Dong Ha DMZ tour
We got back in quite late and very tired so after a damp night in an empty hotel it was time to rise but there was no shining. The weather was still a bit grey and uninspiring. After much debate about whether to go by motorbike or car ( price difference ) on the tour we opted for the car to avoid the rain and get more time to ask the guide questions.
Dong Ha was only a small town until the american war. When it all kicked off the americans came and relocated the people so they could build a big runway atop the ridge that Dong Ha sits on. The only remnants of this now is the main, dead straight road and one shot up and damaged plane hangar.
In 1972 the communist north Vietnamese started their final, successful, assault on the south and the Americans. In the process the Americans leveled Dong Ha with bombs to destroy any tactical advantage holding an air base would have. Since then the whole town has been built up and is now a large prosperous town. It’s weird however to only see buildings that are younger than 40 years old. In england we have such a mix of rich history, theirs had been completely wiped out.
Next stop was the Dong Ha history museum to learn about their culture before Vietnam became a war and people forgot it is also country. There was thick rainforest all over the country. You’ve heard about agent orange and napalm strikes, well it sounds pretty horrific anyway but then you find out the extent and area that was destroyed. It was such a large area and so intense that whole species were nearly made extinct and all the local large wildlife fled to neighbouring countries.
Onto the Unexploded Ordnance facility. There, a worker explained the full extent of the bombing and mining and its impact to this day. Vietnam had so many bombs dropped on it across such a large area that in 40 years there are still accidents every day. It is estimated that about 10% of all the ordnance dropped did not explode. The percentage is higher for cluster bombs and mines.
After lunch we drove towards the DMZ (demilitarized zone) ironically, the most heavily militarised zone in the world for a while. This was a strip either side of the Ben Hai river and was heavily bombed to the point of zero life. The only way north or south was over this bridge over this river. The opposing governments controlled half of this bridge each. It was presided over by members of the UN to keep the truce. It was agreed by the americans that democratic elections would be held in south Vietnam to decide if they wanted to be a free democracy or part of north vietnam’s communist government. When the americans denied them the vote relations became sour across the river and this effectively sealed the americans fate. The vietnamese rose up and pushed them out.
The last place we visited was the tunnels on the coast, just north of the DMZ. It was where 94 families lived underground to avoid the airstrikes from america. They resisted the barrage for 2 years fighting back by taking down aircraft and surprise attacking ground troops. The tunnels were well hidden and had multiple exits. They had excavated 3 levels of full rooms for sleeping, meetings, storage, medical attention, washing and even an underground well. It was amazing to see how they lived if a little bit small for me and Mike. Also we got a bit freaked out by the gigantic creepy crawlies that lived down there now.
My history is a bit sketchy on dates and things but I now know a lot more about it than I ever did so this is good enough for me. The tour took the whole day and by the time we got back we were knackered. We wandered around for a while and found some food. The girls went off to find a cashpoint and me and Mike wandered home.
Enroute, we saw a big party going on outside a house. We had seen all the coloured fabric hangings up before on our travels and wondered what it was for. We stopped across thw road from the commotion and looked in. We were spotted by two party goers who ran over and playfully punched at us joking around in vietnamese. Unfortunately because they were quite drunk and quite small, they clocked me quite hard, directly in the balls. I was a bit resistant to sticking around after that but a bloke came over who spoke some english and invited us over for a drink. Turns out he was the brother of the bride-to-be and this was the pre-wedding part of the bride’s side. They have the same tradition of the bride and groom not seeing each other the night before the wedding.
Vietnamese drinking culture was fully experienced that night. Because we were in a small town and no westerners really stopped in Dong Ha, we were again and bit of a novelty. All the family came over one by one to say hello and not much else. They all proposed a toast and in doing so gave us a tumbler full of beer. Each time they toasted they drained the glass, which is fine, except there was about 40 or more people at the wedding party and they all wanted to toast us. It was great fun but we got very drunk very quickly.
The other culture we had seen passing by on the roads was the number of signs and bars that said “karaoke”. You don’t see that advertised permanently in the uk outside of any pubs so it was a bit weird if it meant the same to us as them. How much singing did the vietnamese do? Well we found out, because the whole evening was music and singing by each member of the party. Everyone got up to do their song. Nothing we recognised but very enjoyable. The whole party was really swinging and dancing along to the music and encouraging their relatives to belt out the strange music. Of course, they wanted us to get up and song but not knowing ANY of their music and them not knowing ours there wasn’t really the chance.
Eventually it reached 2230 and there was a prompt end to the festivities. The communist state was still very much in effect in the less touristy parts of the country. We returned to the hotel, ecstatically happy. No way in england would we have had that experience, they truly welcomed us and expected nothing of us even when we offered. The vietnamese people are a wonderful race.