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Into the Labyrinth

“Perhaps the most striking thing about a visit to Cu Chi is the incredible resourcefulness of the soldiers who lived and fought at Cu Chi. Everything was reused or recycled.”


When in Ho Chi Minh City, still called Saigon by the locals, one of the must-see destinations for any visitor are the Cu Chi Tunnels (pronounced ‘Goo Chi’). These tunnels are best known for their use by Viet Cong soldiers in the Cold War conflict with the Americans but were also used in earlier independence battles against the French. About 120km of tunnels in the Cu Chi area have been preserved by the Vietnamese government as a noteworthy historical site. Not only are the tunnels a remarkable feat of human ingenuity, they leave one feeling an overwhelming sense of the human ability to persevere in the harshest conditions.

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As a foreigner to the East, one is often bombarded by an overwhelming number of travel operators trying to sell you tours. However, Les Rives came highly recommended by friends as well as online reviews so we opted for their unique offering. It began with a 6:45am pick up outside of our hotel. The Cu Chi Tunnels are an extremely popular destination and the later you arrive at the tunnels the more crowded the area becomes. Fortunately, the tour with Les Rives involves a speedboat transfer up the Saigon River which is both a novel experience and a ‘short-cut’ as bus operated tours take double the time to get to Cu Chi. All of the Les Rives speedboats are custom built by a joint Australian-Vietnamese company, meeting international safety standards. Their highly trained skippers and staff ensure the comfort of every passenger on board. Indeed, once on board you can simply sit back and enjoy the Les Rives hospitality as they provide an excellent breakfast spread of croissants, bahn mi (Vietnamese baguettes filled with everything good), Vietnamese coffee and delicious local fruit.

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By the time we reached the tunnels, my breakfast appetite was well satiated and the coffee had me alert as our guide explained how the tunnels worked and why they were necessary. After this short introduction, our small group of 8 meandered through the beautifully recovered forests of Cu Chi, stopping along the way to see the minute tunnel entrances, excavated bunkers and supply rooms of the Viet Cong. There are also displays of the terrible, yet brilliant ‘booby traps’ used to deter the Americans from venturing into the tunnels. The tour takes a break at the gun range where one has the optional extra of firing AK-47 or M16 automatic rifles that were used by the Viet Cong and Americans respectively.

Perhaps the most striking thing about a visit to Cu Chi is the incredible resourcefulness of the soldiers who lived and fought at Cu Chi. Everything was reused or recycled. For example, soldiers made sandals out of used jeep tyres and melted down metal from shrapnel and tank parts to make spikes for their booby traps. Towards the end of the tour, you can enter this incredible labyrinth in order to get some sense of what it must have been like for the Viet Cong. These tunnels have been expanded by 30% and electric lighting has been installed to make them more accessible for tourists. Fortunately, the entrances and exits to the tunnels are much larger than the tiny, untraceable ones used in the wars.

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Your tour ends with a tasty lunch near the river and a comfortable boat cruise home where refreshments and more fruit are provided. Les Rives is a highly professional outfit and clearly demonstrate their experience in the hospitality industry. What’s more, Les Rives offers many great one day and multi-day speedboat tours to untouched areas in the south of Vietnam: the Mekong Delta, the Cu Chi Tunnels, mangrove forests of the UNESCO-listed Can Gio Biosphere Reserve, as well as various city cruises. They also have experience arranging private, tailor-made day tours, corporate tours, and team building events.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
TOUR GUIDES: It is worth paying more for an excellent tour; Les Rives tour groups are the first to arrive in Cu Chi, and the guides are well trained and speak good English.FOOD: The Les Rives tour provides you with everything you need for the day: breakfast, bottled water, lunch etc. so no need to bring anything of that sort.PREPARE:  Watch (at least) the first few episodes of The Vietnam War by Ken Burns, a brilliant documentary series that puts sites like Cu Chi into their historical context – your experience will be much richer.OPTIONAL: The shooting range is operated independently and is for your own cost.WEBSITE: lesrivesexperience.com/cu-chi-tunnels

George Robinson

George is a raw and wild adventureman. He’s married to Bianca, his travel buddy par excellence. He’s a South African who is especially grateful for the 1000s of kilometers of rugged, beautiful coastline. As a busy pastor on the North Coast of KZN, his favourite things to do to take a break involve the ocean: spearfishing, paddle-ski fishing and surfing. His passion for local and regional travel started as a student when he guided overland camping adventures to Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Though much of his adventures to date have mostly been in Africa and the East, his dream destinations are certainly the far-flung islands of the pacific where the sea turns purple-clean and the fish grow big! He enjoys engaging with local cultures and cuisines; cheap local street foods that don’t check one box on the health and safety register are the ultimate!

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