In the Chù Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam is a very elaborate system of underground tunnels that served a very important purpose. The tunnels were a vital part of a network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Chu Chi underground tunnels were dug by hand over the course of 25 years, which began in the late 40’s during the war with the French. The elaborate system of tunnels was used by the Viet Cong as hiding spots, as well as serving as communication and supply routes. The tunnels contained eating halls, ammunition storage, hospitals, and even a theater for entertainment. The Viet Cong would live in the underground tunnels and only come out under the cover of darkness in order to gain supplies, tend to crops, and engage in enemy combat. During the 1960’s, the tunnels were repaired and vastly expanded, becoming a vital part of the Viet Cong’s military strategy during the Vietnam war. The entrances were next to impossible for American troops to find, let alone navigate once found. The American troops were often fatally wounded or seriously injured by booby traps lining the jungle. American troops tried multiple strategies in order to find and destroy these tunnels, none of which worked. Chemicals were dumped across the jungle floor which dried up and killed all of the vegetation. Napalm and bombs were dropped over the area in order to burn everything in sight, allowing American troops to view the landscape becoming less vulnerable to the Viet Cong soldiers. The high levels of humidity and pools of water created vapor explosions eradicating the fires. Check out these photos.
The tunnels are now open for tourists to walk through and experience. They cover vast areas and have been preserved as a war memorial in Vietnam.
The entrances are very small, offering no room to turn around and retreat. They are also very easy to quickly cover and hide when under attack.
The tunnels were so narrow that there was no room for American soldiers to turn around to retreat. When lost in a tunnel, this created a panic amongst the Americans in battle.
The tunnels have since been widened to allow Western tourists and have been illuminated with small lights.
The tunnels contained everything the Viet Cong needed to survive, even rooms for children and families.
You can see how difficult the tunnels would be to navigate. They were also smaller in the 60’s.
The area was covered with booby traps designed to severely injure American troops, causing a slow and painful death.
American troops tried many different angles to take over the tunnels including trained German Shepherds that would sniff out the openings. The Viet Cong quickly overcame this tactic by using American issued soap to wash themselves, giving the dogs a “friendly” scent.
They also hung American unifiers near the entrances to again throw off the dogs. When the dogs did find the tunnels they were captured and killed, only to be displayed in the jungle near American troops. The American dog handlers were terrified after seeing this and refused to send their dogs down into the tunnels.
The tunnels now have figures displayed in the rooms exactly as they would have been in the 1960’s.
The mannequins show how the Viet Cong would go over military strategies, make weapons and booby traps. They show the living conditions of the Viet Cong.
They would store and make weapons deep in the underground tunnels to be used against invading American troops.
The site is now a tourist attraction explaining the traumatic events and the vital role of the Chù Chi tunnels.
Above the tunnels lies a tank that was destroyed in battle as a reminder of the events that took place.
Tourists are allowed to crawl in the tunnels to experience the life of the American and Viet Cong soldiers.
They are also able to eat a typical meal that would have been consumed while living underground.
Employees demonstrate the tasks that would have been preformed by the people who lived and fought in these tunnels during the Vietnam War.
Many of the underground rooms deemed unsafe have been reconstructed above ground to display what life would have been like.
The bamboo chute coming out of the metal pot would have ran to the surface so the smoke of the fire would not suffocate those inside. It was also used to deter American troops from the location of the tunnels.
There were small camps set up around the tunnels that the inhabitants would occupy during the cover of darkness. During the day no one would be found.
The entrances scour the jungle leading from one camp to another. Many times the tunnels would be right under American camps. They lead to rivers and roads allowing the Viet Cong to resupply without being seen.
They would take ammunition and bombs from the American soldiers and re-purpose them into booby traps designed to kill their enemies.
The tunnels span miles under the jungle floor.
Because conditions in the tunnel were so rough, and soldiers and families spent so much time in them they were surrounded by disease.
Air, food, and water were scarce in the tunnels. They were plagued by poisonous centipedes and scorpions. Rats and vermin filled the tunnels and became a big problem.
Due to bombing and fires above, they were forced to stay in the tunnels for many days at a time. Sickness ran rampant underground. Malaria was a very common disease among the Viet Cong.
Almost everyone had stomach and intestinal parasites. Malaria was the second cause of death next to battle. Only about 6,000 of the 16,000 soldiers who fought in the tunnels survived.
The Americans had no way to infiltrate these tunnels other than sending a soldier down armed with only a knife and a flashlight.
The flashlights couldn’t pierce the darkness of the tunnels and the American soldiers had no chance in this unfamiliar territory deep underground.
It was one of the highest risk positions an American soldier could be assigned to.
The tank serves a grim reminder of exactly what went on during the Vietnam War in the Chù Chi tunnels
More mannequins showing every day tasks and duties that had to be performed underground.
In a weapon room, Viet Cong would fashion bamboo spears, explosives, and booby traps.
One example of a booby trap that would have been used would allow a soldier to fall into the hole only to become more stuck and more impaled if they tried to escape.
Another example would be this deep hole lined with sharpened bamboo chutes. They would have been covered in fecal matter causing a slow and painful death or infection if the soldier survived.
One tourist eats a traditional meal that the Viet Cong soldiers would have survived on for the duration of the war in the tunnels.
The living spaces for families was incredibly tight where they slept during the day and worked at night.
Here a guide explains the different types of booby traps used.
Here you can see a layout of how the Chù Chi tunnels were laid out. These tunnels were entirely dug by hand over the course of 25 years.
Take a look at this video tour of the Chù Chi tunnels as recorded by one tourist.
I can’t imagine the impact on a soldiers mentality during this type of warfare, the Viet Cong and American soldiers alike. They reverted to primal combat and it was as much of a mental battle as it was a physical one. The tunnels are now a war memorial serving as a relic of a once incredibly hellish time of war. Each soldier in the tunnels had a specific role that they were trained to execute. The battle field was very unfamiliar to American soldiers. Malaria and disease ran rampant amongst the soldiers and the majority perished with a very slow painful death.