Vietnam's Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, is the area around the former border between North and South Vietnam. Historically it was a narrow band of terrain extending from the Laos border to the coast, five kilometres on either side of the Ben Hai River, roughly on the 17th parallel north of latitude.
The area saw heavy fighting in the war, and ruins of old American military bases still exist. Even if you're not interested in the history, the area has some spectacular mountain scenery and rugged jungles.
While the actual border was marked by the Ben Hai river, most historical sights (eg American bases) are along Highway 9, which runs parallel to the river several kilometres to the south. This road runs to the Lao border and continues onward.
The area's only major city is Dong Ha, on the coast. It's on Highway 1, and easily accessible from Hue and Da Nang. Lots of travel agents in Hue offer convenient day trips. Bus tours can be arranged just about anywhere in Hue. They are cheap at USD10-15 per person, but be forewarned that you will have to get up very early, as the tours usually hit the road at 06:00. Expect to return to Hue between 18:00 and 19:00. You will also find yourself herded back on to the bus to continue to the next stop, only to find yourself waiting for some stragglers. It can get crowded in the Vinh Moc Tunnels if your bus group is large.
You can go by car, which can be expensive, but if it's raining, which it often is, you'll be glad you did. Also, private tours can bring you to some places where the big buses and large groups don't go. Tours by motorbike can be arranged, but unless you are a diehard, you may find yourself exhausted when you return, as you may cover as much as 300 km round trip. If you want a motorbike tour, it may be better to spend a night in Dong Ha, and make your arrangements there.
If you book your tour through your hotel, it will probably cost more, as the hotel takes a commission.
Unless you have your own transport, you'll need to hire a taxi or take a guided tour to see the sights. Some local tour operators offer motorcycle trips along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
You can go to Tam's Cafe and ask for several options for DMZ tours, from renting a motorbike to hiring a motorbike with a driver to renting a car. Information on tours can be found at www.tamscafe.co.nr. If no options work for you, Tam will recommend you to the bus tour service where you can buy a ticket and enjoy the tour with other 29 clients.
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Arranged in order from east (Vietnamese coast) to west (Lao border):
Though you'll probably encounter vendors selling GI dogtags, lighters, and other paraphernalia, you can be sure that none of them are genuinely from the war.
When you get into Dong Ha city, there are several places you can visit to purchase things. Quang Tri is famous for pepper bean and Arabica coffee. You can buy these products in Dong Ha Market, just next to the Dong Ha bridge, right on the Highway 1.
There are quite a lot of street bars and riverside bars where you can get beers and beer food. These are with plastic chairs and tables. Common beers are Huda (from Hue city), Saigon, Hanoi, and La Rue (from Da Nang). Seafood by the riverside bars is wonderful such as lemongrass-steamed clam (Ngao hap), fried squirt (Muc chien gion)or grilled squirt (muc tuoi nuong).
Most people sleep in Hue and visit the DMZ on organized daily tours. A convenient alternative is to stay in Dong Ha, the closest city to the DMZ. Especially if you plan to visit the DMZ on your own, Dong Ha will be a good base for exploration.
You can either move to discover Phong Nha cave in Quang Binh province or to enjoy your next days in Hue city. Other than that, you can take a bus and get to Laos from Dong Ha city. If you are in Dong Ha and want a bus to Laos, Tam's Cafe can book tickets to Savannakhet, Pakse, Thakhet and Vientiane and give you good advice on dealing with visa on arrival to Laos and other tips.