There are two different Cu Chi tunnels. Yes, Ben Duoc and Ben Dinh are part of the same tunnel network. However, they are two different sites.
Your experience will be different, depending on which of the two sites you visit. I visited Ben Duoc. It is a bit further from Ho Chi Minh City, and is also less crowded. The tunnels are also a lot more authentic and closer to how they were during the Vietnam war.
Ben Dinh on the other hand, is mostly reconstructions. Keeping in mind the large number of western tourists who visit, many of the tunnels are wider to accommodate them. Unfortunately, it is also where most of the tour companies head to, in busloads.
A bit of history
Drive about 60 odd kilometers out of Ho Chi Minh City, and you will reach The Cu Chi tunnels. They are best remembered as a symbol of the Viet Cong’s resistance against the Americans. However, they were built over a period, stretching all the way from 1948, when the Viet Minh fought the French. Back then, they were mostly used to connect and communicate with different villages around the countryside, while also helping the soldiers disappear every time the French soldiers were patrolling the area.
Leading up to the Tet offensive in 1968, the VC, or Viet Cong soldiers, extended these tunnels further. While it was home to thousands of them, they also made sure to fortify it with many trenches, bunkers and bomb shelters. And just in case the Americans did make it this far, they also laid them with booby traps. Down under, they had also made sure that life went about as normal as possible. There were parts of the tunnels that acted as hospitals, food storage units and communication centers.
What to expect
After purchasing your ticket, you will need to wait until your guide is able to assemble a sizeable number of visitors before he starts his tour.
The first part of your tour includes a documentary on the Vietnam war. From here, it is on to the tunnels itself, where you can experience firsthand the living conditions of both the VC and civilians.
A word of caution. If you are claustrophobic, I wouldn’t recommend tunneling down. While it is large enough to accommodate most average sized people, it can get hot and humid inside, adding to the discomfort. There are also points where you will need to be on your knees and hands, crawling slowly while making sure not to scrap your head or body.
You also need to keep an eye out for the bats that have made the tunnels their home. Turns out they do like living there after all.
However, once through the tunnel, then it is like a different world down below. There are many large rooms that have been created. Each of these rooms served a purpose during the war, whether as a hospital room or a food storage unit. Mannequins in most of the rooms highlight their purpose.
Once out of the tunnels, you are also shown around the field with replicas of booby traps, craters and termite mounds. In fact, there is an interesting story behind these mounds. When the VC used abandoned mounds to act as air vents, the American soldiers quickly caught on, thanks to their sniffing dogs. However, the VC went one step ahead and started to rub these mounds with the American’s dirty laundry, soap and aftershave to fool the hapless dogs.
Visit the memorial temple complex
Close to the tunnels is another historic place that you must visit – Ben Duoc Memorial temple. The temple honours soldiers and civilians who lost their lives battling the French during the Indochina war, and the Americans in the Vietnam war. The first stage of the memorial monument was inaugurated on the 19th of December 1975. The temple itself is a recent addition, with construction starting on the 103rd birthday of President Ho Chi Minh – 19th of May 1993.
Information you can use
Both Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc are open from 8am to 5pm, daily. However, the entrance fee is different. For Ben Dinh, it is VND 111,000 per person while for Ben Duoc, it is VND 90,000 per person. Both tunnels include a guide to take you around.
To get here, you can opt to travel by bus that goes all the way. You will need to ask at your hotel or with the tourist office in Ho Chi Minh City. You can also, depending on how many you are, rent a taxi for the full day. I opted to hire a motorbike taxi and head there. Just make sure you haggle a good rate before you head out.