DMZ & Vinh Moc Tunnels

by Greg Zimmerman

We booked a private tour company to take us to the DMZ and the Vin Moc tunnel system.  They do full day tours, but when I mentioned “kids” they recommended the shorter 1/2 day version.  Tam, (pronounced “Tom”) was our guide and we had a driver too.  

After a two hour drive North from Hue and we arrived at the DMZ, which was the demilitarized zone separating North and South Vietnam from 1954 to 1976.  As we were driving along the 4-lane highway, Tam mentioned that we were on the infamous “Highway 1” which was known as the “Highway of Horrors“.  “A lot of people died here” Tam quietly mentioned. Upon arriving, we walked across the old bridge. It’s hard to imagine that this would have been impossible 50 years go.

Across on the “North” side was a small museum with various captured US equipment and airplane parts from shot down US bombers and fighters. There was a small wooden building that was the site of various peace talks where the South, North and diplomats from the US, India, and other countries to try and avoid the war. Apparently that didn’t work.

Above is artwork and a map of the DMZ depicting the US bombing of the area.

After exploring the DMZ we were prepared for the long walk back in the extreme heat and to our surprise the bus was waiting for us! So that’s why we had a separate driver. Happy for a blast of air conditioning we drove on country back roads through the jungle towards to the tunnels. Upon arriving, there was a small museum and signs explaining how the town was being bombarded daily by the US bombing campaign.

The town started digging, and 18 months later had a huge underground complex. 1801 meters (over a mile) of tunnels, 13 hidden entrances, air vents, with 3 sub levels. The deepest level is 23 meters (75 feet) below ground! The entire town was now bombproof and they were able to fight back against the air raids and shoot down many planes.

Tam mentioned the villagers collected “Seventh Fleet Fish” because the US Navy’s shore bombardment killed so many fish, they washed up on the shore and they could gather and eat them.

After stooping over through countless tunnels, we emerged from the ground and found a road side snack shack for a welcome cold beer and some chips.

Back on the bus, Tam took us to his home town of Dong Ha and to his favorite restaurant. I wished we had photos of the food, but the entire table was covered it dishes piled high with fresh greens, sauces, rice papers and sliced boiled pork. Tam showed us how to eat it. First grab a dry rice paper sheet, blot it onto the stack of wet rice paper, which picks up one layer. Lay in the pork, spicy pepper sauce, all the leaves and veggies that will fit, and crumble some fried crispy rice paper crisps on top. Roll it up, and Vietnamese burrito! We liked it, the kids did their best to act like they did. When we added up the bill, it came to $2.50 per person, wow!

After our “half day tour” which lasted until 3pm, they drove us back to Hue to our hotel for more pool time and Nook burgers.

The next morning we needed to get Covid tests since we were within the 72 hour window of flying back to Japan. The hotel front desk pointed us to the Hue City hospital complex, which was only a 10 minute walk away. We woke up early and walked over because they opened at 7am.

Nothing could have prepared us for the crowded, non air-conditioned, 3rd world hospital complex we discovered. Not speaking the language or being able to read any signs didn’t help. An hour later, after exploring 6 wrong buildings, seeing a dead person being carted by in a metal box, and trying not to look into the cardiovascular operating ward, we found the right place. The International Travel help desk. Phew! A little bit of google translate, some paperwork, and we got our PCR tests for $20 each. I added the travel desk location to Google maps to hopefully help out the next explorers.

The Covid testing was behind a frosted glass wall tucked under the lobby staircase. I tried to get a sneaky photo of the nose swab stabbing the brain of our travel-buddy family, but the nurse caught and chastised me. Whoops. We walked back to check out of the hotel and get a ride to the airport. We were off to Ha Noi next.

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