macado's se asia adventure I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.

30Aug/060

No Man’s Land (The Demiliterized Zone)

I didn't really spend much time in Hue though from what i've seen of it it's a decent city.  Very clean with lots of motobike traffic though not anywhere to the extent of Hanoi or Saigon.  I just walked around and went to a few bars, nothing to report.

Before I left Hue I took an all day tour to the DMZ "Demiliterized Zone" which pretty much covers the majority of the famous war sights from the era such as Hamburger Hill, The Rockpile, The Ho Chi Minh Trail (now called Ho Chi Minh Highway), Ben Hai river which basically marked the division of North and South Vietnam almost directly at the 17th parallel, Khe Sanh military base and the town of Dong Ha which has approximately 17,000 people was basically the head of the U.S. marine division during the Vietnam War.  The tour left approximately 6:00AM in the morning and got back around 5:30PM at night.

It started off on Highway 1 which is the main road linking Saigon to Hanoi.  We eventually crossed Ben Hai river and stopped on the Northern side of it to see a small monument and large Vietnamese flagpole.  The monument depicts a Vietnamese mother and son on the south side of the river waving at the father (who is persumably a North Vietnamese soldier) on the opposite side. After this we moved along to our first destination, the Vinh Moc tunnels.

Unlike the Cu Chi tunnels near Saigon, the Vinh Moc tunnels are unmodified and have not been made enlarged to fit fat western tourists.  They were built entirely by the Vietnamese people to escape the constant shelling and bombing in the area. We spent about 20 minutes walking inside just a small percentage of the kilometers of tunnels present.  They're very dark and cramped with the exception of a few lights guiding the way.

Although the DMZ was essentially declared a fire free zone on both sides of the border this was far from what actually happened. The DMZ was one of the most heavily bombed and mined areas in Vietnam.  According to our tour guide approximately 10 people/per month just in the town of Dong Ha still die from landmines. All along the border, craters are still evident in the rice paddies beside the roads while in Dong Ha you can see huge eucalyptus groves which are also remnants left over from the war.  It's a pretty strange sight.  All over the mountains you can also see huge patches where trees and foliage once grew but are now baron due to the chemicals such as Agent Orange which were used for defoliating the hills so the Viet Cong and NVA couldn't hide out.

Later on we passed some of the other famous war sights such as the Rockpile, another famous helicopter/artillery base though there's not much left of it these days. Lastly, we headed to the Khe Sanh Combat Base. One of the most remote and famous military bases for the U.S. marines.  During January 1968, American intelligence had assumed the Vietnamese were planning "another Dien Bien Phu" (famous battle where the Vietnamese ultimately defeated the French in 1954) when N. Vietnamese forces began increasing around the base and they were determined that the base would not fall.  As a result, the base was heavily armed and occupied to prevent it's takeover.  Later on it was learned that this was a major error in U.S. intelligence. With the help of this massive diversion, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong launched the Tet Offensive overrunning Saigon in 3 days until it was later re-occupied again by the Americans and the South Vietnamese army.  Eventually after heavily fighting and bombing the Khe Sanh base was later abandoned in June of 1968.

That's about it. Along the way back we also passed a few minority tribe villages where the bus was surrounded by about 20 little kids trying to beg for money.  The tour itself was pretty impressive if you're interested in the Vietnam war.  It quite strange to hear it from a Vietnamese perspective rather than reading about it from my Political Science books.  Highly recommended if you like that sort of thing but it could also be pretty boring since it's quite a lot of driving before you get anywhere.