The DMZ

Dong Hoi Travel Blog

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Those sleeper buses are not made for the taller man, let me tell you that much!  My knees throbbed after that, but at least we were almost in Hue.  We were actually a good way out in a place called Dong Hoi for breakfast. 

 

A Vietnamese guy approached us and I was thinking *big sigh* ‘Here we go again....’, but this time it was something of actual interest to me.  He was offering us an unofficial guided tour of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).  I had read up in Lonely Planet that the tours operate from Hue (90km away) and I really wanted to do it.  This was a perfect opportunity and at a better price.  The man spoke very fluent English, so I thought ‘why not?’  Lori was quite keen too, so we accepted the offer. 

 

Up here in Dong Hoi (up from Da Nang, where the American’s first landed) saw a lot of the fierce fighting.  As a result of that, the area has a scattering of abandoned bases and other remnants of the war.

 

Huo’s first stop was at one of these abandoned American bases and you could see the over-growth everywhere.  He narrated the history very well and took us to points of interest and described the war in a way you could imagine it being.  He also stopped us at a few point to show us holes in the ground where mines had exploded.  We were in a mine field!  Luckily, Huo had obviously done this several times before and knew where the problems were, and actually pointed out to us a few unexploded bombs!!!  No way was I going to deviate from the path, and it was all a bit much for Lori, who routed herself to the spot and refused to venture further in.  Who could blame her?  I got a few photos by one of the bunkers before rejoining her.

 

The next stop was Tuong Son National Cemetery.  This contained the graves of hundreds of Northern Vietnamese soldiers with the rebels being taken back down south, and the Americans shipped back to their homeland.  In the main, they are unmarked graves as identification papers were either destroyed or illegible from the combat.  Most read ‘Chua Biet Ten’ which translates as Unknown Soldier, and ‘Liet Sy’ which means martyr.

 

Some graves actually do have more identification from the information found on official papers held by the soldiers, whilst others (in black) have full identification as the grave has been identified by a fortune teller conning the ones who needed closure.

There are some mass graves as well.  These contain nine bodies as nine is a lucky number in Vietnam (much like seven is for the English).

 

Our next stop was at a monument  strategically positioned where the Americans had a look out tower over the DMZ to the North-South divide.  The monument has three figures: one representing the NVA (North Vietnamese Army); one for the Gorillas from the south; and these two figure are united in the middle by a woman, all against America.

 

The Ben Hai River is what actually separates the North from the South, and these are connected by the Hien Luong Bridge across the river.  Each side of the bridge was the site of border control.  In 1954, people actually chose whether to live in the colonial French south, or the communist North.  In 1956, there was to be a general election uniting the country, but this never materialised when the Americans stepped in to stop the spread of communism.  Ho Chi Minh was tipped to have united Vietnam under the communist blanket, and Laos and Cambodia were likely to follow suit.  This was a huge problem for America.

 

A second monument has been placed at the border.  This is a statue of a woman holding a baby and is supposed to represent the waiting from 1954 to 1956 for their men to return.  Of course, without the country uniting, the waiting period was significantly increased until 1975 when the Americans finally accepted defeat. 

 

There are huge speakers erected on either side of the border.  Back in the times of the divided nation, each would be blaring out propaganda for their respective party.

Police stations had been erected as well for border control, and each side had their own flag pole.  This actually got competitive and each side would attempt to out do the other by flying their respective flag that little bit higher. 

 

We had a short stop in the war museum, which had several pictures of the events Huo had described to us, before driving on to the Vinh Moc Tunnels.

 

In the prime time, there were 114 tunnels in total dug over three levels.  The first level is 12m deep and stored the food; the second level at 15m, was where families lived in relative safety, away from the bombs; and the third level at 23 m deep, stored the weapons sent in from supporting Russia and China.

 

It was cramped and there were extremely rare moments where I could stand up straight!  It made it difficult to imagine life in the tunnel under those conditions, but I guess that’s what you’ve got to do to survive. 

 

Our final stop of the day was at the beach.  It was just me and Lori with the entire stretch of beach to ourselves!  The sea was very choppy given that a hurricane was about to hit Nha Trang, but that didn’t stop us wading in for a splash around.

 

The mopeds took us back to Dong Hoi and from the Huo sorted us out with a bus to Hue.  I felt like a true discoverer on this day.  I’d certainly got well off the beaten path; made friends with the locals; and best of all, I had seen no other tourists at all pre-tunnels, and even then there wasn’t many.  It was a fascinating day.

 

We sorted ourselves out with somewhere to stay and went to get some food.  We then saw Wayne and Steph passing, so grabbed them for a chat over a few drinks.  We agreed to meet up again the next day, but me and Lori had booked a boat trip, and so it would have to be when we got back.  I was in good spirits and instantaneously liked Hue.

matthew says:
definitely worth it. Negotiate a price with a local guide if poss, and do it separately from the tours. You will see a whole different side of things
Posted on: Jul 17, 2012
Machadaynu says:
Thanks for the info on the Dmz. This is exactly what I want to see in Vietnam.
Posted on: Jul 17, 2012
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Dong Hoi
photo by: Ils1976