The budget travel way to see the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam

Tour operators offer daylong excursions for tourists to see the famous war-time tunnels near the town of Cu Chi, a short drive from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. You can pay a lot, or a little, to enjoy a day out of the city while learning an important part of Vietnamese history.

The cost for three people to have a private car and private tour guide on a day-long trip can be around $100 and up. We did it for about $10 total for three people: me, my husband Tedly, and his mom Diane, who was traveling in China and met us in southern Vietnam.

Get there for less than a dollar

For the budget rate, you have to take two public buses instead of an air-conditioned private car, and you won’t get a “private” tour instead of a public guide with about 20 people. These facts were not deal breakers for us – the buses were air conditioned and not overly crowded; our group wasn’t that large.

Take the number 13 bus from the Con Vien terminal in District 1 for about 10,000 dong ($0.43). It’s about a 90-minute ride. In Cu Chi, transfer to the number 79 bus and tell the driver you want to go to the tunnels. This second bus costs about 6,000 dong ($0.26), and the ride is about 40 minutes long.

*Note, this way will take you to the Ben Duoc tunnels – which are the tunnels we visited. Most tourists are taken to the Ben Dinh tunnels in tour groups.

Both tunnel sites show the importance of the tunnels to the Vietnam/American War, but the Ben Dinh tunnels have been heavily modified to accommodate larger-sized Westerners. Since we wanted the more authentic experience with fewer tourists, we chose to go to the Ben Duoc tunnels.

Once the 79 bus drops you off, it’s a short walk to buy admission tickets. The signs are not in English, but it’s pretty obvious at this point where you should go.

For the three of us, admission was 90,000 dong ($3.86).

*Tip: to find the tunnels, keep walking on the site’s main road beyond the snack stands. You will eventually see a sign pointing you down a path off the main road. We never saw a clear map in English.

The price of admission includes a guide into the tunnels. Our guide was wonderful. He spoke English, answered questions, joked around with us, and we took a liking to him. Tedly bought him a beer after our excursion.

What the Ben Duoc site is like

Before you enter the tunnels, everyone watches a video produced by the Vietnamese government about the tunnels. (Our group was about 20 people.) While the film is heavy on propaganda, it’s also informative about the tunnels and the people who built them and lived in them.

The tunnels themselves are amazing. The Vietnamese people certainly were creative and resourceful, and that ingenuity is on display in these tunnels. To see a tiny sample of the 75-mile network of underground hideouts and living quarters that the U.S. military never fully mapped and found, is impressive.

We went underground several times, and walked crouched over at about a 90-degree angle. It will give your thighs a workout if you are tall.

We also had a sample of the food Vietnamese soldiers ate while hunkering down in the tunnels. They survived on boiled tapioca with a little sugar and crushed peanuts. You see how they layered the kitchen venting system so they wouldn’t give away their position underground. At this point in the visit you can buy drinks (beer, soda, water), or wait for the snack stands near the exit.

The site also has abandoned American vehicles and planes on display, as well as several nasty-looking booby traps. These traps all over the country were a source of misery and death for Americans – but especially around Cu Chi since the American military was always searching for – but never found – the massive tunnel system.

It sucks that the tunnels had to be used at all for war purposes. And before I let myself dwell on the depressing aspects of the site, I enjoyed the walk around above ground. The site is well kept and it was nice to walk outside – although it was very hot and humid.

It was a great break from the noisy and chaotic traffic in Ho Chi Minh City.

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