Hue and the DMZ

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November 11th 2010
Published: February 1st 2013
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11th Nov: The bus arrived early in the morning, after an uneventful night. We were drooped in front of a random hotel in the rain. I quickly figured out where my hostel was, a few streets over and headed there. I got checked in, dumped my stuff, and booked a couple of tours for the next two day to the DMZ and a Hue city tour.

I headed to the DMZ cafe / bar, at the end of the street to get something to eat. It was okay, but nowt to write home about. I headed back to the hostel afterwards as it was still raining and ended up napping the afternoon away. I went to a place next to the hostel for some dinner and came back and chatted to some other the others, who were in my dorm room and had an early night.

12th Nov: I was up bright and early this morning to head off to the DMZ. Breakfast was included on the tour, so we went to a restaurant nearby to eat and I met some of the other people, who were doing the tour including two of my room mates from the hostel. We drove for a couple of hours, picking up our guide on the way and then came to our first stop, Vinh Moc tunnels.

The tunnels were very impressive. It felt like they stretched for miles. Now, the tunnels have been widened to fit us portly westerners, but they are still quite small. The tunnels are located on the former border of North and South Vietnam. The tunnels were built to shelter people from intensive bombing campaigns in the county of Vinh Linh. The Americans wanted to force the villagers out of the area as they believed that they were helping the North Vietnamese army. Since there was n o where to flee to on land the locals were forced underground and built the tunnels. The tunnels originslly went down 10 metres underground, but as the Americans had made a bomb that could go as far down as ten metres, the villagers moved their village 30 metres underground. Work began in 1966 and the tunnels were used untiil 1972. The complex grew and there were many different sections (can hardly call them rooms in the proper sense). There were kitchens, meeting rooms, and a delivery suite for expectant mothers. About 60 families lived in the tunnels and roughly 17 children were born there. Now that would be a cool story to tell your grandkids, I was born in a tunnel. The tunnel served its purpose well and no villagers lost their lives. The tunnel complex was also spread over three levels.The tunnel complex didn't feel as claustrophobic as I thought it would, although it was nice to come out on the beach on the other side.

Back on the bus we drove by the Rockpile, stopping to take a couple of photos. The Rockpile, known in Vietnamese as Thon Khe Tri is a basically a big hill. This kast rock outcrop is located near the former site of the South Vietnamese side of the DMZ. It has an elevation of 240 metres, so is about 210 metres higher than the terrain that surrounds it. Beacuse it was hard to reach, only accessible by helicopter, it was an important observation post and artillery base for the US army and Marine corps between 1966 and 1968. Our guide on the bus was unitentionally hilarious, as her pronunciation wasn't very good and when she said sixty it came out as shitty. Me and Manda couldn't look at each, as we would start giggling like school children.

The start of the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the Dakrong Birdge was our next stop. You need a good imagination to imagine what the Ho Chi Minh Trail was like back in the day. As now there is a road there. The area surrounding it was very peaceful and quiet. Not what I think it would of been like back when the war was going on. We also stopped at a local village that was lived in by an ethnic minority. It felt like we were going into a zoo. We were told we could take pictures of whatever we wanted. But it's a bit too intrusive, just to shove your camera in someone's face and take their picture. Most of us just took snaps of the animals that they had and the houses (well shacks really) in the village.

Our last stop of the day was the former US Marine Corps outpost at Khe Sanh. The airstrip was built in 1972 and fighting broke out in the area in April 1972. hte Battle of Khe Sanh took place in 1968 and the Battle ended as a failure for the North Vietnamese Army. The battle was one of the largest sieges in the war and gained lots of international media attention. However, on 5th July, 1968, Khe Sanh was abandoned,as the base was too vulnerable to enemy artillery. The base was reactivated by thr US army in 1971 to support Operation Lam Son 719, but was abandoned again in 1972. It was interesting to walk around the area and look at the bits left over from the war. Nature has reclaimed a lot of the land and people now use the area to grow coffee and bananas.

The tour was canny, but not as good as I had imagined. I think I was unfairly comparing it to Korea, which still has an active DMZ, although I was a little disappointed in that, too. I went for dinner and a few drinks with some of the others from the tour. We ended up in this cool bar that was more like a garden centre with plants everywhere.

13th Nov: Off on my tour of Hue city and the surrounding royal tombs today. I can't remember a lot about today and my memory and the order of the photos are different, so I will just make it up a bit as I go along. Hostel brekky was crap, well it is free, so can't expect it to be too good. The sky was overcast and it looked like it was going to rain. The weather hasn't been great since I arrived in Hue. Our first stop was at a shop to watch some women making traditional conical hats and incense (I think). Great a shopping stop before we even got to the sights. However this was the only one, so maybe it was a case of get it over and done with.

Our first proper stop was the tomb of Tu Duc. By this point it had started to rain quuite heavily, so I decided to use the poncho that Franny had bought me back in Phonsavan. Well the little bugger was full of holes. That was a complete was of a quid. Anyway, back to the Royal Tomb. The tomb was built between 1864-1867. The complex also served as a second Imperial City, where the Emperor went for working holidays. The area is beautiful as it is set around a lake and about 50 building stood there in th past. Apparantly old Tu Duc was a right goer and had 104 courtesans to choose from. The complex is a mixture of well preserved buildings and ruins. No surprise that it's the courtesans' buildings that are now ruins. The Emperor's actual tomb id tucked away at the back and doesn't have the granduer inside that Khai Dinh's tomb does.

We visited the tomb of Khai Dinh. This was my favourite tomb, although it isn't the biggest, it is beautiful and elaborately decorated. I think because the Emperor was a queen (if you get what I mean), he wanted it to look really good. Khai Dinh became Emperor of Vietnam in 1916. He was unpopular among the Vietnamese people as he worked closely with the French. His tomb took 11 years to build. It was started in 1920 and finished in 1931. He died in 1925. The Emperor even increased taxes by 30% in order to get the funding to complete his lavish mausoleum. The tomb is a mixture of eastern and western architecture. It's very grand and a bit ott. But I still really liked it, both the inside and out. There are statues outside to guard the tomb, too.

The tomb of Minh mang was next on our itinerary. This complex was really beautiful. It's not as big as that of Tu Duc, but personally I liked it more. There is a courtyard with warrior statues. Probably the same idea as the Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an, to protect the body of the Emperor. There are two lakes, which have bridges going across them. We couldn't get into the buril mound as it was fenced off. The gardens are really bit, just a shame it wasa bit bleak looking because of the weather.

We drove back to town and stopped near the citadel. The Imperial Citadel is a massive complex. We had a good amount of time to look around it. It was surrounded by a 2 km by 2 km wall, which had a moat in front of it. Within the Imperial City there is an enclosure called the Purple Forbidden City, which was reserved for the Nyugen imperial family. There are many different areas in the citadel and it was lovely to walk around. Eventhough there was a lot of tourists it didn't feel overcrowded. The buildings are all stunning. Also I got a little respite from the rain, by going inside some of the buildings.

The Thien Mu pagoda was the last proper sight on the tour. The pagoda was built in 1601.Thien Mu means celestial lady. There was a local legend that a woman, said that a Lord would come and erect a pagoda on the site to pray for the country's continuing prosperity. The pagoda houses many gold and silver Buddhas. It was really pretty and my photos don;t do it justice. Our last stop on the tour was a boat trip down the Perfume River. What a name, the Perfume River, I love it. The boat trip was okay, but we were stuck in the boat due to the crappy weather and it was foggy outside, and we couldn't see much.

When we got back to town the weather was still crappy, so I headed back to the hostel and sorted out my stuff for leaving tomorrow. Had dinner at the restaurant next to the hostel and a yummy and very strong mojito.

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