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Published: January 12th 2008
Following our travels from Hoi An, Vietnam, we took the 3 hour train north to the city of Hue. Not only was it originally the imperial city of ancient Vietnam, it was a city under siege for one solid month during the Vietnam War (or, the American War, as it's called here!) The train followed the coastline north winding over a mountain pass to the city. We stayed in a guesthouse run by a local family. The elderly uncle we met one night was previously a language professor at the local university. He thought we were French at first and started conversing with us in French and then switched to English. Among the sites tourists see here are the royal tombs along the Perfume River, a visit to the Citadel, and a trip north to visit the DMZ Zone, the area which separated North and South Vietnam during the war.
As Dennis is a military history buff, we booked a private tour to visit the DMZ Zone. Our guide was assigned as a scout to the U.S. military based in the area for six months and then became a lieutenant in the South Vietnamese army after the U.S. left Vietnam.
From Danang to Hue, traveling the coast north
He's also the same age as Dennis. We made a stop at the Con Tien Fire Base, which was considered the second line of defense between the north and the south. Most of what existed back then is gone. Only one bunker is left. We walked a designated path to view the bunker. We slogged through the dense overgrowth and in the midday heat, could only imagine what is must have been like for those that were based there. Our guide told us that some of the guys in the service would not take their malaria pills, just so they could get a medical evacuation out of the area. The remains of freshly dug holes exist around the area as locals still attempt to recover unexploded ordinance to sell as scrap metal. We were told by our guide that as many as 1000 rounds a day had been fired into the area. The area around the former base is now full of rubber trees. Along the DMZ we traveled along highways 1 and 9 and visited the Vinh Moc tunnels. These tunnels were located on the coast and were used by civilians in the area during bombing raids and were
Last Bunker Standing
View from Con Thien Firebase in the DMZ
also a supply point for weapons delivered by sea. Our guide also told us the sobering story of his life after the U.S. military left Vietnam which has been very difficult.
From Hue, we booked a flight on Dec. 30th with Vietnam Airlines to fly to Saigon for two nights. We find the planes we've flown to be new and very comfortable with more leg room than the standard U.S. coach seat! We opted to quickly book our flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia from here as the city was a huge urban sprawl. We'd planned to meet up the Aussie/English couple we met in Hoi An and had dinner with them one night. We went out briefly for New Years as the streets were very crowded in our part of town for a big block party.
On to Siem Reap. About 1 million tourists descend on the city each year to visit the temples, so we were not the lone adventurers! We explored the town for a day before committing to the 3 day pass which must be used on consecutive days. It's really difficult to absorb so much without taking a break. The sites are amazing, yet
Cyclo transport around Hue
at times seem to be overrun with busloads of Japanese tourists snapping photos around every corner. Other sites are relatively quiet where you can soak in the surroundings on your own. Considering the recent history with the Khmer Rouge here, we also stopped at the monument at a Bhuddist temple to the victims of the killing fields here in Siem Reap. There are similiar fields throughout the country. The taxi driver shared with us his story as a young boy during those times when he was forced to be a combatant at 16 and had plenty of scars to prove it. We've since traveled by bus for the 6 hour trip south to Phnom Pehn, the capital located on the banks of the Mekong River. We're templed out. However, we did visit the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum which is a former high school taken over by the Khmer Rouge and used as a prison and processing/torture point prior to sending prisoners to the killing fields.
Again, our guide was a ten year old girl in 1975 who also lost family members and shared her personal story with us. So very sad. We've enjoyed meeting all the Cambodian people we've come
across, including the tuk-tuk drivers who try to get your business at every corner! We've also been eating at a local restaurant called Friends. It's operated by one of the many non-government operators (NGO's) here in Cambodia and has great tapas and excellent service. www.streetfriends.org
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