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DMZ (Vietnam)

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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 km on either side of the Ben Hai River, roughly on the 17th parallel north 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.

Understand

While the actual border was marked by the Ben Hai river, most historical sights (i.e., American bases) are along Highway 9, which runs parallel to the river several km to the south. This road runs to the Lao border and continues onward.

Get in

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 $10 to $15 per person, but be forewarned that you will have to get up very early, as the tours usually hit the road at 6 a.m. Expect to return to Hue between 6 and 7 p.m. 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 is 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.

A highly recommended guide for the DMZ tour is Mr. Trung, (nguyenvantrung101052@yahoo.com) based in Hue City. He was a soldier who saw duty in the final years of the war, and has many personal stories to share. He seems to be able to answer almost any question on the subject. His English is pretty good, too. He can often be found at You and Me Restaurant, at 38 Tran Cao Van, or at Minh and Coco Restaurant, 1 Hung Vuong, both in Hue The only downside is that his tours are expensive, if you are travelling alone. This is because his tours are by car, and the cost is $80 for one to three people. If you are a larger group, he will arrange for a minivan, and the price will be a bit higher. Keep in mind that the cost is per vehicle, not per person, so the more people you are, the cheaper it will be.

Get around

Unless you have your own transportation, 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.

See

Arranged in order from east (Vietnamese coast) to west (Lao border):

  • Hien Luong Bridge crosses the Ben Hai River and marks the former border between North and South Vietnam. There is a monument on the north side.
  • Vinh Moc Tunnels where an entire village live for two and a half years. 17 babies were born in the tunnels. There is a small but informative musuem here, with photos of the construction of the tunnels, and of daily life underground.
  • Truong Son National Cemetery is Vietnam's national war cemetery.
  • Camp Carroll is located south of the highway near Cam Lo village. A small monument features a caricatured depiction of a defeated American soldier.
  • The Rockpile was a Marine outpost built on top of a huge outcropping. Though it's inaccessible, it's a prominent sight from the highway.
  • Dak Rong Bridge is midway along Highway 9, and is the starting point of Highway 15, which leads south to the A Shau valley and the infamous "Hamburger Hill". Though not entirely legitimate, there is a monument commemorating it as a point on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, (called Đường Trường Sơn in Vietnam).
  • Khe Sanh, just east of the Lao border, was the site of a U.S. base which fell under attack in 1968. The old airfield of red dirt still remains.

Do

Buy

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.

Eat

Drink

Sleep

Get out

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