Sunday we drove from Hoi An up the coast to Dong Ha where we had arranged a tour in the former demilitarized zone (DMZ). The drive took us about 4 hours and we passed some really beautiful spots (eg. Hai Van pass north of Danang) along the coast. Arrived in Dong Ha we felt like travellers again as the provincial capital of Quang Tri is everything else than a tourist hot spot like Hoi An or Danang. In fact old Dong Ha was pretty much bombed to ashes in the war and the new city is not exactly a beauty. From our hotel we overviewed the main place with a huge statue of Le Duan – a primary communist politician born in Dong Ha that succeeded the ever present and venerated Ho Chi Minh in 1969. Accordingly, also our hotel had a distinct ‘old-school-soviet’ character. Searching for a restaurant took us quite a while but we were stopped and greeted several times by friendly locals.
The next day we were picked up by Mr. Duy – our guide for the day. Now, Mr. Duy was born 1950 and was a university student in Dong Ha and a teacher in South Vietnam during the war. So he is a first-hand witness of what happened back then before he decided to change profession in 1990 and doing tours in the DMZ. The DMZ was established after 1954 and divided north from south Vietnam along the Ben Hai river. Thus, the border territory around it was one of the most contested and heavily bombed during the war. Mr. Duy first took us from Dong Ha up to the border of Laos were all along a beautiful road several American military bases and camps used to be and major battles (eg. Ta Con, Khe Sanh) took place. All along he explained us many interesting insights about the military movements – as the importance of the Ho Chi Minh trails for the north Vietnamese army or politics of the time. We also talked about the impact on the populations. For instance, the effects of the wide-spread use of Agent Orange are still felt today and de-mining operations are continuing. We were impressed by the stories and sights. In the afternoon among other sites we visited the Vinh Moc tunnels. These tunnels – roughly 3km in length – were built by fishermen that lived in them for a period of six years during the war. We had the chance to walk into all three floors the tunnels (8m, 15m, 23m deep) and we could not imagine how to stay down there for a longer period of time. For the kids it was obviously a long day and in the end they were really tired – but it was definitely worth it and thanks to Mr. Duy an extremely interesting day.