Vinh Moc Tunnels: Life in Vietnam’s Underground Village

Family of four crammed into small alcove at Vinh Moc Tunnels, Vietnam

At the first sight of enemy aircraft, the watchman hammered out a rhythm on the hunk of bomb casing. The clanking of the homemade gong warned the villagers of the impending attack as they ran for the nearest trench. Hidden beneath the undergrowth, the trenches led to the tunnels where families could safely wait out the air strike. The Vinh Moc tunnels served as a bomb shelter and underground village for the people living through some of the heaviest bombardment of the Vietnam War.

Verdant, well hidden trenches at Vinh Moc Tunnels, Vietnam

The Trenches at Vinh Moc

Exploring Vinh Moc Tunnels

As we entered the tunnels, we stooped low, trying not to crack our heads on the ceiling. “These tunnels were made for Vietnamese” our guide, Hai, explained cheerfully. She remained upright throughout, a luxury not afforded to us western giants. Around the entrance, we saw shovel marks in the clay, a reminder that this vast tunnel network had all been dug by hand. Descending into the darkness, we were hit by a wall of heat. On a chilly grey day, the constant warm humidity of the tunnels was greatly appreciated.

Figures of mother, baby and midwife in maternity room at Vinh Moc Tunnels, Vietnam

The Maternity Room

Reaching the second level, around 15 metres down, we found the residential area. Here small alcoves had been cut into the walls, one for each family. Barely able to fit all 3 of us into an alcove, we concluded the families must have been crammed in like sardines. Not the most comfortable place to spend what could be days at a time underground. In the midst of this family area, we saw the maternity room. No bigger than the other alcoves, a total of 17 babies were born in this room during the war.

Our backs creaked with the strain of being bent double as we felt our way along the clammy walls. It was a relief to enter the relative brightness of the meeting room.  This was the largest room and the only place we could stand up straight. This wider stretch of tunnel was also used as a classroom for children during longer stays underground.

Long, narrow meeting room at Vinh Moc Tunnels, Vietnam

Vinh Moc's Meeting Room

The Deepest Tunnels

We then ventured even deeper, down a narrow, broken staircase. Thankfully the broken areas were slightly better lit and we made it safely to the third and final level. This was the best place for the well, which was on the verge of overflowing when we saw it. The shower room was conveniently located next to this water supply, with drainage channels flowing to the sea.

Although we found Vinh Moc tunnels very cramped, they had been designed for civilians and were considered spacious. The tunnels used by the soldiers further south at Cu Chi were tiny in comparison.

Steps down to narrow entrance at Vinh Moc Tunnels, Vietnam

One of 13 Tunnel Entrances

Why Bother Building Vinh Moc Tunnels?

During the Vietnam war, American forces turned the DMZ on the border between North and South Vietnam into a barren no man's land. Vinh Moc, just north of the border, was heavily bombed. Many evacuated to safety beyond the range of the American artillery and the cross hairs of their bombers. Some remained to defend their homes and maintain vital supply lines.

North Vietnam had an important military base on nearby Con Co Island. Brave volunteers from Vinh Moc would make the dangerous journey to the island.  Disguised as fishermen they rowed 28km off shore to deliver supplies to the soldiers stationed there. It's this supply line, part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail of the sea, that made this area a prime target for American bombardment. The people who remained at Vinh Moc dug the tunnels in order to survive this onslaught.

Blowing Up Vinh Moc Tunnels

Confounded by the Vietnamese tunnel networks, American forces developed ways to destroy them from the air. The villagers lived in fear of bombs that could burrow down into the tunnels before exploding. One of these drilling bombs did manage to pierce a tunnel at Vinh Moc while the residents were sheltering in their deepest bomb shelter. Luckily it failed to explode. The villagers did however appreciate the additional ventilation shaft created by the bomb.

Pagoda covering a fake well at Vinh Moc Tunnels, Vietnam

Air Vent Disguised as a Well

How to Get to the Vinh Moc Tunnels

The nearest town to Vinh Moc is Dong Ha. Day trips can also be arranged from Hue.

A DMZ tour is a good way to see the numerous sites in this area. Vinh Moc Tunnels are a definite highlight of any DMZ tour.

The cheapest option is a group bus tour but if you would rather see things in your own time, it might be better to hire a car and driver. If you go for the car option, it is worth spending the extra to have a local guide accompany you.

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