Cu Chi is known for its immense network of connecting tunnels remaining from the Vietnam war. But it’s also a lovely district of Southern Vietnam, about two hours from Saigon. A beautiful place to escape from the urban life.
When you’re in love with New Zealand and your ultimate dream is to move there, it often means you’re not a city person. Nevertheless, we’ve been living in big cities for now more than six years. In Hong Kong, we managed to live in the countryside, right by the beach. But now in Ho Chi Minh City, it’s a whole different story. Or so we thought. The more we explore, the more we are surprised about our discoveries. Obviously, there’s no way to live on the beach here. But driving about two hours from the city could make you end up spending the weekend with sheep and turkeys in a beautiful garden, surrounded by rice fields.
A weekend trip from Saigon : Chillin’ in Cu Chi
As I mentioned above, Cu Chi is mainly known for its tunnels, so most people go there on a day trip from Saigon. Which would be a shame, as it means spending a minimum of four hours driving within a day, when you could be enjoying some peace and quiet in the nature instead.
Where is Cu Chi ? How to get there ?
Cu Chi is a rural district of Southern Vietnam situated about 35kms Northwest of Ho Chi Minh City.
You can get there by public bus, speedboat or with a private driver. You can also rent a car or a motorbike and drive there yourself. But don’t forget you’re one of Asia’s biggest cities -with roads insanely busy with traffic. Chances are that you’ll rather just sit and relax then dealing with the itinerary and the congestion. If you want to ride a motorbike, you’d better rent it from Cu Chi, to explore locally.
The traffic can be (very) bad in HCMC, so depending on the time you leave -and on your luck-, it can take from 1h45 to 3h to get to Cu Chi. Don’t do the same rookie mistake as us, leaving after 9am. Go either before 7am or after 2pm. And cross you fingers…
Private car from Saigon to Cu Chi : approx. 700.000VND.
discovering a franco vietnamese resort in the middle of nowhere
To be completely honest, we didn’t drive from Saigon all the way to Cu Chi to visit the tunnels. We came to treat ourselves with a stay in a beautiful yet very laid-back resort run by May and Marcel, a Vietnamese couple who lived in France for 40 years. This place has a great reputation amongst expats in Saigon, so we figured, what are we waiting for?
After close to three hours into a ridiculous traffic jam, we were almost there -and thinking “we are going to Les Hameaux de l’Orient for the first time, that’s cool, but never again!”. So annoyed about that endless drive, the stupid traffic, the horns, and Noah who was getting impatient -with good reasons-, while I was getting super hungry and, and…
Bienvenue aux Hameaux de l’Orient Thon Kinh Dong
The second we passed the resort’s gates, we forgot all about that terrible journey. With ponds, lilies, palm trees, swings in the trees and more beauty than I can quote, the garden is worthy of a luxurious resort. And the best thing is, it is not a luxurious resort. May and Marcel run Les Hameaux de l’Orient like a family business, it’s friendly and very chill’. Besides from hosting travellers, it’s also a senior residence. Many people come to retire in this little piece of heaven, and we can get why. It feels like time has stopped here.
Coming from the city, this is a perfect weekend trip from Saigon. There’s more than enough space for the kids to run, there are bicycles for the whole family, toys, animals and a beautiful pool -which we had for ourselves most of the time. The restaurant is served on a cantine concept : everyone eats the same meal -if you’re vegetarian, please mention it to the staff. It’s usually Vietnamese for lunch and French for dinner. The quality is unbelievable, it feels like eating at grandma’s place. It’s cooked with love, and you can taste it.
We stayed in a classic room for 38$ -the cheapest. It’s got all the basics, with a garden view and a nice terrace with lounge chairs. There are also superior rooms, duplex suites and family rooms. You’ll find all the infos on their website. Don’t hesitate to contact them by email, they can also help you arranging your transportation from Ho Chi Minh City.
the infamous cu chi tunnels
The Cu Chi tunnel network is an extensive labyrinth of underground tunnels stretching all the way to the Cambodian border -we’re talking 250kms of tunnels. During the American War, they assumed huge strategic importance to the Viet Cong fighting troops and played a major role in helping the Vietnamese win against the American insurgents. Believe it or not, there were hospitals, theatres, schools, kitchens, all built into this extraordinary tunnel system. Cu Chi was also used as a base for sabotage teams and intelligence agents to infiltrate Saigon.
When we realised there were only 20 minutes away from Les Hameaux de l’Orient we hopped on a bike and went exploring. I was afraid to run into one of these “must see” places now packed with buses and buses of tourists, but when we got there, it was just us. After a ten minutes walk in the jungle, we joined a group with a guide to get into the tunnels -about 10-15 people only. I’m not usually claustrophobic but the experience of getting into one of these tunnels with people walking in front of you, and some others behind you, being stuck in between, without seeing the end of it -it can be frightening. I spent the whole time asking G “Do you see the light? And now, do you see the light? Is it over yet?”. Seconds feel like minutes inside, and minutes like hours. Very interesting to visit and to know more about the Vietnam war history, but truly nerve-racking.
We spent about two hours exploring, then were offered some cassava with sesame salt in the end. Around the tunnels, you can also observe some remains of the war -airplane, helicopter, tank.
The entrance fee is 80.000VND per person.
exploring Cu chi countryside by bicycle
The highlights of our weekend trip in Cu Chi were our little bicycle trips around Les Hameaux de l’Orient. On the road to nowhere. Rice fields, water buffalos, giant trees, beautiful trails, and, on the road, just us. And these precious moments of happiness.
Cu Chi can actually be an excellent base to go on long bicycle trips. We’ve hesitated to ride further away, then we remembered I was a little bit too pregnant -and with the heat, we didn’t want to take any risks. Especially being two hours away from the hospital.
If we have the chance, we will definitely come back with the kids to explore more and enjoy the slow pace of Southern Vietnam’s countryside.