We payed for a night bus to Hue as the picture of the bus made it look really nice and we thought that it had to be better than the night buses in India, well it was better but we still didn't get that much sleep. I was ok, i had a bed in the middle of the bus and although i couldn't stretch my legs out i was relatively comfy. Matthew on the other hand was not. There were only 2 beds left and being such a nice boyfriend he let me have the one where i would get a bit more sleep as i wasn't well, he however had a top bunk with a pillar in the way of his head and shoulder so he couldn't lay flat or get comfy at all. He figited all night and at one point came and slept down one of the aisles next to me, until he decided to give sleeping up as a bad job and went and sat at the front of the bus for the rest of the night with the drivers.
At about 7.00am we stopped off at a place called Dong Ha for breakfast and to freshen up as the journey to Hue was another 2 hours. Once we got off the bus and ordered our breakfast a man came up to us offering us a day tour of the DMZ zone. We were already planning on a day trip from Hue anyway so thought we may aswell do it straight away to save on all the travelling. Even though we were both really tired we thought it would be better to do the tour in a lot smaller group and by a local man so we signed up for the day.
Now the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) is like the no mans land of the Vietnam Wars. It was the border put in place to divide North and South Vietnam and was suppose to stop the North Vietnamese from using the Ho Chi Minh trail to move food and weapons to Guerillas in the South, known as the Viet Cong. The Viet Cong lived as peasants in their South Vietnam villages, but supported the communist North Vietnam regime and fought against their own family members who supported the South. The level of family divide during and after the war is quite astonishing. After the border was created following the Ben Hai river families where given a timescale to move between North and South depending on which regime they supported. After that the borders where closed and it was a regular occurance for people to run the guantlet and to try and swim across the river to be with family or to get weapons and supplies to the VC, the river alone took alot of lives. Basically the whole DMZ was a very dangerous place to be with the US bases littered across an 18 kilometre stretch of the DMZ, but close enough to the sea for US naval support. It was also heavily bombed from the air with naphalm used to burn away jungle and potential hiding places along the Ho Chi Minh trail. The most important part of the DMZ was to keep the North Vietnamese from invading the South. We found out that they were quite successful at surprising the US with decoy attacks to draw attention to one area so to weaken other areas for a bigger attack. A pivatol attack at the Con thien firebase which was taken by the North vietnamese army helped them move into South Vietnam a week later with a big offensive. All that is left is a bunker on a well covered area where Westmoorland - US officer conducted operations, some sand banks and live ammo were still littered around waiting to be discharged. The surrounding area is baren and it is hard to believe how it would of looked covered in jungle. Now they have planted rubber trees to replace the jungle which provides alot different landscape. We saw lots of bomb craters from 1000 lbs bombs within the rubber plantations. Our guide was very informative about the different areas and dates. After the firebase we went onto to see what was let of a US tank. Nearly bare of metal as people can get good money for scrap, it still showed the scars from where it had been attacked and this was at the side of the road. The Cau Hien luong bridge over the Ben Hai river was the only official border crossing between North and South and it was amusing to hear that they had competitions on either side to see who could have the highest flagpoles. It did'nt stop there, they also had big loudspeakers belting out their propaganda to try and get as much support from the locals as possible on both sides.
From here we went onto see a North Vietnamese cemetry for the soldiers over 10000 graves are here. It was interesting to see that on some occasions not all the information about the person was evident on the inscriptions. This was because the north vietnamese only had paper personal information which was usually wrapped in plastic. This information was easily perishable in the conditions they were fighting and in some cases soldiers had to buried as unknown soldiers because of not having any details at all. Some fortune tellers have cashed in on families still wondering whatever happened to relatives and some have been convinced that some unknown soldier graves are actually their son or daughter. I say daugther because the North Vietnamese army took anyone that wanted to fight age and gender not a problem. We saw one grave of a girl that joined the army when she was 12 and served for 10 years before being killed at the age of just 22. The point I should make is that the North Vietnamese army did not get paid which told us how powerful Ho Chi Minh was about getting the message of reunification across to the North and South people. Also where people had lost all there family from either bombing from the US or fighting they would would simply sign up for revenge and after 7 days training they were out fighting. Neither Gemma or myself had seen a war cemetry like this before and it was hard to comteplate how war can destroy families and hopefully it will be something we never have to see.
We then went onto the Vinh Moc tunnels, which is a maze of tunnels constructed by villagers and vietcong to endure the US bombs, but also to provide whole villages a way of life underground. The tunnels where very small and cramped with rooms leading of occassionally for bedrooms, hospital, film room, cooking room and film room. Apparently 17 babies were delivered in the tunnels at the time of the war and again it showed how resourceful the Vietnamese are. We had to endure the obligatory propaganda film saying how amazing these people were. However they had thought of things like disguised ventilation holes and ways of getting larger things underground. The tunnels took along time to complete and these were interconnecting with other villages too. There was quite a few bomb craters very close to some of the openings but never exactly on one.
The whole experience of that day is something we will both remember for a longtime as it opened our eyes to how lucky we are not to have been part of a war. Luckily the Vietnamese have moved on quite quickly and we did'nt hear any bad words said about either South or North veterans.
After this we took a minivan to Hue a bit later than expected and crashed out absolutely knackered!