Published: August 2nd 2011July 25th 2011
Reunification monument close-up
If you don't know about history you would never suspect that in the peaceful little strip of land in the surroundings of Dong Ha in Central Vietnam hell was unleashed only 30 years ago. More precisely we are speaking about the infamous DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), the former border between Democratic South and Communist North Vietnam on the 17th parallel, where the red and yellow armies faced (and later nuked) each other from the shores of Ben Hai River.
The name DMZ echoes through countless American war movies and it is actually here where it all happened and the most infamous names of the Vietnam war such as Hamburger Hill and Khe Sanh are all in the nearby surroundings.
Nowadays the untrained eye hardly immagines that this is one of the most bombed strips of land on the planet. Rice and rubberplantantions stretch along the riverside to the beach and the only sound that can be heared is the singing of the birds in the trees. By taking a closer look at the place several big round holes in the floor can be easily identified as bombcraters and by taking an even closer look, one can see that there are
not several but dozens of them.
Also the peaceful atmosphere of the area is mostly superficial considering that the DMZ is still crammed with landmines and casualties here happen on a more frequent base than in any other part of Vietnam. The biggest danger and heritage of the American war anyway does not lie in the ground but rather in the hills and forests stretching through the west of the DMZ to the border with Laos. The infamous Agent Orange, pesticide used by the Americans in order to deforest the thick Vietnamese jungle, left countless mountaintops without any forestation and still caused severe health problems in the population living around this area.
Dong Ha, the major city of the area, lies roughly around 1 hour by motorbike from Hue and therefore a weekend trip was the easiest way to explore the area. Another fact about the DMZ is that the attractions (although few in number) are spread on a relatively big area and therefore the bike was a good idea.
So after all me, THH and two Italian friends went by bike across the small bridge which once marked the border to the Vinh Moc tunnels, a
10.000 north vietnamese graves
village that during American bombing moved literally underground. A complex tunnel system was built which was able to host around 70 families on 20 meters below the surface. Being of a standard European hight the tunnel walk was far from being a please (only THH being a standard sized Vietnamese could happily run and jump in the galleries..). Interesting fact is that a tourguide operating at the site had actually lived in the tunnels as a child.
After a nice seafood dinner and a night at the beach we went westwards the next day, all up to Lao Bao and the Laotian border where a weird huge (but empty) shopping mall sells taxfree goods.. Vietnamese style. People sleeping on the counters and candy is given instead of small change... What to say? We did not really enjoy Lao Bao due to really rude behavior of the locals in a restaurant and even at a gas station, so past Khe Sanh we went back through the mountains in the direction of Hue.
Well if you ever wonder how it looks like to drive a bike in the age of the dinosaurs, thats the way for you. Thick jungle, great
Stefano and the local who lived in the tunnels
mountains, clear rivers and almost no sign of human settlements, some minority villages excluded. Great ride but at times scary (small thoughts of, what if my bike breaks down here?). Funny how to see that as soon as you leave the mountains, you are back in Vietnam. This is due to the fact that the Vietnamese traditionally stay away from the mountains and move to the sea, most of the mountaignards are infact minorities.
After a hard and long ride (in Vietnam 1km counts as 10 in Europe I would say), we finally reached Hue with the famous 'Monkey Ass'.. And i don't to get into more details on that!
There are more photos below