From Danang to the DMZ

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Asia » Vietnam » South Central Coast » Da Nang
April 8th 2009
Published: April 11th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

We caught an overnight sleeper bus to Hoi An.
Unfortunately when we got on we were at the back next to three English lads from Coventry. I initially asked them if they were from Essex or something and i'm not sure how that went down but it pretty much killed any more conversation. Anyway there were 5 seats along the backand the 3 of them were sprawled all over. When any girls got on they were 'a'right love theres 2 spare seats up here if you want'. I was thinking why are we stuck next to these knobs. Anyway our luck turned when a couple of hours later 2 elderly vietnamese got on and sat in the only 2 seats left - next to bazza, spazza and dazza or whatever they were called. Fairly shut them up haha.

The bus dumped us next to a random hotel in Hoi An which seems to be the form with bus companies. Dump people at your mates hotel and try to get as much commission as possible. We headed over to where we had booked anyway and got settled in. Hoi An is a nice little place. Its the southernmost city out of
Earth HourEarth HourEarth Hour

1 hour when everyone all over the world was supposed to switch off all electricity. We were in Hoi An and they turned it into a great candle light festival
the Hue, Danang and Hoi An trio. It was spared any heavy fighting in American war or when the French war before that so there are quite a lot of really old Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and European buildings.

On our first day we enjoyed pleasant cycle ride to the nearby Cau Dai beach where we bumped into Rich, David and Ed who we had previously met in Da Lat. We just chilled out with them while the local hawkers laid seige on us. The rest of our time was spent sight-seeing on bikes and eating a lot of food. Gareth managed to lose the key for the bike locks which led to a crowd of half a dozen people helping us out. We saw Vietnamese intuition in action. While we looked on helpless, a pair of boltcutters, chisel and block of wood were produced from a tailors shop. They proceeded to show us why Vietnam bike locks only cost $1 by cutting through it free of charge in about 10 mins!

We both got clothes made as Hoi An is famous for made to measure clothes at a knock down price. Gareth got a suit, shorts and 2
Wave you're cameras everybodyWave you're cameras everybodyWave you're cameras everybody

Gareth and I with lot's of Vietnamese guys with impressive cameras infront of the Japanese covered bridge, Hoi An
shirts made. Melissa got 2 dresses, a top and some shorts made. The total was the right side of $200 so we were best pleased. The shorts were particularly good. I brought in a pair of my old ones and the tailors copied them but in lighter fabric. The dress and Suit will be unleashed at Viv and Alex's wedding. Be afraid... Be very afraid.... We posted the lot home.

We also had a day trip out to the Cham Islands where we snorkled and sunbathed. It was a good day out but in hindsight may have been a bit costly and contributed to the infamous China Beach Episode... Read On:

Next stop China Beach just south of Danang. This was a spot where US soldiers were allowed a little R&R in between missions. Its a really cracking beach and has great surf. Unfortunately we were out of the game a little for the first day after picking up a bout of acute but violent food poisoning while we were in Hoi An. Its still up for discussion if this was picked up from dodgy omlettes at our posh 25USD hotel in Hoi An or we got it from an insipid aubergine number on the Cham Islands. Anyway the result was both spectacular and disgusting. It finished as soon as it started though and we were good on the second
day. That was the day it started raining...

We stayed at Hoa's place which is 50m from the beach itself. Hos has been in the guesthouse game for 15 years and has a nice little set up where people all eat together and run the drinks and food on a tab. Its a good way to meet people and exchange tips and stories etc.

It was a real shame it started raining as it was the first real rain we have had while in Vietnam. It was also heavy and persistant rain. It did give us the opportunity to speak to a couple of Vietnam Veterans from the US that were over visiting their old haunts in Vietnam. There was Will Gilmore from Wisconsin who is writing a book of memoirs and we met a guy called Charlie. Will had visited China Beach during the war on R&R. I was surprised to hear they only got 2 3 day breaks from the front line in 13
Melissa Pretending to be VietnameseMelissa Pretending to be VietnameseMelissa Pretending to be Vietnamese

So fearful of getting a suntan, this is how the majority of Vietnamese women dress during the day.
months service.

We got some R&R ourselves later that day down the beach after it brightened up a little. Let me say this first - China beach is a cracking beach. Its like Seaton Sluice or Portstewart. It has good waves as well - good for surfing as Melissa can testify. She attempted to surf (badly) and ended up wiped out several times and also suffered repeated wedgies fom her bikini. Rule of thumb-always surf wearing a wet suit! We also went to Marble mountains and can highly recommend the Hell cave which is supposed to symbolise Buddhist 'Hell'. Its more like a bad ghost train ride and is complete with neon lights and scary red eyes.

We caught a train to Hue. The train journey wa slow but the scenery good. However Hue is a bit dull. Apart from a lively backpacker bars there's not much to see here - I say not much in Hue itself but there's plenty to do in the surrounding area. Most people go to Hue to see the Imperial Fort in the Citadel. When we went I was sure it had been carpet bombed by the Americans as there was nothing
Anyone for a spring roll?Anyone for a spring roll?Anyone for a spring roll?

Melissa learning to cook Vietnamese style.
to see. It is the most boring attraction in Vietnam. This is a view shared by countless fellow travellers we have spoken to. You can't really blame Hue though as it has largely been rebuilt following the war. In 1969 it was a scene of heavy fighting after the Tet Offensive. In fact Vietnam war movie buff's like myself (Gareth) will know that Hue was the scene of the final bloody battle with the sniper in Full Metal Jacket.

Our second day in Hue was split as Melissa went on a Vietnamese cookery course and cycled to the beach Unfortunately all the locals also go to the beach at the weekend and were screaming in the sea and relaxing on the baech wearing thick jeans, wool jumpers and thick jackets on their heads to avoid any exposure to the sun whilst Melissa frantically tried to top up her tan after nearly a week of rain.
Gareth went on a private tour of the DMZ organised by the Stop & Go Cafe. Anybody who is well versed in Platoon, Apocolypse Now, Hamburger Hill etc will be aware that the DMZ is the zone seperating North and South Vietnam after the
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Gareth being brave and trying one of the local delicacies.
French pulled out in 1954. This area saw heavy fighting between Viet Cong (VC) Troops and American GI's and as a result is littered with relics from the war.

Our guide, Anh was a veteran of the South Vietnamese Army (Second Lieutennant) which fought against the North alongside the Americans. He brought us to Con Thien firebase. This was operated by US troops and was supposed to try and block smuggling along the Ho Chi Minh trail by the VC. Anh explained that what tended to happen was the VC would fire rockets into the base from Laos which is only 10Km from here. The US would call in artillery support from nearby Camp Carrol and the Rockpile or an Airstrike from Danang. Anh had a lot of insights into the war. I have listed some below

* Relatives of dead American soldiers didn't realise that to stop the bodies smelling the organs were cut out and replaced with ice.
* Most Americans killed were high on opium and cocaine smuggled in from Laos. They were so stoned they couldn't get into the bunkers
* Camp Carrol was named after a Capt. Carrol who was making coffee when a VC rocket landed in the vicinity. This differs from the guidebooks who say he died in battle. Coffee essentially killed him.
* When the Americans dropped agent orange it turned people yellow. They would then set up road blocks and wait for people with yellow skin and hair to drive through before arresting them.
*Vietnamese like himself were paid 5000 USD a month by the Americans. They lost the lot when the Communists won so are understandably bitter.

Anh took us to other places as well:

*Horrible Highway where VC killed many civilians as they tried to flee south at the fall of Saigon in 1975
* Truong Son National Cemetry - This is where 14,000 VC are buried
* Doc Mieu Base - Anh stopped the bus next to the highway and showed us the remains of an American tank that had laid there since the war. We couldn't go further into the base because its too dangerous from unexploded ordanance.
*Ben Hai River - Lies along 17th parallel. Official border between North and South Vietnam
* Vinh Moc Tunnels - Village of Vinh Moc moved underground to escape relentless bombing from invaders.
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One of the many old buildings/ sights in the Old Town of Hoi An
Its a really impressive tunnel network that hasn't changed since the war. You could get lost down there but Anh knew the way. The surface is still littered with bomb craters. Its an impressive place and wortha visit. Plus its next to a cracking beach.

Next stop - North Vietnam

Additional photos below
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Quang Tri Church, DMZQuang Tri Church, DMZ
Quang Tri Church, DMZ

This catholic church was at the centre of a fierce battlefor Quang Tri town in 1972. Its still pockmarked with bullet holes and rocket attack
Huyen Khong CaveHuyen Khong Cave
Huyen Khong Cave

One of the many caves in the Marble Mountains
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Random picture of a truck

Cham islands tour
Gareth and friend!Gareth and friend!
Gareth and friend!

Hell cave Marble mountains
View from the trainView from the train
View from the train

The Reunification Express between Danang and Hue

17th April 2009

Onwards brave travellers
Sounds like you guys are having a great time. Keep up the stories and pictures, its making for a great read. Oh, and thanks again for the bowl....very nice.

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