19.11.2012 - 20.11.2012
After arriving in Hue we decided to take a day out to plan the next part of our trip rather than succumbing to the relentless pestering by cyclo and motorbike riders to take us around the citadel and to the tombs etc... We were knackered and just needed to stop, particularly after another night on a sleeper bus that continually played this on repeat for first half hour... ...and our seats were right next to the smelliest toilet ever!
One of the main reasons we stopped at Hue was to take a day trip to find out more about the DMZ (Demilitarised Zone) that divided north and south Vietnam during the Vietnamese War and so we focused on getting this organised and after a lot of debating the best option (mainly as so tired) we opted for the bus tour from our hotel rather than going by motorbike. Although we would be in a larger group it was a long day with a lot of driving and a least on a bus it does not matter if you fall asleep in between destinations but falling asleep on a bike is prob not a good idea! Also it was significantly cheaper at $15 per person compared to $40+ although we were concerned that this could mean our guide would be crap but we were not disappointed as her English was great and she gave us loads of information. Only problem we did have was the bus wasn't able to power the air con for half the trip and at one point we all had to push the bus to get it started again! Took me back to all the times the trucks broke down in Namibia
We stopped off at several locations on the way there was not always a lot to see but more a case of listening to the guide to describe the significance of the site. First stop was what is called the "Rockpile" which is a tall karst mountain which used to have an American bunker on the very top to get a good vantage point of the area. It is only accessible by helicopter and I believe 10 US soldiers were based up there for 2 years. The position of the bunker is where the flag now is in the photo.
On our way to visit the Ho Chi Minh Trail we stopped off at a minority village of people who live in traditional stilt houses where the family live in the raised level and their livestock live underneath. It was a bit odd to be on a bus that pulled over for photos for 10 mins without any interaction with the people themselves which made Dan and I feel a bit uncomfortable. Very different from our experience in Sapa where at least you talk to the people rather then just gawp at them from the roadside!
Next stop was to see the Ho Chi Minh Trail which has since been covered in tarmac to be made into the main Highway and we stopped at the bridge that marked the beginning of it. We were all suffering in the heat particularly as the air con had been turned off to give the engine more power for the bus to make it up the hills and it was hard to fathom how our guide was not burning up in all the clothes she was wearing...including gloves!
After push starting the bus we headed on to the site of the former US base at Khe Sanh where there is now a museum and several bunkers, planes and tanks remain to commemorate the area. This site was chosen as the US base so that they could control the supply routes from Laos into Vietnam and became an area of a lot of fighting. From Feb 8th to July 9th 1968, Huong Hoa forces laid siege to this area and it became known as 'Hell on Earth'.
The highlight of the trip and the most humbling was visiting the Vinh Moc Tunnels. Astonishingly 400 people lived in these tunnels over 6 years with only one toilet in the tunnels and two large ventilation holes to let some air in. The tunnels are small and narrow and most of the time you are stooping with some of the taller guys being bent double to get through.
We went through various sections being shown the holes off the tunnels where the families would make their home to bomb shelters within the tunnels. It was so dark in places you could not see the person in front of you so I will definitely remember a torch if we go to see the tunnels when we get to Saigon.
What was amazing was that they also had a maternity ward and during this period 17 babies were born in the tunnels. It is hard to imagine how terrifying it would be to be in the tunnels with bombing overhead, let alone whilst giving birth! There was evidence of the bombing around the site with large bomb craters so they were lucky to have survived as they had to come out of the tunnels to work the surrounding land for food etc...
We then moved on to cross the Ben Hai river which was the natural divide between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. This was in the middle of the DMZ and for 5km in each direction is no mans land. Here there was a moving monument to the women and children who would be watching to hope that their men would come home safe to them.
Our final stop was the Truong Son National Cemetary. Many of the graves here are for unknown soldiers who died during the war and have never been identified. With many of the graves with tributes and burning incense sticks it brought it home that this happen so recently in our history.