I was still a little groggy at 7:30 this morning since I just came from a 12 hour bus ride from Hanoi to Hue yesterday. 220000 VND was all I had to pay to get here at Hue City. Bus ride was actually a lot better than I expected. A sleeper bus where you can actually sleep since they were not playing too loud Vietnamese songs is actually heaven already.
The nice receptionist from Grace Hotel booked my Demilitarized Zone tour (DMZ tour) which costs $19, as soon as I arrived yesterday. They get a lot of booking and I was thankful she was able to reserve a slot for me. DMZ is actually in a different province, Quang Tri, and destinations are far from each other so it will be hard for me to travel from Hue to DMZ tour alone.VM Travel is a newly established travel company, but it is well-known for its services like providing private cars with English Speaking drivers and affordable tours from Hue and to other tourist destinations all over Vietnam.
DMZ tour is definitely in my list when I decided to travel Central Vietnam. It holds a very important part of Vietnam’s history. DMZ was then a narrow band of terrain extending from the Laos border to the coast, five kilometers on either side of the Ben Hai River, roughly on the 17th parallel north of latitude that separates North Vietnam and South Vietnam. As part of the Geneva Agreements that were signed during July 1954, the French agreed to withdraw their troops from northern Vietnam. Vietnam would be temporarily divided at the 17th parallel, pending elections within two years to choose a president and reunite the country. The North has their candidate, Ho Chi Minh and the South has Ngô Đình Diệm.
We left Hue by 7:30 am and it was a little past 9 in the morning when we arrived at Dong Ha city where DMZ tour is. Our tour guide was waiting for us in the rain. She introduced herself as Thao, she told us the itinerary for the trip, told us the information needed to enjoy the trip.
Our first stop was a shop where we can buy food and drinks for the trip, and we all needed to use toilet since the ride from Hue to DMZ was quite long.
It is a 45 minute drive via Route 9 to reach The Rock Pile, it was vital then for the United States Army and Marine Corps to encamp in this location for it will not only serve as observation post and artillery base but also prevents them from being easily targeted by the Viet Cong and NVA, lowering the tendency of malaria and wild animal attacks. It was only reachable by helicopter.
The Rockpile (Also known in Vietnamese as Thon Khe Tri)
Reaching the minority village in Da Krong, our tour guide told us that ethnic group was believed to be from Laos and moved to Vietnam and started farming. The farmers used wet seeding which is more suitable for the land and weather conditions. The famous Da Krong Bridge connects Ho Chi Minh Trail. The trail was very important for the North Vietnamese to move supplies, troops and ammunitions to the South. And it is still being use to travel to South until now.
( The Da Krong Bridge which minority ethnic group in the area uses every day to go to neighboring villages in the area uses every day to go to neighboring villages )
We traveled another 30 minutes to get to the KheSanh Combat base. It was raining so hard then that we were only advised to check the museum. The museum is not as big as the other museums in the cities. Tour guide explained that they already move some items to the big museums within Vietnam. What left are some tanks, bunker and helicopters dispersed around the base. KheSanh Battle is known in the world where massive aerial bombardment campaign was launched by the United States Air Force to support the Marine base when being attacked by North Vietnam Army. The bombs dropped were equivalent in destructive force to five Hiroshima-size atomic bombs which then led the whole DMZ not habitable for years due to orange effect. The NVA took over KheSanh after the battle and American forces evacuated to the South.
( One of the aircraft left in KheSanh Base )
Arabica coffee are planted surrounding the camp. Local people harvest and market them to base visitors. It is a must try if you are a coffee lover. For lunch, we had to go back to Dong Ha city and ate a local restaurant were Hue local dishes are being served.
By 1:30 PM, continued our trip to famous VinhMoc Tunnels using the Ho Chi Minh Trail. As we passed the Hien Luong bridge, the guide told us about the history of it. People from the North and South were only allowed to look at each other but they can never meet.Under the Geneva Agreement, North and South can choose their President after two years. During this time, each side wants to paint the bridge with their color of representation. Now, the bridge is painted in two different colors, blue for the North and yellow for the South as a sign of respect and unity between them.
( Hien Luong Bridge half was painted blue and yellow on the other half.)
The bridge is over the Ben Hai River. A flagpole was placed beside the bridge to encourage both sides. Flag was always destroyed, so every day they had to change it and make it bigger. To this time, the flagpole still stands, and it represents the undying fighting spirit of their people to protect their land and family.
After an hour, we finally reached VinhMoc Tunnels. Thao, our guide, led us to the museum first to learn about the history of tunnels before going in. The 3 levels of the tunnel where built within 20 months and sheltered 400-600 villagers from massive bombing during the war. The first level is from 8 to 10 meters deep. But later on, since Americans use powerful bombs, the villagers needed to dig deeper, the second level is from 12 to 15 meters deep and the villagers moved to this level and continue their lives, family rooms were provided, toilet, bathroom, even maternity room was available and educating their people is important so they specifically made a bigger room, which they can use as classroom and as a meeting room. Then dug 30 meter deeper for the third level to transfer weapons to the Con Co island, which is not usually visible if it’s raining.
( Family room inside Vinh Moc where villagers eat, drink and sleep for more than 20 years )
Going in the tunnel is not as challenging as Cu Chi tunnel. The villagers strategically dug these tunnels passage way with 0.9meter × 1.75meters to make it easier for them to run inside the tunnels when their enemy starts dropping bombs. Tunnels were also properly ventilated that we did not sweat while we walk through the different levels. The tunnels have different entrances and exits that were hidden neatly. Some of these exits lead to the beautiful beach of the village and which is also where they transferred the weapons before.
( One of the exits leads to the shore to easily transport weapons to Con Co Island )
We made our last stop at Truong Son cemetery where most of the unknown soldiers were buried. And we head back to Hue. We arrived around 6pm. The driver brought us back to each and everyone’s hotel. DMZ tour is definitely one of the most interesting group tour I’ve ever gone too.