Visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels and Why I Didn’t Like It

with 64 Comments


The Vietnam War stretched out from 1955 to 1975 entailing millions of fatalities including some in the neighboring (non-participating) countries of Laos and Cambodia. It was a war waged between the United States and two opposing parties in Vietnam: the North and the South. The Northern party wanted to maintain a Communist regime throughout the whole of the country. The Southern party wanted to free the Vietnamese from the claws of the Communist stronghold.

Gradually the United States withdrew its troops and officially ended its involvement in the war in 1973. The fighting continued between the North and the South until the Northern army successfully overtook Saigon in 1975. The following year in 1976, Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in honour of the late Communist leader bearing the same name. Since the war ended and until this day, both halves of Vietnam, namely North and South, have been reunified under a Communist regime.


Source: The Dogma Collection


So when I went to Vietnam, more specifically to Ho Chi Minh City, I was looking forward to visiting the infamous Cu Chi tunnels which played a pivotal role in the Vietnam War. The Cu Chi tunnels are an elaborate network of underground tunnels snaking 250km that were painstakingly dug (mostly) by hand by a group of rebellious guerillas known as the Viet Cong (siding with the Northern Communist fighters but strategically stationed in the South near Saigon).



The tunnels were, of course, used as shelter from their opponents but also served as headquarters for the Viet Cong where they would scheme and lay out their plans. Wanting to flee the imminent dangers above ground, the tunnels inevitably became homes not only for the fighting rebels but for whole families as well. Living quarters with functioning kitchens, sleeping cots and electricity were set up. The dark, damp tunnels also acted as hospitals where many babies were born and playgrounds where children ran around oblivious to the terrors of the outside world.

Sickness often took over and malaria became the second cause of death after wounds caused by the war. Those living in the tunnels shared the closed, airless compounds with a variety of vermin, ants, poisonous centipedes and other undesirable insects. Although the tunnels procured a safe haven from the war blazing above-ground, it was also filled with unimaginable challenges.






At first, I was very excited (see my exaggerated smile in the pic above) to be visiting this historical place; scenes from the movie Platoon kept flashing before my eyes. But soon after entering the jungle where the tunnels were located, my curiosity and eagerness started to fade. I willingly smiled for the camera but without a lens pointing at me my demeanor was taking on another façade – one of furrowed brows and perplexed frowns.

An uneasiness came over me.

Seeing firsthand the medieval contraptions and calculated methods used for torturing the enemy, being in the exact place where such horrors (and people) were executed and realizing that everything around me was once a horrific reality for many would make anyone feel uneasy.

Or so I thought.





I, of course, can’t say how each person truly felt but judging by the overall giddiness, unabashed laughter and occasional jokes, most visitors seemed to be taking everything that was said and seen all too lightly. Now, I’m not saying we all should’ve been crying our eyes out but I did expect some sort of graciousness, some duly-owed empathy, a discreet solemness or some whispered concerns. Maybe I was being just a little too sensitive so I didn’t dwell too much on how others behaved. Instead, I decided to concentrate on my own mixed emotions about being there.




Following the neatly cleared paths brought us to something I really didn’t expect to see. There in the middle of the jungle where one of the most controversial wars took place was…..a souvenir shop – selling all sorts of paraphernalia a lot of which had nothing to do with the Vietnam War. I didn’t think this was the right place to be selling souvenirs we had seen repetitiously all over Vietnam. It was really starting to feel like an amusement park.

But the worst was yet to come.

I heard gun shots.

I thought they were coming from a video being shown nearby but they sounded very real. Then I heard a voice ask me if I wanted to shoot a gun. What?! I couldn’t believe there was an actual shooting range on the exact same premises a very bloody war took place! How inappropriate is that?!? It seemed many visitors thought otherwise. The sound of several consecutive shots coming from AK-47’s (or whatever assault weapon was chosen as there were a few models) echoed in the surrounding jungle and through my entire body. Once again, a certain uneasiness resurfaced.

Now it definitely felt like an amusement park.


A claustrophobic underground access to the tunnels 


Some of the underground tunnels were made higher and wider to accommodate visitors who wanted to experience crawling (or more like bent over) through a tunnel from one end to the other (I think it was about 30 meters long). I cautiously stepped forward and went down the narrow stairwell with a cloud of doubt hovering above my head. I could see in front of me an endless line of people hunched over and closely huddled with no space to even scratch your ass ear.

Slowly, I started to make my way in the line neatly formed like a troop of ants diligently following their leader. When it came time to enter the tunnel, I suddenly changed my mind. I could barely turn around but I made my way backwards mouthing a series of almost inaudible excuse me’s on my way up the stairs and into the open air. I’m not usually claustrophobic but I started to feel really uncomfortable (is that what claustrophobia feels like?). Upon reflection, I honestly didn’t think this seemingly ‘educational’ activity (accompanied by a swarm of laughter and nervous giggles) would even begin to remotely give me a idea of what it was like for those who had to rely on the tunnels for survival. In the end, I  was glad I didn’t participate in this activity.

Next our guide brought us to one of the many trap doors scattered in the jungle leading to the tunnels. These trap doors were only used by the Viet Cong (and others living in the tunnels) who knew exactly where each one was located. When closed shut and camouflaged under piles of foliage, the trap doors (measuring approximately 12″x18″) were undetectable by the enemy.



Again, I hesitated going in. I worriedly stepped down one foot at a time. With my stomach tightening, my dangling feet desperately searched for the platform to settle on (this platform was only installed for the purpose of taking pictures). Once in, my body felt constrained, my freedom felt like it was withering away; I couldn’t bring myself to close the cover completely (or partially for that matter!). I smiled nervously to capture this awkward moment on camera.

In just a few seconds, random thoughts ran through my mind: How could anyone go down (let alone live) in these suffocating tunnels? Why is this presented as a fun tourist attraction? Why am I doing this? I didn’t have the answers but as far as having to go down the tunnels, I imagined that only a desperate need for survival could give someone such courage.



Cooking could be deadly – the Viet Cong were clever enough to diverge the smoke to trap doors many kilometers away creating confusion among the enemy




Throughout the site are re-enactments of how the Viet Cong used to live and operate above-ground. Here you can see the mannequins wearing their khăn rằn (black & white checkered scarves) which identified them as Viet Cong soldiers. I’m thinking a khăn rằn would have looked really good with my outfit!

Whenever possible, soldiers also busied themselves making the necessary tools needed for everyday living but also cleverly concocting deadly weapons using only rudimentary materials.



After about 2 hours, our tour came to an end. With each step I took, I found this place to be way too commercialized – a definite money-making machine. I did enjoy seeing firsthand the infamous Cu Chi tunnels and learning more about them (they are, after all, a very significant part of Vietnamese history) but what I didn’t like was the whole almost festive atmosphere. I really couldn’t help but feel like I was at an amusement park.

Sure with all the genuine artifacts, the short documentary shown at the beginning of the tour and the original military gear there was no denying the Vietnam War actually took place in that dense jungle but, in my opinion, it could be presented in a much more respectful and dignified manner (removing the shooting range would be a good start).

My visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels left me perplexed and filled my mind with questions. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it but I can safely say I didn’t like how it was presented. The whole place lacked empathy, it lacked soul.







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  • You’ve captured perfectly the way I felt about the whole Cu Chi tunnels, and pretty much all of the war exhibitions. I was there in March of 2003, ironically on the same day that the US invaded Iraq for the 2nd time. It was impossible to ignore the parallels then. Thanks for sharing!


      I think everyone has a different reaction but some readers such as yourself have expressed how uncomfortable they felt visiting such exhibitions. I think these types of “tourist attractions” completely lose their sense when they become way too commercialized. It must have been quite the experience visiting the Cu Chi tunnels while the US invaded another country. :

  • I’m glad we didn’t go. Although I didn’t think it would be made into an amusement park! That’s so innapropriate 🙁 We visited the Landmine Museum when we were in Cambodia and that was enough of war material to me – reading about the horrors and how millions of farmers still lose their limbs and even lives TO THIS DAY because of all the mines still buried in the ground… 🙁 how can people think it’s ok to make a fun attraction of something this horrible?


      I guess the lack of empathy I found at the Cu Chi Tunnels was due to the fact that the Viet Congs won the war so they tend to ridicule the Americans. I don’t take sides but war under any circumstance is no laughing matter. I didn’t visit any of the war memorials in Cambodia for fear of finding the same laid back attitude (but maybe it would’ve been different). Thanks for commenting!

  • Anthony Jury

    Ah Cu Chi tunnels, some good bits but definitely commercialised like much most of Vietnam that I saw. Then I entered the tunnels myself with my two boys, they loved it, young and springy. As for myself I wish I had avoided it..


      My boyfriend was also brave enough to enter the tunnels and he also regretted it. I can see how your kids loved it though!

  • Leah Caraher

    I think I would feel like you did. It seems like such an strange way to make this sad moment in history a fun day out. I would have freaked out going in the little spaces.


      It is strange how these “memorials” are turned into utter tourist attractions. There are surely better ways to shed light on a country’s history. Those tunnels are quite suffocating!


    Another reader wrote about the gift shop at the 9/11 museum and I was shocked! Why does everything have to be about making money?! It makes me question the true intention of these places.

  • Christina

    Wow really surprised to hear about your experience. I just saw a video about a week ago with two travelers who did this tour and it seemed so educational and moving. Your experience breaks my heart to hear how something sonhistorical turned into more of an amusement park like you said. It’s very sad to hear there was no respect during the tour just giggles. Sounds like it could be a good experience if with the right people.


      I think each person experiences these places differently. I already knew enough about the Vietnam War so I didn’t feel like I actually learned something when visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels but I did expect to be moved by being where the war took place but instead it felt more like entertainment. :

  • Littleblondedanielle

    It’s interesting to see how you put so much information into your post but still keep it interesting. I like how you include both knowledge about the history as experience. I’m thinking of visiting the tunnels next year but I’m still in doubt because of it being so commercialized..


      Thanks for your input! Now that you know what to expect, I think you should go and experience it for yourself. 🙂

  • Jennifer Dombrowski

    Interesting that they’ve made it so commercialized like that. These tunnels are a place I’d equate to visiting a concentration camp or the tunnel in Sarajevo. It should be preserved more as a museum and remembrance, not made in to a money making machine.

  • Meg

    I visited the Cho Chi tunnels and I found it to be quite interesting. Maybe it was the tour or group you were with. We were the only Americans in our group – aside from a military couple – and there was much healthy discussion from a group of Europeans asking about the conflict and what it felt like to visit. They compared their experiences to visiting some of the WWII sites. I’m sorry you had a bad time. Vietnam is an interesting place – I really didn’t enjoy the north all that much, but I liked the south 🙂

  • I usually am unnerved, out of sorts when I visit such places. And when something like this is overly commercialized, I have mixed feelings. On the other hand, I get they need to keep making money off them, and I also get some people need to joke around and laugh to deal with places like this, despite of how it makes me feel. from what I’ve read and seen depicted in movies, this was a very brutal and cruel war, and the torture that went on… terrifying. I don’t think i could have coped with seeing it if others weren’t laughing around me. And I definitely wouldn’t have squeezed down that trap, you are far braver than me!

  • Lisa

    I appreciate your honesty in this post. Not sure how I would react and feel either. A lot of history yes, but like you said, it’s all in how you present it. Very sad time in history. Thanks for sharing.

  • Michelle Weigold

    I went in 2011 and I felt the exact same way!! I particularly “enjoyed” the propaganda video in which they showed sad images with the audio of “The evil Americans killed all the innocent children, etc.” .. I started coughing and awkwardly looked around. I definitely felt it wasn’t respectful as well. Definitely preying on insensitive tourists


      I didn’t mention the propaganda against Americans because I didn’t want to seem to “take sides” (war is horrible no matter who is fighting) but I also remember how mocking the guide was when presenting the video. I felt it was very inappropriate!

  • Mansoureh

    I know how you felt. I usually avoid visiting the places that is a reminder of war and torturing. It is just me I think they make me so so sad. When I went to Anne Frank’s house I was crying since I entered there. “Shooting” was part of the tour??


      The shooting range wasn’t part of the tour itself – you had to pay extra to participate but it was located right on the site.

  • Editor-in-Style Good

    The tunnels and this whole area are quite creepy to me. As a claustrophobic I would not be able to go inside the tunnel or the trap door in the ground. I don’t blame you for not enjoying this attraction. Not only is it depressing but I don’t feel that it should be turned into tourist traps. The gunshots to me would also be scary.

  • Sandy & Vyjay

    These sites which have been places where people have died and futile wars fought always evoke in me a feeling of sadness and solemnity. I can very well empathize with your thoughts about the behaviour of other tourists. I too do not like the idea of commercializing such sites and converting them into ‘picnic’, spots.

  • Elaine J Masters

    I’d probably feel the same as you did. When tourism is so blatant and there isn’t a sense of reverance, I feel queasy too. The tunnels sounded horrific.

  • TalesOfABackpacker

    Hmm, it is always interesting visiting places of war, tragedy and other awful histories. It is important to remember, but it can be very difficult to do right – without the theme park aspect you mention! It reminded me of seeing those selfies on the holocaust memorial, an important place of reflection & respect, not peddling souvenirs or trying for that perfect picture!


      I also saw those selfies at the holocaust memorial and thought how could anyone be so insensitive?! Just awful!

  • Julie

    I was shocked when I read the part you were asked to shot a gun, which seems really really weird in a historical place not to mention there were war and tragedies. This post reminds all of the travelers and others to respect the place and people’s lives, instead of visiting it for entertainment. Hopefully they did not ask you to pay for the tips and trip!


      It really is too bad that the Cu Chu Tunnels have been turned into a form of entertainment. We didn’t give any tips but I honestly don’t remember if the guide asked for any.

  • Jenna

    Glad to hear your perspective on this. We’ve been researching a trip to Vietnam and the Cu Chi Tunnels sound like an interesting, important and historic site to visit, but I feel conflicted about visiting these types of spots sometimes too. When they are presented in a respectful way, they can give a good perspective on what happened, but when they feel too lighthearted and like an amusement it doesn’t make me feel comfortable either. Thanks for sharing your experience–I still might be interested in visiting just to see the tunnels and learn more about the site’s historical significance, but it’s nice to know what to expect going into it!


      I think you should still go knowing it might feel like an amusement park. Others have commented that they had quite a different experience (much more rewarding) so it could go either way I guess.

  • I absolutely loved my visit to the Cu Chi tunnels recently. But, I went with the specific need to understand more about the war and Australia’s involvement in it. I knew quite a bit but was interested in a different perspective. We made a decision to go to the Ben Duoc area not Ben Dinh to avoid the overcommercialisation of the war and its impacts. Everyone that I was with treated it with great respect. I was completely freaked out by the tunnels and have continued to think about and contemplate life in them ever since. The one thing I didn’t like (and this is largely because of my Australian background) was the pure propaganda rhetoric by the Viets in suggesting the war was fun and a game. I would have thought that time and history might have given this a more balanced view.


      I’ve heard that the Ben Duoc area is much less commercialized. I’m Canadian so I didn’t feel any personal attachment to the Vietnam War but I also remember feeling really uncomfortable about the guide’s lenient attitude towards killing Americans. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed your visit to the tunnels!

  • After reading your experience, I think I would have mixed feelings as well. The souvenir shop and being able to shoot guns wouldn’t be something I would be interested. I’m like you and don’t expect everyone to be teary-eyed, but I also think it’s a place that should be remembered as a dark time in history.

  • Erica Coffman

    This was a heart-breaking read. I’ve been seeing so many posts lately about the seemingly oblivious hoards of tourists taking selfies and doing yoga poses at war/genocide memorials. Although it seems as if the Vietnamese are actually encouraging similar behavior here, it’s so strange and confusing as to why anyone would think that was ok. I don’t blame you for saying you didn’t really like it. I wouldn’t either.

  • Thanks for your honest experience, we never made it to Cu Chi tunnels together but I am not sure I want to visit them after this read. I don’t mind at all that the locals made this historical place a money making machine, but it seems like some of the things they have going on there are in poor taste and insensitive to the people who died there. I feel like it would be a somber experience but you always see people smiling and laughing in photos like it’s a fun place. I don’t know if I could muster up the courage to go into the tunnel, I think my claustrophobia would take over.

  • Air Flight Cheap Tickets

    Interesting and quite educative post on the Cu-Chi tunnels in Vietnam, I never knew few of them stories anyway. At times you need get yourself emotional prepared on visiting places like this. Beautiful photos!

  • Neha Verma

    Going through your post was almost like going through the tunnel itself. And I can understand what you would have felt on the sound of those guns. It almost would have felt like going back and reliving the era of blood thirsty wars..

  • josiekelsh

    I can really see where you are coming from with this post. I have been to the Cu Chi tunnels so know exactly what you are describing. I didn’t think much of it at the time, I think because we were quite focussed on our own family history. My father-in-law served in Vietnam and spent time as part of a group of soldiers (affectionately known as tunnel rats) who went down into these tunnels and cleared them as the Viet Cong moved. I’ve since travelled to some other places with similar histories and can see this tour could be done in a much more respectful way.


      I’m sure you had quite a different experience given you have a direct link to someone who served in the Vietnam War. I guess it just depends on our overall expectations and perception of such historical tragedies.

  • I definitely understand what you mean about the Cu Chi tunnels. In fact, your post presented more history and insight than I actually received from my guide on my tour! Unfortunately, it seems this is the direction a lot of things are going…focusing more on making money and catering to tourists.

  • LC

    Funny, my Dad was just watching Platoon the other day! I don’t think I could go through those tunnels… suffer a fair bit from claustrophobia. I suppose it’s hard to strike a balance between a place and its history, when opening it up for guest tours. But I know what you mean. Felt the same way at the 9/11 memorial in NYC – mostly due to the presence of the gift shop nearby.


      I don’t usually like war movies but I remember being absolutely enthralled while watching Platoon (when it first came out so this was many years ago). Sadly, it does seem like every memorial site is trying to make a buck somehow!

  • Ivy

    Jeez, I don’t know how I’d feel about visiting this place. I think it’s great that they’re showing everyone what the soldiers had to go through back in the days but the shooting range and souvenir shop are definitely overkill. It’s kind of disrespectful in a way… taking such a serious matter so lightly. I can see why you didn’t like it!

  • Efthimis Kragaris

    I think that you have given me here all the reasons why I should not visit the tunnels. I hate tight spaces (your photos where you get out of the tunnels shocked me!), gunfire and everything too commercialized. I totally get your points and I love that you have been so sincere about this visit!


      I certainly didn’t mean to discourage anyone from going. This was my own personal experience based on my expectations and sensitivity; others have commented that they had quite a different experience. You don’t have to go in the tunnels but you will most probably hear gun shots! 😉

  • I’m with you on this. I hated the ongoing propoaganda films delighting in killing Americans. I feel it should be updated to reflect a different age as it seems somehow improper. War is not pretty and we shouldn’t rejoice in the deaths of anyone. It is all too tragic. I also didn’t go inside as I get so claustrophobic!


      I was really surprised by the propaganda also! I couldn’t believe the enemy killings were taken so lightly and presented as such – it was very strange.

  • I also had mixed emotions when I visited. It was especially troubling as an American. I admit hearing the guns going off in the background made it especially uneasy for me also.

  • Hra

    i haven’t heard about these tunnels, but i want to explore them… although i felt nervous when i saw your pictures.. These tunnels are so weird :-/

  • megan_claire

    Thanks for sharing such an honest overview of our experience … it actually really saddens me to hear that it’s turned into a commercial enterprise and it doesn’t sound like anyone there is paying the kind of respect that such a historic site deserves. I would have thought that it would have been a sombre place considering the history and the horrors that took place here, but I guess we’re all too happy to forget and jump at the chance to fire a gun 🙁

  • Stacey Sandlin Veikalas

    We looked at going to the tunnels on our last trip but just didn’t do it – I was worried about being in those little tiny tunnels LOL ! After reading I am glad we didn’t go – I would not like all the commercial aspect of it either. Thank you for sharing.

  • Venkat Ganesh Gudipaty

    I was in Saigon a couple of years ago but I never made it the tunnels. I was being kicked around by my feelings of trying to learn about this place and at the same time being afraid that my visit would encourage a lack of dignity or respect that I could see from the pictures shared by some travellers. In the end I decided against.

    I think it is a must when sites of hardship and tragedy and but often is ignore both by the travel authorities as well as the visitors. Such a shame.

    I hope you had a good time otherwise. I lived in ‘Nam for 2 years and not a days go by that I don’t miss it!


      I think everyone has a different experience depending on their own expectations. I guess I just didn’t expect it to be so commercialized and it being turned into more of an entertainment site than a memorial site.

      I agree that the authorities (whoever they are) play a huge role in how these sites are presented. The Cu Chi Tunnels looked more like an opportunity to show off propaganda than to educate visitors.

      I’m a little bit envious – I loved Vietnam and have considered living there! Maybe one day!

  • Danik Bates

    That really sucks if they put a shooting range and shops in the middle of this tour! I would be horrified if they did that in Auschwitz death camps in Poland as it would be on the same scale. Totally loved your views on this and the photos on this post.

  • Natasha Welch

    I’m so glad you were honest about your experience of the Cu Chi tunnels. I tend to feel the same way as you about many places I visit, I don’t see why sacred places or sites of war like this are turned into a commercialised tourist hubs, it makes me so uncomfortable.

  • La Vida Viva Travel

    Very interesting perspective. I agree that it is definitely commercialised and just a money-making scheme. I think like many other places in Vietnam that have anything to do with the war, it’s intended to focus on how bad the enemy was. I visited the tunnels when I was younger and think I took it pretty lightly, not really grasping the full extent of happened there so it was very insightful to read your post and look at it in this light. Thanks for sharing.

  • Kavita

    A really interesting and honest post. I think it’s sometimes too easy for travellers to have places like this on their To Do lists without really appreciating what they are seeing and without taking any insight from their visits into what happened and how awful it really was. Places that commemorate and showcase a particularly horror-filled part of history to visitors do, in my opinion, need to have an element of respect in how they are presented, and guests too should show some respect. I’m not suggesting everything must be solemn but I’m with you completely that it shouldn’t be a jolly theme park vibe either. I don’t think I could have gone into the tunnels, even expanded as they are, but having studied this war to a certain level back in college, I would be interested in learning more without the frippery.

  • Mel

    I think my comment disappeared 🙁 Basically, I said: I totally agree with you and could understand why you would feel uncomfortable. It seems like a place like that would be given the same reverence as visiting a Nazi gas chamber. It’s as much a memorial as a tourist attraction and you have to remember the people who lived through it. It’s important to bear witness to history and remember it (lest we repeat it), but we can do it in a respectful way.

  • Raghav

    Thanks for an amazing well rounded post. I like how to started with a brief history and then went on to explain the tunnel networks. I have seen them in films based on Vietnam, but going through them would have been one amazing experience. As for it being too commercialized, I feel that is the state everywhere these days. Once an attraction gets popular, it gets too touristy and sometimes loses touch with reality. Still, well written and researched.


      Thanks Raghav! Sadly, it does seem like money becomes the main reason for having these memorial sites. 🙁

  • Mel

    I can see why the tone of things would bother you. I would think it would be more like visiting the Nazi death camps– you go to bear witness and keep the history alive in our heads (lest we forget), but there is a certain amount of respect for the people that lived through it. These kind of places are memorials as well as tourist attractions and deserve reverence for the people who were there.

  • I have the worst case of claustrophobia. Hence, I wouldn’t dare go inside these tunnels. Glad to see you enjoy your experience there. After all, this is one of Vietnam’s most important historical sites.

  • Katie Featherstone

    I totally agree actually. I remember our guide trying to get the group to pose with a tank… :/


      We reluctantly posed with a tank (didn’t include the pic) and it didn’t feel right at all!