is a “must do” for anyone visiting Vietnam. 

Pham Ha

Pham Ha is an award-winning travel entrepreneur who has been featured on the Forbes, Robb Report, TTG Asia...He has worked in the travel industry for over 20 years, traveled extensively to 60 countries, and become a luxury tourism expert and keynote speaker in the luxury travel industry, in Vietnam and across the globe. His personal mission is to deliver happiness. Ha is also a very passionate aut...(Read More)

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