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.
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.
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.
You can do this DMZ day trip tour in Hue. If you are heading south, stop off in Dong Ha for the tour. You should do the private ones which are much more comfortable and faster because it is a long drive to reach the two main stops of the tour; Khe Sanh Combat Base and the Vinh Moc tunnel ( some over 200 miles ). A guided tour is recommended because there is not much left to see there so a knowlegble tour guide will tell you the history of the Vietnam War as well as that of big battles occuring in the area below the DMZ like Khe Sanh, Con Thien or Camp Carroll. A very highly recommeded guide for this area is Mr. Vu ( E-mail: [email protected] Cell phone: 0905 140 600 ). His area of expertise is the old battlefield around the DMZ. He is idiomatically fluent in English and is tremendously knowledgeable about the area, the Vietnam War, the DMZ and the people involved. He has certainly earned his reputation for being “famous”. There is nothing about the DMZ, Khe Sanh, battles that took place, who led them etc, that this guy didn’t know. He was absolutely amazing, his English was excellent. He is a private guide and the tour operator for the DMZ area.
Another highly recommended guide for the DMZ tour is Mr. Trung, ([email protected]) 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.
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.
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.