Demilitarized Zone

demilitarized zone vietnam world away


              Visiting the former Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in Vietnam is a look into a very significant chapter of Vietnamese and U.S. history.  This dividing line between North and South Vietnam, despite its name, became the most militarized area in the world and saw some of the heaviest and bloodiest battles of the war. 



helicopter khe sanh combat base dmz vietnam world away
Chinook helicopter at Khe Sanh Combat Base.


              Its battles and landmarks became household names during America’s first televised war.  Although most of the landmarks are destroyed, reforested, or planted with coffee and rubber, what took place on this stretch of land during the Vietnam War will forever be etched in history.


What to See



The Rockpile



rockpile dmz vietnam world away


              The Rockpile, usually the first stop on the DMZ day tour, sits just off of Highway 9, south of the DMZ.  As its name suggests, it is a solitary 240-meter-high karst outcrop in the midst of fields.  Its location and the relative inaccessibility of its peak (reached only by helicopter) made it a strategic observation and radio post for the US Marines. 


Dakrong Bridge



dakrong bridge dmz vietnam world away


              Dakrong Bridge lays further west down Highway 9 and marks a main access point with the Ho Chi Minh Trail network.  The bridge was bombed and rebuilt multiple times during the conflict, with the current one being built in 1974.  Besides a marker hailing its importance as a conduit to the Ho Chi Minh Trail network there’s nothing of much interest here.  But, like the Rockpile, it’s on the way to the Khe Sanh Combat Base, so it’s on every tour.


Khe Sanh Combat Base



bunker plane khe sanh combat base dmz vietnam world away


              Khe Sanh Combat Base is one of the highlights of the DMZ tour.  The base was the site of the most famous battle, and one of the bloodiest, of the Vietnam War; the Battle of Khe Sanh.  January 21, 1968 started a 75-day siege that would take the life of around 250 US soldiers, over 10,000 North Vietnamese, and countless civilians.  The battle commanded heavy international attention and was featured in Newsweek, Life, and countless newspapers around the world.  This, along with the shock of the Tet Offensive that followed, turned public opinion of the war sharply.


artillery khe sanh combat base dmz vietnam world away


              Today, most of the base has been taken back by nature or planted with coffee, but there is still a small section that can be toured.  There is a small museum that has a good display of photos and artifacts from the base, as well as gives a little history of the fighting that took place here.  On the site there is also a few bunkers and trenches that can be explored, part of the old airstrip with a plane, two helicopters, and some tanks.


Cost: 50,000 VND/2.12 USD (if not in a tour group)


Hien Luong Bridge



hien luong bridge dmz vietnam world away


              Hien Luong Bridge crosses the Ben Hai River, the former border between North and South Vietnam.  Although the bridge is just a quick stop or drive-by for most tourist, it played a significant role in the Vietnam War.  Five kilometers on each side of the river was meant to formed the Demilitarized Zone until elections could decide the new president and reunite the country, but it was instead a huge step towards war. 
              

hien luong bridge flagpole dmz vietnam world away
Hien Luong Bridge flagpole.

              Today there is a memorial monument to the families that were separated, a small museum, and replicas of the propaganda speakers and watch towers.  The foot bridge, although not the original, is painted half in yellow and half in blue like it was during the war. 


Vinh Moc Tunnels



entrance vinh moc tunnel dmz vietnam world away
An entrance to the Vinh Moc Tunnels.


              The Vinh Moc Tunnels are definitely the highlight of the DMZ tour.  Located just north of the DMZ, the tunnels played a critical role in the lives of civilians in the area.  Unlike the Cu Chi Tunnels of the south, which were used for combat troops, the Vinh Moc Tunnels were primarily used for civilians. 


living quarter vinh moc tunnel dmz vietnam world away
Living quarters inside the Vinh Moc Tunnels.


Secretly built between 1966-67, the tunnels were a network extending about two kilometers long and consisted of three levels and 13 entrances; 7 of which went to the sea.  Inside the tunnels were nooks for sleeping, meeting rooms, kitchens, operating room, and maternity ward (17 babies were born in the tunnels during the war).  During bombing raids (nearly 9000 tons of bombs were dropped on the area) the families would find refuge in the tunnels.


vinh moc tunnel dmz vietnam world away
Inside the Vinh Moc Tunnels.


The tunnels are just slightly over 5’ tall so most people will have to crouch down a bit while they walk through.  The tunnels remain mostly how they were during the war, except for the addition of electric lights through most of the upper tunnel system.  Even with the lights it can be fairly dark in the tunnels so having a light is recommended.  Although you can do it on your own, having a good guide (provided with DMZ tour) adds to the experience.  For those that are claustrophobic: this is probably not for you.


Cost: 50,000 VND/2.12 USD (if not in a tour group)

Truong Son National Cemetery



truong son national cemetery dmz vietnam world away


              Truong Son National Cemetery is Vietnam’s largest war cemetery and consists of more than 10,000 graves.  Each grave is marked by a simple white headstone with the inscription liet si (martyr).  Many of the graves lay empty, representing only a fraction of the 300,000 soldiers missing in action.  The cemetery is named after then army corps that maintained and protected the Ho Chi Minh Trail and is divided into five major zones, each representing a region of Vietnam.  These are then further divided into provinces and hamlets in which the soldier had lived. 


How to Get There



Tour

              
plane bunker khe sanh combat base dmz vietnam world away
Plane through a bunker window; Khe Sanh Combat Base, Vietnam.

              The easiest way to tour the DMZ is through an organized tour from Hue.  You travel from location to location in an air-conditioned bus, have a guide for locations and information along the way, and entrance fees are taken care of.  You should be able to reserve a tour through your hotel.  I reserved mine through Lucky Homestay, where I was staying, and highly recommend them because they are not only a great hotel, but also amazing people!


The cost for my full day tour was 400,000 VND/17.11 USD.


Bus/Motorcycle



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              If you wish to do it on your own then it is recommended that you spend the night in Dong Ha and do the tour from there the following day.  You can rent a motorcycle in town and drive to each of the sights.  This will allow you to spend more time at each spot than you would in an organized tour.  Just simply map out the sights on Google Maps before hand and let Google do the rest.   


What is the most interesting part of the DMZ?


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