Vietnam's Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, is the area around the former border between North and South Vietnam. Historically it was a narrow band of terrain extending from Laos to the coast, five km on either side of the Ben Hai River, roughly on the 17th parallel, north latitude.
The area saw heavy fighting in the war, and ruins of old American military bases still exist. Even if you're not interested in the history, the area has some spectacular mountain scenery and rugged jungles.
While the actual border was marked by the Ben Hai river, most historical sights (i.e., American bases) are along Highway 9, which runs parallel to the river several km to the south. This road runs to the Lao border and continues onward.
Tours can be arranged from Dong Ha by DMZ Tours (located along Le Duan street) for around US$15-17. This tour will pick you up on the bus coming from Hue, and go to the tunnels, Dakrong bridge, rockpile, and Khe Sanh. Does not include Camp Carol, Con Tien, or food/water, but is a pleasant ride with a spirited guide (some propaganda).
Lots of travel agents in Hue offer convenient day trips by bus. They are cheap at US$10-15 per person, but be forewarned that you will have to get up very early, as the tours usually start at 06:00. Expect to return to Hue between 18:00-19:00. You will also be herded back on to the bus to continue to the next stop, only to find yourself waiting for some stragglers. It can get crowded in the Vinh Moc Tunnels if your bus group is large.
You can go by car, which can be expensive, but if it's raining, which it often is, you'll be glad you did. Also, private tours can take you to some places where the big buses and large groups don't.
Tours by motorbike can be arranged, but unless you are a diehard such is likely very tiring as distances for a round trip can be as high 300 km. If you want a motorbike tour, it may be better to spend a night in Dong Ha and make arrangements there.
Booking through a hotel will probably cost more due to commission.
Unless you have your own transportation, you'll need to hire a taxi or take a guided tour to see the sights. Some local tour operators offer motorcycle trips along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Arranged in order from east (Vietnamese coast) to west (Lao border):
- 1 Vinh Moc Tunnels. Where an entire village lived for two and a half years. 17 babies were born in the tunnels. There is a small but informative museum here, with photos of the construction of the tunnels, and of daily life underground. 40,000 dong.
- 2 Hien Luong Bridge. Crosses the Ben Hai River at the middle of the DMZ and marks the former border between North and South Vietnam from 1954-1972 when the North Vietnamese Army captured Dong Ha town in the 1972 Easter Offensive and pushed the border to the Thach Han River in Quang Tri town, some 32 km further south. During the partition of Vietnam, the bridge was painted with the two different colors. There is a monument on the north side.
- 3 Truong Son National Cemetery. Vietnam's national war cemetery.
- 4 Camp Carroll. This was the largest fire base of the US Marines below the DMZ. There were 24 big guns there to provide fire support for the Marines. In the 1972 Easter Offensive it was captured by the NVA when LTC Pham Van Dinh of the Army of Republic of South Vietnam surrendered his 1,600 soldiers and 24 guns to the NVA.
- Rockpile. A Marine outpost built on top of a huge outcropping. Though it's inaccessible, it's a prominent sight from the highway.
- Dak Rong Bridge. Midway along Hwy 9, and is the starting point of Hwy 15, one of the main branches of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which leads south to the A Shau valley and the infamous "Hamburger Hill". Though not entirely legitimate, there is a monument commemorating it as a point on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, (called Đường Trường Sơn in Vietnamese).
- 5 Khe Sanh Combat Base. Just east of the Lao border, was the site of a US base which fell under attack in early 1968. The attack of the NVA on Khe Sanh was a diversion for the 1968 Tet Offensive in the south. The old airfield of red dirt still remains.
- Mr Vinh, Stop & Go Cafe - 03 Hung Vuong Hue City, ☏ . 10:00-22:00. Mr Vinh, known to his American friends during the hostilities as "Davis", is an ex-ARVN military intelligence interpreter veteran from the war. He's 70 years old, speaks excellent English and is hospitable. At one stage, he interpreted for Colin Powell when he was a major general and General Westmoreland. He brings the sites of the DMZ alive. He is based in the Stop & Go Cafe in Hue but his cell number is listed here.
Though you'll probably encounter vendors selling GI dogtags, lighters, and other paraphernalia, you can be sure that none of them are genuine.
Quang Tri is famous for pepper bean and Arabica coffee, and can be purchased in Dong Ha Market, next to the Dong Ha bridge, on Hwy 1.