This long day trip out of Hue is one for the history buffs, especially for going to some of the major sites of the Vietnam-American War. Not far north of Hue are the towns and places around the old de-militarised zone which split north and south Vietnam. Most of these places were household names in the USA in the late 1960s as they appeared on their TV screens each evening.
First stop were the towns of Quang Tri and Dong Ha (in South Vietnam), both of which were pretty much obliterated by both sides as they changed hands a few times. They were both taken by the NVA and VC in the 1968 Tet Offensive, and then one piece of information I did not know, was that the NVA completely took over the area in 1972 to form new unofficial boundaries, and this was before the US had left the war completely. Next stop was the Ben Hai River, where North and South Vietnam were officially divided by agreements made in 1954 when North Vietnam became independent of France. The borders were always meant to be temporary, but agreements as per usual fell through. At Ben Hai River now, there is a new road bridge, but the old one can still be walked upon. It has been re-built, with a monument on the southern end of it. However, the old colours have gone. It was once painted half in red and half in yellow. No points for guessing which half was in red!
Next stop were the incredible Vinh Moc Tunnels. Vinh Moc was the site of a village just in the northern half of Vietnam. It was bombed repeatedly by the US, because the villagers were rightly suspected of helping the NVA get weapon supplies out to a strategic island nearby. The NVA came in and helped the villagers to build these extensive tunnels which are pretty much like they were in 1966. They have not been widened for tourists like up in Cu Chi, but then again they do not need to be. As they were built for civilian use, and whole families lived down here, they are quite comfortable for walking in - well at least for Nancy they were, it was still bump the head time for me. The Vietnamese are rather small adults! Still must have been pretty claustrophobic for the families who lived in the very small sidings in the tunnels, sometimes up to five days at a time, while the US were bombing from airplanes or from warships. It was pretty amazing to emerge from these tunnels straight on to the beach at a depth of 23m down a cliff from where we started!
From the tunnels we drove towards the Troung Son Mountains on the edge of the border with Laos. The DMZ was certainly an incredible irony in history. This became one of the heaviest militarised regions in the world, and the mountain ranges were witness to some of the heaviest fighting, the most casualties on both sides, and scenes of blanket napalming and scorched earth. It is amazing that nature is re-claiming much of it at all, but much of it is still a no go area for humans as is witnessed by the number of people still dying today from UXO. Incredibly, some people here who still die are those taking the risk to collect scrap metal from the old bombs!
We passed what was left of famous US bases such as Doc Mieu and The Rockpile, and also Dakrong Bridge where the Ho Chi Minh Trail passed through supplying NVA weapons to the south. This of course was a major reason why the US and the South saw this as a strategic place for having bases.
Finally, we came to one of the most famous places in the war, Khe Sanh. (All those down under know the Cold Chisel song). This was a massive US base from 1966-1968. The NVA launched a seige here as a diversion to the Tet campaign of 1968. The US finally broke the siege after 75 days, but not before having their biggest losses of the war, at around 500. The NVA lost over 10,000! In the end, the US pulled their forces out anyway just a few months later, saying it was no longer necessary to hold that area! Now all that remains are a few old tanks and helicopters, a small museum and what is left of the famous runway where B52s used to thunder in under fire from NVA missiles fired in from as far as Laos. It is actually a pretty peaceful place now surrounded by coffee plantations and forest.
Then it was the long trip back to Hue, and getting ready for our long train trip north tomorrow.
Just a note to add that we surpassed 20,000kms today! This is our whole journey in Africa and Asia by road, rail or boat, so not counting flights. And to show how much we have slowed down in SE Asia, this part of the journey is only 7,700kms, and we have been here many more weeks than the time we spent in Africa.