Cu Chi Tunnels is one of the main tourist attractions of Saigon and Vietnam in general. The tunnels combined with the war museum are two attractions that can not be missed when coming to Vietnam. The American-Vietnam war is a thing of the past and credit to the locals, it has also almost been forgotten. But to spend a bit of time thinking about what went on back then, is an absolute must when visiting this magnificent country.
How to get there
The Cu Chi tunnels are around 2-3 hours from central Saigon. There are three main ways to get there.
The cheapest way to get to the tunnels is by bus. Tours for the masses operating for next to nothing can be booked from any backpacker street tour agency or hotel.
Tour price : Around $10
Boat is the fastest and most pleasant way of getting to the Cu Chi Tunnels. Setting off at similar times to the bus, but the boat arrives quicker which allows these tour operators to do their tour before the masses arrive by bus.
These tend to be upmarket tours and with that comes highly trained tour guides. From personal experience, a good guide is key to enjoying the tunnels. It gives context and backstories to what you are seeing.
If you are not doing the Tunnels by Motorbike, then we highly recommend splashing out on a boat tour instead of a bus tour.
Tour price: Around $100
Motorbikes, as always provides the freedom to go at your own pace. The route to Cu Chi Tunnels isn’t a bad one (if following this guide), but there is no escaping the brutality of traffic both in and out of the city (more on that later).
Motorbike will also allow you to go to the less known and less touristy Cu Chi Tunnels where there are nearly no tourists and no queues. For this alone, the motorbike may be the best option!
Rental price: $10-45 + $5 ticket + $5 gas
There are TWO Cu Chi Tunnel sites not ONE.
A hidden and unknown secret is that there are two sites for the Cu Chi Tunnels.
One touristy and very busy location called Ben Duoc Tunnels.
Ben Dinh Tunnels is around 20 minutes further to Saigon than the less touristy tunnels, .
At least in my experience, if going to Ben Dinh Tunnels there is no need to worry about timings and queues. Whereas Ben Duoc it may be worth delaying the visit until the afternoon to avoid the mass of tour buses arriving for a morning session.
Ben Duoc Cu Chi Tunnels
Ben Dinh Cu Chi Tunnels
The traffic in and out of Saigon by motorbike
The good news is that the traffic in terms of timing is no worse than any other exit of Saigon. To properly “exit” Saigon regardless of direction takes around 1 hour. Arguably, the direction of Cu Chi tunnels is actually one of the fastest ways to get into “rural Vietnam”.
The bad news is that this route is without question the busiest way to exit Ho Chi Minh city. A primary route for buses and other transport vehicles. The traffic is close to gridlock at all times of the day and to a new arrival this grid lock combined with large vehicles is one hell of a scary combination.
The traffic is slow, almost at a standstill, those pictures of “chaotic” Vietnamese roads can not be more true than this exit and entrance to Saigon city.
In contrast, other routes for example toward Cat Tien National Park (the way we recommend exiting Ho Chi Minh) takes a similar one hour, but the traffic is mild and new arrivals should feel comfortable enough with the task at hand.
The big elephant in the room when trying to setup routes and tours to Cu Chi Tunnels is how to deal with these extreme and intimidating traffic conditions that can’t be avoided. It puts a halt to any “Cu Chi motorbike tour” recommendation.
If you feel comfortable enough on a motorbike, and want the t-shirt for tackling Saigon’s worse traffic, then there is no better route than this to prove your worth in chaotic conditions!
Once through the one hour of chaos, this route is pleasant and alot of fun.
Into the countryside and light tracks
Having just completed Saigon’s worst exit route in terms of traffic, you can now celebrate with a clay country lane along the river. One of my favourite things about Saigon is how quickly it is possible to exit the city to find countryside Vietnam and backroads.
This road is what I would consider a very gentle offroad, and kept in good condition. Perfect for the instagram picture.
When reaching the large bridge of heavy good vehicles, you will need to cross it to continue the countryside meander along the river. Apart from that, this road stays much the same.
Anyone can tackle this road, no need for offroad experience.
Quick ferry crossing
My route takes a quick and local ferry. The cost of 5,000vnd should get you across. When in Vietnam you need to take a motorbike on a ferry, it’s one of those tick boxes that needs to be ticked. What better way to do it than on a quick one day tour to Cu Chi Tunnel and back.
Once across the ferry it is back to light offroading along the clay path, but this time with a nice open view of the river.
Cu Chi Tunnels the tour
Signed clearly enough and with a parking slot for motorbikes that can’t be missed. The ticket booth is here and a ticket can be purchased for 90,000vnd (around 3usd).The actual Cu Chi Tunnels is around a 15 minute walk from the parking lot. I get lost everywhere I go, but this complex had me lost over and over again. On this day, I spent more time walking in circles getting lost than I did at the actual tunnels.
A few jeeps, Artillery guns, Aircraft, Tank and a Helicopter are dotted around for picture taking. No crowds, and no real sign posting or descriptions, just randomly dumped exhibits on the grass in no particular order.
A few more minutes getting lost and wandering in circles and I finally find the entrance to the Tunnels. A nice walk into the forest to find a waiting room playing an amazing propaganda movie. This acts as a room for collecting tourists together to create a group. I was the first in, so had the pleasure of watching around 30 minutes of quote “American Killer Hero” content.
Once a suitable number of tourists is collected you will be assigned an English speaking tour guide.
The tour guide keenly jumped in a tunnel and disappeared, to secretly reappear somewhere behind us. This was much to the surprise and enjoyment of our tour group. With his circus act complete, we are then beckoned to jump down the hole to copy his route.
There were a few holes dug of different sizes which all connect to the same tunnel.
The tour guide looked at me, rugged adventure guy he must have thought. He pointed at me and demanded I go down as bait. Despite being 2 metres tall and a bit fat he decided to shove me into the smallest possible hole available. I didn’t really fit, and expressed my concerns. But he was adamant that putting my hands up and jamming myself further into the hole would end in success. So I blindly followed his commands and down I went.
This encouraged the smaller members of the group to follow suit having seen a 2 metre tall goliath fit down the tiny hole.
The tunnels themselves are uncomfortable and just crawling down them for 30 metres is a miserable experience. Everyone should try and do it. No pain, no gain they say.
Onto the next obstacle which is a display of horrible traps. Pictures don’t do them justice, you don’t want to be caught in one of these. This tour jumps from one tunnel to the next, to the next. In comparison to the more touristy Ben Duoc tunnels which only has the one tunnel. By the end of this tour, you will be tunneled out.
The tour guide is fun and enthusiastic but it definitely lacks the information and backstories that I had experienced in my $100 luxury boat tour to the main and more touristy tunnel site. Nonetheless, it was a good show.
At the end of the tour they feed you some potatoes or something. Apologies but I can’t remember what they are. But the Vietnamese certainly relied on them when hiding underground.
The tour takes around 45 minutes in all.
We are then pointed to the exit and asked to leave, I was back on my own again.
Finding the shoot range
I have done the touristy Ben Duoc tunnels many times and the shooting range is conveniently positioned at the end of the tour. A cash cow, money making machine that collects tourists together to fire extremely expensive ammo.
The Ben Dinh tunnels sure enough had some large signs disclaiming a shooting range is somewhere on the premises. I walked into a run down looking paintball centre and wondered if this was the shooting range. Nope, so I continued wandering around until I heard gunshots in the distance. I followed the noises and saw the occasional sign confirming I was going the right way.
I walked, and walked and walked. A good 30 minutes down a clay track, until a reached a crossroad that had no further signs.
There were also promises of a swimming pool and lake which I also could not find. A three out of three failure, one hour of walking and no shooting range, no swimming pool and no lake.
Disappointed and tired, I walked back to get my motorbike. I asked security who said it was at a different entrance. Basically leave Cu Chi and go right and then right again. More useless signs that half work and I finally found the shooting range at the end of a long track.
I was shown a scrappy piece of paper with some prices on it, and asked to choose my weapon. I chose a gun, “sorry no ammo”.
I chose another gun “sorry no ammo”
I chose a third gun “sorry no ammo”
Been down this road many times in my travels. I said “It would be easier if you tell me what you have, rather than ask me to choose what you don’t have.”
He got the idea, pointed at a gun, and I said ok.
300,000vnd (13usd) was the minimum allowed of expenditure at this place, which got me 5 bullets.
They gave me some headphones, loaded up the gun and asked me to shoot away. One of the reasons I have never bothered with this gun shooting (until trying to make this blog), is because the guns are bolted to the wall. This means you are not really “shooting” the gun. The kickback is not what it should be and basically its cheating.
I spent my 300,000 dong though and fired away. I enjoyed the noise and could feel the power behind these monsters. Overall, for someone wanting a good picture for 300,000k then go for it. For everyone else, you are not really shooting the gun. Your hand is literally being held through the process by a concrete wall and a clamp.
The way back from Cu Chi Tunnels
The drive kicks off with some lovely tarmac road that goes through tree plantations. This sort of “pleasant and casual start” ends when my route turns off the DT8. For those who want to just get back to Ho Chi Minh, then it is probably wise to continue along the DT8 and onto the DT9 to get home.
The road I plotted is a single track dirt pathway that meanders around little rivers and water logged plantations of some sort. It isn’t “difficult” riding, but I think many travelers may be uncomfortable with the appeared remoteness, mild mud and narrow tracks where mistakes will lead you into a swamp of water or a river.
Looking at the map and it would be expected that you are very much close to civilization. However, when out there, you are likely to feel alone and lost somewhere in Vietnam following a crazy person’s map that you downloaded online.
It meanders and meanders on for miles and miles through weird and wonderful riverside tracks. The scenery or style doesn’t really change much, apart from funny variations in weird bridges and other solutions that locals have come up with to cross the water that stands in their way.
I recommend most people give it a go, and when bored, tired or scared, then hit the main highway and head back home.
I had more tracks plotted, but time ran out, so I drove away from my countryside tracks and cruised on home. This is part of the beauty of the route. Ho Chi Minh is not far away and it is possible to bail out at any point to say enough is enough.
Unfortunately, as with heading out of Ho Chi Minh, there is no way to avoid the traffic. Just accept it, deal with it, and stay calm. This is part of the journey.
My Shenanigans of exploration end when I head back to the DT 9. When you do commit to your traffic logged journey home, just dial in your destination to googlemaps and blindly follow it. It updates live to the traffic. There is no right or wrong way to get home.
The Cu Chi Tunnels has two different sites. Hiring a motorbike will allow you to visit the less touristy site. The journey is a fun one, that has you going through Vietnam’s worst traffic before heading off into the countryside for mild offroad tracks. Providing you have the confidence to tackle the traffic, then this is a great little one day trip!