The Demilitarized Zone

July 10, 2007

We arrived in Dong Ha at night and found the DMZ Cafe, a cafe known in the Lonely Planet for an excellent tour that covers the Demilitarised Zone just north of Dong Ha.

We decided to book a two day tour that would cost $30US each, this also covered hiring motorbikes to get around the sites of interest. I would hire a bike for myself, while Sam would ride with the tour guide. We read that the bus tours from Hue meant that we would not see anything, so that is why we thought we would spend a little more and get a better experience.

Mr Tinh, is the owner of the DMZ cafe and he came and explained the sites on the first day. He was an interpreter for the American 101st Airborne Division so he knew practically everything around the area.

After starting early at around 6am, we had breakfast of Pho Ga (chicken noodle soup) then rode for an hour to the first of point of interest. It was an American bunker and inside Mr Tinh explained his involvement with the US military, and his perspective on the war.

Although we stood there and patiently listened, we were only managing to understand every 6th or 7th word. But we smiled and nodded.

Afterwards, we went to the Truong Son National Cemetery. It had some very Socialist looking sculptures outside promoting Vietnam power. We wandered around for about half an hour and then we were back on the bikes. This time we would go to see more of the Ho Chi Min Trail.

I enjoyed more of the riding than the seeing the Ho Chi Min Trail again. When we arrived it was just a destroyed bridge and a river there. He explained for the 5 minutes the relevance of the Ho Chi Min Trail and how it benefited the North Vietnamese Army.

We rode for an hour and had lunch down at the beach. I could have gone to sleep then and there as the temperature crept into the high 30s. A short distance away was the Vinnh Moc Tunnels, which would be the most interesting thing we saw all day.

The tunnels were considerably larger than Cu Chi. They were six feet tall and about 5ft wide, but often the tunnels would widen out to about 10ft wide. It was intriguing how the Vietnamese had schools, a hospital, and family rooms. They had also constructed a well to draw water. In time of an air raid there was a tunnel system 22 metres under the ground.No way a bomb could touch the occupants.

The last thing on the agenda was a walk through a mine field to another American bunker. We could have edited this part out of the trip as we weave along a narrow path. To stray from the marked path would be a death wish. At the end of the day we rode back to the DMZ café. We shared dinner with Mr Tinh, and he invited us to a Vietnamese bar.

We didn’t do any drinking however, there was a small group of primary school aged children and a few older ones there too. We sat and tried to teach them English with the aid of our small Vietnamese phrase book. We spent about 3 hours with this small group, they were all keen to learn English. They in turn tried to teach us Vietnamese. I must say out of the languages in South East Asia, Vietnamese is probably the hardest. It’s a tonal language, like Thai and Cambodian, but the sounds come back out the mouth a lot more. Very unnatural.

The next day we visited Khe Sanh Combat Base & Museum with a different guide whose name I forgot. The museum there had a lot of Vietnamese propaganda, portraying their soldiers as heroes and showing the Americans being completely barbaric. We were a little uninspired with this trip, there was a lot of riding around for very little reward.

Reflecting back it was a mixed results at Dong Ha. We organised a good bus to take us to Hanoi. It cost us $15 each, and we were assured of a sleeper bus. In the end when a bus arrived we were told by woman “this your bus,” and we got on naïvely.

Sam spent 12 hours over the rear wheel arch with his spine pressed like a concertina, and I watched my ankles swell. We had been misled—this was a local bus…..The trip to Hanoi was hell.

 Getting map markers...