More exploration of the DMZ
15.03.2009 - 16.03.2009 20 °C
We met Mr. Dong and Mr. Lai at 8am, ready to head for more exploration of the DMZ. Our destination today was to check out many of the sights along Highway 9, which held several important military sights during the war, including Khe Sanh, the famous airbase.
We left Dong Ha and quickly met up with Highway 9, and our first destination was the "Rockpile", which is a large karst-type rock formation set amongst rice paddies that was used as an observation post by the Marines. Mr. Dong explained that it originally held about 30 Marines and they would be responsible for detecting and tracking enemy movement while also aiding artilery strikes. Now it is just a big rockpile.
After checking out The Rockpile, we continued down Highway 9, and we really enjoyed the nice, long ride as we wound along a river and into the hills. We made a short stop on the river at Dakrong Bridge. There was a large sign celebrating the construction of the bridge, and we were met by a whole flock of local children who were playing around the river. They really distracted us from listening to Mr. Dong, and posed for us by climbing on top of the monument. These kids were poor, but seemed quite happy, and playfully chased Heidi's motorbike on our ride away, spanking at her butt along the way.
The second half of the trip was quite steep, and at time the going was a bit slow, but we finally made it to Khe Sanh, the site of the famous airbase. This was the site amidst the heavy hill fighting with the Viet Cong that began in 1967. In 1968, there was a major fight called the Battle of Khe Sanh, in which the airbase was held under siege by the North Vietnamese. This siege was done with the intention of distracting the US forces in their preparation for the Tet Offense, which was a massively organized attack that hit numerous targets on the same day throughout Vietnam, including Saigon. Mr. Dong did a really good job of explaining the fighting during this battle, and he interupted himself several times in his animated storytelling with phrases like "ooo...so terrible" and drawing little maps and diagrams which he was so fond of. After one heated desciption of battle, he even pretended to be in the battle, prancig around an artillery piece and pretending to shoot at invisible enemies with his invisible gun. The airbase is probably the best preserved piece of military history in the Dong Ha area, even the from section has now been turned into a small coffee plantation. There were several military pieces in the area surrounding the landing strip, including a Huey helicopter, a Chinook Helicopter, a tank, and a few artillery pieces and bored out bombs. There were also a few bunkers that were left relatively intact, and Mr. Dong insisted in crawling into every one of them. In the center of the base now houses a small museum with a couple of interesting and one large case of captured US military weapons and gear. One interesting display showed how the North Vietnamese were training Montgnard people (people from the hill tribes of Vietnam) to fight using poison arrows and other primitive weapons. Behind the musem was the landing strip, which to this day is still pretty clear of brush, as little grow in this area. The lack of growth was something that we had noticed not just at this airbase, but was a general observation of the hills and countryside along Highway 9. There was a lot of bombing and dumping of Agent Orange throughout this entire area, and what areas that can support growth are still quite young.
We grabbed a quick lunch at a small local restaurant in the nearby Khe Sanh Town, this time enjoying some frog meat with eggs and vegetables, which turned out to taste ok. During lunch, I shared some local whiskey with Mr. Lai, which tasted a lot like Chinese baijiu, but not quite as bad. We ate quickly, and then headed back down Highway 9 to visit Camp Caroll, which was an important artillery base in the war. There was not much left there anymore, other than one small bunker and a few concrete foundations of buildings that had been there. Another victim of scavengers.
That marked the end of our day's tour, and we made the long ride back to Dong Ha Town, where we would catch a minibus to the nearby city of Hue. The tour wasn't quite as interesting as the day before, but the ride was nice albeit long (our butts were pretty sore at the end of the day). Mr. Lai helped us find the minibus, which appears to be run by the local mafia. Nonetheless, we had no problems with finding the minibus, and we got a cheap ride to Hue. But the ride was cramped--they stuffed as many people into the van as possible (19 plus one baby!), and Heidi was stuck sitting on a steel seat support for half the ride. And yes, as it is a standard minibus, there are only seats to accomodate 11 passengers. Like other local rides in Vietnam, the journey was accompanied by some less-than-delightful Vietnamese pop music. But fortunately it was only an hour and a half ride, and we reached Hue by six o'clock.
They dropped us off in the city center of Hue, and after we figured out where we were, we started walking in the direction fo Perfume River, which divides the city into two parts, with the new city on one side and the old citadel on the opposite side. After walking for less than two minutes, we were greeted by people thrusting hotel brochures in our faces. We turned down the first few, but eventually accepted a free ride to one under the condition that we at least "have a look". It turned to be an OK guesthouse, so we booked for the night and then had a really good dinner of Hue-style dishes at the Garden Paradise Restaurant. After filling ourselves on good food we took a short walk along the Perfume River. The riverside had a small park with some nice atsmopheric lighting which we strolled through for a bit before heading back to the hotel to get some sleep. It had been another long day.