The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

Dong Ha Travel Blog

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I decided to break this journal into 3 sections, as I seemingly had 3 separate experiences in Vietnam, hence the name The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  The former DMZ falls into the category as the Ugly for sure.  Its not that the current area is unattractive; quite the opposite.  But the history of this war-ravaged area and its brutal destruction highlight the ugliness of war.  The DMZ also marks the dividing line between the former North and South Vietnam nations.  Its not uncommon to see craters the size of swimming pools dotted all over the DMZ.  Keep in mind that these holes still exist from bombs that were dropped 35-40 years ago.  The great irony about the name of the former dividing line is that it was actually the most heavily militarized zone for much of the conflict....

We stayed in the faceless town of Dong Ha.  We found this to be the town in the middle of nowhere.  It was the only place in my 2 months in Vietnam where I had trouble finding a proper meal.  Food is the one consistent thing in Vietnam; its fresh, healthy, tasty and inexpensive.  Not in Dong Ha, where we had trouble finding beef that didn't resemble chewing gum.  Once we found motorbikes to rent, and that was no easy task, we set out for 2 days of exploration.

The first day we found a military cemetary and a few former battlefields.  At the sites of these former bases you can still find remains of the war, including empty shells and even UXO (unexploded ordinances).  Its for this reason that you must be extremely careful to stay on well-travelled paths.  There are still millions of tons of UXO all over Southeast Asia and its for this reason that Cambodia and Vietnam lead the world in amputees.  Even 35-40 years after this war, victims are still being claimed each year by landmines and UXO. 

Later in the day we visited the Vinh Moc tunnels.  These suckers are the real deal.  The North Vietnamese created an underground network that enabled them to keep out of the view of the South Vietnamese and transport people and supplies to the south.  While these tunnels are by no means tiny, its hard to imagine people living underground for years.  Children were even delivered in these impressive chambers.  After the tunnels, we rode down the coastline, which resembled the Pacifc Northwest more than Southeast Asia, with its Pine Trees and cool breezes. 

The second day we went across the country (east to west) on some of the finest roads you'll find anywhere.  Not only were the views fascinating, but the road condition was perfect.  We made it to the Lao border in just a few hours, then turned back and made our way to Khe Sahn, home of one of the bloodiest battles in the Vietnam conflict.  The museum was humbling, but the commentary in the guest book was enough to make your blood boil. 

(Rant) Whether you agree with the United States' involvement in Vietnam is not the point of visiting a war museum.  There really are no right and wrong answers as to what happened in the Vietnam conflict.  Its a matter of opinion and we are all entitled to ours.  What's important is to try to see others' points of view and to understand why someone may be speaking from a pro or anti-war viewpoint.  And most importantly its to mourn the loss of those who sacrificed their lives for their cause, whether it be freedom or otherwise.  But of course, I read guest commentaries calling the United States terrorists and claiming they were no better than the Germans of the 2nd World War.  This got me to thinking about the ignorance of people in general.  And these comments came from people that are supposedly open-minded (travellers).  Its very popluar to be anti-American right now, especially when you visit the sites of former battlefields where millions (that's right, millions) were killed, many of them civilians.  But who started the war?  Did the North Vietnamese not invade the south in hopes of 'liberating' it?  The horrors of war can not be debated.  I don't think a sane person in the world would say that 10% of a population dying or being injured by warfare is a good thing.  But imagine that the place in which you live, (presumably its a free society) is now being overtaken by a neighboring country who wants to control you and take away your rights, or there's a coup from within.  Would you not fight for your freedom?  And if you were overmatched, would you not welcome assistance in the struggle for your freedom?  Vietnam was the most contreversial war in modern history, and has capitvated the interests of so many people for a reason..... its because there are no simple answers.

Finally, we made our way back across the country and stopped in many small villages and at various former battlegrounds and army camps.  There's not really much left, but we were able to find some reminants of the war and when you sit quietly and listen to the birds and the gentle breeze hush over the hillside, its absolutley mindblowing to imagine there the brutality that took place on the same ground.  The DMZ is not visited by many and the local towns may not make it the most comfortable of visits, but it was, without a doubt, one of the most important and rewarding parts of my journey thru Vietnam...
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Dong Ha
photo by: vidalibre