Cu Chi tunnels is a mass network of connecting tunnels located 70 km in the North West of Ho Chi Minh city. This system of deeply underground tunnels have several floors and alleys and stretches more than 250 km long into the Cambodia border.
Viet Cong soldiers used the tunnels as the base of operations during the fight for independence against the French colonists in the 1940s. Then they developed to fight Americans during the Vietnam War (or Vietnamese call it the American War). It became a complex that served as living quarters, communication and supply systems, hospitals and food and weapon caches.
Visiting Cu Chi Tunnels is a ‘must-do’ activity in your travel bucket list when visiting Ho Chi Minh city.
Why Choose Ben Duoc over Ben Dinh?
Most group tours you’ll find in Ho Chi Minh or online will take you to Ben Dinh tunnels. They were reconstructed and widen by the government in order to fit Western tourists. The price of the group tours will cost around USD $15-20 per person and only include transportation.
On another hand, Ben Duoc tunnels (pronounced as “Ben Zhu”) is part of truly authentic underground network used during the war time. You need to get there by public buses. Of course, it is way cheaper doing it yourself.
Getting There by Pubic Bus
Going to Ben Duoc Tunnels on a self-guided tour can be very easy, just by following this simple steps. You need to walk to the main bus station at Pham Ngu Lao (the western end of Backpacker Street), just opposite a catholic church in District 1.
Hop on Bus #13 to Cu Chi Station which departs every 20-30 minutes. The tickets are sold inside the bus by the ticketing agent and the price is 10,000 Dong per way. The journey takes around 1 hour 40 minutes.
Once you reach Cu Chi Station, take the next Bus #79 to Ben Duoc Tunnels. The ticket fee is 6,000 Dong per way and takes another 40 minutes.
The bus will come to an intersection with a blue signboard pointing Ben Duoc (left) and Ben Dinh (right). The driver will turn left towards Ben Duoc and you need to hop off about two minutes later. If you are not sure where or when to get off, do ask the friendly ticketing agent or the locals for help.
Day Trip to Ben Duoc Tunnels
Catching a morning public bus No. 13 at 8.20 am and bus No. 79, I have arrived at Ben Duoc tunnels at 11 am. The traffic was chaotic in Ho Chi Minh city and only heard the bus drivers horned its way to my destination.
Cu Chi Tunnels Entrance Fee
When walking towards the tunnel site, you will pass through a ticketing booth and need to buy two tickets from the counter. The first ticket is 70,000 Dong for entrance fee and another is 20,000 Dong for the guide. It is compulsory to purchase both tickets because you will need a guide to take you through. It takes 20 minutes to walk to the site from the bus stop.
Into The Tunnels
I was invited to watch a short video to learn a brief history of the struggle and victory of Viet Cong people during the war. Then, start to go into the first underground tunnel about 20 meters in length. The holes dug up involved a three-person job- first person will dig, another will pass and last person will dispense the sand.
I can’t imagine how this Viet Cong soldiers and its civilians lived beneath here for months. This is only the first floor below the surface and can feel stuffy and hot just within few minutes. During the Vietnam War, the three-levels of tunnels that goes as far down as 10 meters below were used to hide from air strikes and ground attacks. However, they can only stay up to an hour due to lack of air!
You will see the ventilation system made by bamboo pipes and American soldiers had mistaken them as termite mounds on the surface.
A B52 bomb carter
Surgery room used to heal the wounded
By the end of the tour, you get to try cassava served with peanut salt and pandan leaves tea. This is what the people ate every day during the war to survive underground with limited food supplies.
Example of booby traps used by Viet Cong soldier in the tunnels to capture their enemies.
Among the display of an open air museum are air and land vehicles and weapons used during the Vietnam War. It includes a C-130 plane, a UH-1A helicopter, armored brigade, bombs and semi-automated machine guns.
As you make your way back, do visit the Temple of Martyr Memorial near the ticketing booth. This memorial was built as a remembrance of nearly 50,000 Vietnamese who fought and died on these lands in both wars.
How Much It Cost
- Bus Ticket- Ho Chi Minh- Cu Chi Station (return) 20,000 Dong
- Bus Ticket- Cu Chi Station- Ben Duoc 12,000 Dong
- Entrance to Cu Chi Tunnels and Guide 90,000 Dong
Total amount spent on this trip was only 122,000 Dong included entrance fee (equivalent to USD $5.50. As mentioned above, most tours are priced USD $15-20 and exclude entrance fee.
So, now I have given the comparison and guideline, what will your choice be?
Would I Recommend Ben Duoc Tunnels?
I am very glad to visit Ben Duoc because there is less crowds and have more freedom and time to explore. I am not sure about Ben Dinh, but have not regret in making the decision to travel solo to this historic site and learn about the war history. One thing for sure, I’m happy to make this day trip into my itinerary and save a lot of money on the budget trip.
- Making a trip on your own by public buses means you have the flexible time to visit the tunnels.
- You can find many tour operators who offer a half day tour to the tunnels in Pham Ngu Lao, District 1 if you have limited time. However, most guides will take you to the tunnels in Ben Dinh, which is less authentic than Ben Duoc.
- Go early in the morning to avoid the hot weather and the crowd in Cu Chi tunnel and the buses especially the high season.
- You may encounter taxi drivers at Cu Chi Station who tell you that there are no more buses available. Do reject their ride offer and wait for the next bus to arrive.
- Bring lots of water to keep hydrated because it is hot and humid. You can also buy water at the cafe on the way to the site.6. Take insect repellent.
- Remember, this is a jungle and there were many mosquitos around.
- Keep on eye at the time. The last bus to leave from Ben Duoc is before 5.30 pm. If you miss the last bus, you are on your own (OUCH!!). You will need to look for a taxi back to Cu Chi Station, which will be very costly.