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Cu Chi Tunnels (Ho Chi Minh City ) :
The Cu Chi Tunnels are located approximately 30 km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City in Cu Chi district. This district is known nationwide as the base where the Vietnamese mounted their operations of the Tet Offensive in 1968.

The Cu Chi Tunnels consist of more than 200 km of underground tunnels. This main axis system has many branches connecting to underground hideouts, shelters, and entrances to other tunnels. The tunnels are between 0.5 to 1 m wide, just enough space for a person to walk along by bending or dragging. However, parts of the tunnels have been modified to accommodate visitors.

The upper soil layer is between 3 to 4 m thick and can support the weight of a 50-ton tank and the damage of light cannons and bombs. The underground network provided sleeping quarters, meeting rooms, hospitals, and other social rooms. Visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels provides a better understanding of the prolonged resistance war of the Vietnamese people and also of the persistent and clever character of the Vietnamese nation.

For a place thatís physically invisible, the Cu Chi Tunnels, have sure carved themselves a celebrated niche in the history of guerilla warfare. Its celebrated and unseen geography straddles around 350sq.km Ė all of it underground Ė something which the Americans eventually found as much to their embarrassment as to their detriment. They were dug, before the American War, in the late 1940s, as a peasant-army response to a more mobile and ruthless French occupation. The plan was simple: take the resistance briefly to the enemy and then, literally, vanish.

First the French, then the Americans were baffled as to where they melted to, presuming, that it was somewhere under cover of the night in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta.   But the answer lay in the sprawling city under their feet Ė miles and miles of tunnels. In the gap between French occupation and the arrival of the Americans the tunnels fell largely into disrepair, but the areaís thick natural earth kept them intact and maintained by nature. In turn it became not just a place of hasty retreat or of refuge, but, in the words of one military historian, "an underground land of steel, home to the depth of hatred and the indomitability of the people." It became, against the Americans and under their noses, a resistance base and the headquarters of the southern Viet Nam Liberation Forces, and it was only 70km from Sai Gon. The linked threat from the Viet Cong - the armed forces of the National Liberation Front of South Viet Nam - against the southern city forced the unwitting Americans to select Cu Chi as the best site for a massive supply base Ė smack on top of the then 25-year old tunnel network.    Even sporadic, and Americanís grudgingly had to later admit, daring attacks on the new base, failed for months to indicate where the attackers were coming from Ė and, importantly, where they were retreating to. It was only when captives and defectors talked that it became slightly more clear. But still the entries , exits, and even the sheer scale of the tunnels werenít even guessed at. Chemicals, smoke-outs, razing by fire, and bulldozing of whole areas, pinpointed only a few of the well-hidden tunnels and their entrances. The emergence of the Tunnel Rats, a detachment of southern Vietnamese working with Americans small enough to fit in the tunnels, could only guess at the sheer scale of Cu Chi. By the time peace had come, little of the complex, and its infrastructure of schools, dormitories, hospitals, and miles of tunnels, had been uncovered.

Now, in peace, only some of it is uncovered Ė as a much-visited part of the southern tourist trail. Many of the tunnels are expanded replicas, to avoid any claustrophobia they would induce in tourists. The wells that provided the vital drinking water are still active, producing clear and clean water to the three-tiered system of tunnels that sustained life. A detailed map is almost impossible, for security reasons if nothing else: an innate sense of direction guided the tunnellers and those who lived in them, sometimes for months on end.

Some routes linked to local rivers, including the Sai Gon River, their top soil firm enough to take construction and the movement of heavy machinery by American tanks, the middle tier from mortar attacks, and the lower, 8-10m down was impregnable. A series of hidden, and sometimes booby-trapped, doors connected the routes, down through a system of narrow, often unlit and unvented tunnels. At one point American troops brought in a well-trained squad of 3000 sniffer dogs, but the German Shepherds were too bulky to navigate the courses. One legend has it that the dogs were deterred by Vietnamese using American soap to throw them off their scent, but more usually pepper and chilli spray was laid at entrances, often hidden in mounds disguised as molehills, to throw them off. But the Americans were never passive about the tunnels, despite being unaware of their sheer complexity. Large-scale raiding operations used tanks, artillery and air raids, water was pumped through known tunnels, and engineers laid toxic gas. But one American commanderís report at the time said: "Itís impossible to destroy the tunnels because they are too deep and extremely tortuous."

Today the halls that showed propoganda films, that housed educational meetings and schooled Vietnamese in warfare are largely intact. So too are the kitchens where visitors can dine on steamed manioc, pressed rice with sesame and salt, a popular meal during the war, as they are assailed with true stories of how life went on as near-normal, much of the time. Ancestors were worshipped there, teaching was well-timetabled, poultry was raised Ė and even couples trysted, fell in love, were wed, and honeymooned there.

But visitors have it easier: those re-constructed tunnels give the flavour of the tunnels but not the claustrophobia and the sacrifice of the estimated 18,000 who served their silent and unseen war there with only around one-third surviving, the rest casualties of American assaults, snakes, rats and insects.  Now the unseen and undeclared No Manís Land is undergoing a revival, saluted as a Relic of National History and Culture with its Halls of Tradition displaying pictures and exhibits.  The nearby Ben Duoc-Cu Chi War Memorial, where the reproduced tunnels have been built, stands as an-above ground salute to a hidden war.

Vinh Nghiem pagoda :
Vinh Nghiem pagoda is located at 339 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street in Ho Chi Minh City. It was constructed between 1964 and 1971 following the design of architect Nguyen Ba Lang.

This classic style seven storey tower with strong Japanese influences was built with the assistance of the Japan-Vietnam Friendship Association. The Kwan-Yin tower is located on the left of the pagoda. This structure is the biggest of the Vietnam Buddhist Association.

A Devotee Relic Tower was erected behind the pagoda in 1982.

Giac Vien Pagoda - Giac Vien Pagoda is located on Lac Long Quan Street in Ho Chi Minh City.

giacvien2.gif (13550 bytes)Giac Vien Pagoda is located about 10km south-west of downtown Ho Chi Minh City, amid a quiet area near Dam Sen (lotus pond) tourist park. It has the ancient architecture of the pagodas built in the Nguyen dynasty of the 19th century, and typical characteristics of the southern area in terms of the architecture, design and arrangement of the worshipping shrines.

In 1789, a monk who was in charge of taking care of the restoration of Giac Lam Pagoda, built a small pavilion for his daily prayers, called Quart Am Cac (Kwan Yin Pavilion). In the third year under king Tu Duc's reign (1850), the pavilion was rebuilt and named Giac Vien Pagoda. When building Dam Sen tourist park, the Management Board decided to preserve Giac Vien Pagoda intact and incorporate it into the park, making the park more attractive due to its cultural-historical value.

giacvien1.gif (14050 bytes)Giac Vien Pagoda has typical features, of southern Vietnam. The main shrine, also a big hall, is 360 sq. rn in area, and used to worship Buddha. To its East and West, there are corridors, a room for the monks to prepare clothing before assisting the Superior Monk, and a large and spacious compartment at the rear. Along the corridors, there are small altars with worshipping items. In particular, there are rows of wooden pillars engraved with parallel sentences. The letters are carved delicately and painted with red lacquer and trimmed with gold. Around them there are decorative designs of leaves and climbing plants. All 153 statues in the pagoda are made of jack wood. The faces and postures of the statues look honest and they are placed low, creating a close feeling between them and the viewers.

The most attractive items are 60 plates, which are engraved on both sides made of jack wood. They are and made with gold. The most beautiful plate is engraved with 18 fat, honest and smiling Arhats, with each riding on the back of a buffalo, a cow, a pig, a goat, etc. Some plates are engraved with birds, ducks, fish, etc., but all looking alive. Other plates are carved with fruits popular in the South, such as coconut, mangosteen, durian, rambutan, etc. These wooden engravings are the only ones that have been kept intact in Vietnam.

The Buddhist spirit of the ancient Viet people, during their migration South, accepted different religious tendencies and sects, on condition that they were useful to society. This is clearly seen through the items preserved at Giac Vien pagoda. For this reason, Giac Vien Pagoda became a centre for worshipping ceremonies and discussions on Buddhism of the six southern provinces in the 19th century- a prosperous time for Buddhist followers and talents whose works remain valuable until today.

Giac Vien Pagoda has been classified by the State as a cultural relic and a mini-museum of wooden engrav ings of historical and artistic Value. For this reason, it attracts a lot of researchers and visitors all year round.

 Duc Ba Cathedral  (Ho Chi Minh City) :

After the first French colonising force arrived in Viet Nam in the mid-19th Century, it took only 21 years before the country had a cathedral to match the hulking Gothic edifices of France itself.

nhatholon1.gif (20429 bytes)The cathedral is supposed to represent the glory of the French Empire. Yet, as is always the case with colonisation, this attempt to import French traditions into Viet Nam transformed the colonisersí culture in the process. Even though the cathedral is built in a Western architectural style, it has a uniquely Eastern aspect.

The resplendent Governorís Palace, completed in 1875, symbolised the regimeís political power in Asia. And five years later, the Duc Ba (Our Ladyís) Cathedral was inaugurated, and became the spiritual and cultural crucible of the French presence in the Orient.

ducba03.gif (16982 bytes)Several architects put forward design proposals for the cathedral, but in 1877 the authorities selected Mr Bourard, who was famed for his religious architecture.He envisaged, and executed, a basilica-like structure with a square plan. The church is composed of two main central bays with two sidereal corridors, with tall pillars and light coming in through sets of high windows, and a semi-circular shrine.The style follows a Roman pattern, although the outside contains some modifications: the cathedralís vaults are Gothic, and a modern steel skeleton supports the whole building.

In 1894 a pointed minaret was added to the bell tower, at the behest of an architect named Gardes, who was also responsible for the Xa Tay Palace, the building that now houses the Municipal Peopleís Committee.The cathedral is a lot smaller than those in France, but it was the largest in the French empire.The interior is very large: the principal shrine and two additional bays are 93m long, and reach 35m in width at one point.The semi-circular shrine at the rear seats a choir during services, and there are five chapels.The walls are made of Bien Hoa granite, combined with red tiles from Marseilles, all without coating.Red tiles from France were also used on the roofs, but they were later replaced with tiles of equal quality from Phu Huu.Natural light streams in through stained-glass windows which were made by the Lorin company from the French town of Sartre.

ducba04.gif (17028 bytes)The whole building is well-ventilated thanks to a system of air-holes placed above and under the windows.The belfry is 57m high. For a long time it was the highest structure in the city centre, and was the first thing an arriving traveller would see when approaching the city by boat.The cathedral bells weigh a combined 28,850kg.In 1885, the floor was taken apart and new pillars were added, because the original foundation could not bear the cathedralís weight. Stepping inside the cathedral, tourists see a line of Chinese characters eulogising the Jesusí mother, "the innocent and unblemished Virgin Mother", and stained-glass portraits of Vietnamese believers amid Asiatic plants.On the square in front of the cathedral, there is a statue of the Virgin Mother made of white marble, symbolising peace. All told, itís an unusual building: a Western architectural and religious style that has been transplanted into, and adapted to, the East.The colonisers were trying to impose French beliefs and customs onto Viet Nam; but once that culture arrived on Asiaís shores, it took on a life of its own.The cathedral is seen as a unique synthesis, adding an unmistakable Oriental flavour to an ancient Occidental recipe.


Ben Duoc Monument (Ho Chi Minh City) :
Built in Cu Chi, a land famous for its underground tunnels, about 700 km from Ho Chi Minh City, the Ben Duoc Monument to the War Martyrs is a harmonious architectural complex. The monument is dedicated to the war martyrs from 40 cities and provinces, who laid down their lives on the battle fields in Saigon - Cho Lon - Gia Dinh during the anti-French and US resistance wars for national independence and freedom.

The monument is built according to the design of a traditional Vietnamese temple. It has a three-door gate. In the main shrine are worshipped 44,357 martyrs and heroic mothers whose name are carved on marble plates and gilted wuth gold. On the ground floor, a mini-mock up, pictures, and many other show pieces about the hard life and battles of the army men and local people during the wars are displayed.

There is also a nine-storey tower, 39 m high, surrounded with gardens with flowers that blossom all the year round and with diverse kinds of ornamental plants.

Since its establishment in 1995 the monument has welcomed thousands of visitors, both domestic and foreign, especially on Martyrs' Day - July 27 - who come to enjoy the local scenery and show their respect to the national heroes.

Oldest building (Ho Chi Minh City) :
Saigon's oldest house is located on the premises of the Bishop's Office, which is on 180 Nguyen Dinh Trieu Street, District No.3 It has been renovated several times; the last renovation being in 1980, but its original shape and appearance from two hundred years ago has not changed. At the end of the 18th century, mandarins of the Nguyen regime often lived in houses of a similar design. The house has three sections and two outbuildings, A system of short beams and yin-yang tiles are incorporated in the traditional Vietnamese wooden architec ture and its walls were once made of diagonally-placed wooden planks. These walls provided not only good protection but also effective ventilation to the house. After 1945 the wood walls were replaced with brick ones because the wood had been eaten by termites and woodworms. During restoration in 1980, workers removed inner worm-eaten parts of pillars and filled them with reinforced concrete. However they kept the cracked wooden surface of these pillars intact so that they still looked old. They also raised the bases of the pillars by 30 centimetres.

Nguyen Anh later King Gia Long, had this house built as a residence for Pierre Pigneau de Behaine, Bishop of Adran, in 1790. The bishop had supported Nguyen Anh in his fight against the Tay Son peasant movement. In this house the bishop also tutored Prince Canh, Nguyen Anh's son. Originally the house was located near the Thi Nghe waterway, in the area of the present Thao Cam Park. In 1799, after Pierre Pigneau died, another French bishop took over the house, but between 1811 and 1864 it was closed because the Hue Royal Court banned Catholicism. After the reign of Tu Duc a later Nguyen king signed a treaty with the French and the house was handed over to the Bishop's Office and then moved to Alexandre de Rhodes Street, near the Cathedral. In 1900, the house was moved, along with the Bishop's Office, to the current site. It is now used as a prayer house.

Much is to be learnt from viewing this well restored house, because its original condition has remained unchanged. Unfortunately the original shape of some other historic buildings in Saigon has been distorted because of poor restoration work.

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