Dong Ha, VietNam
On the 17th Parallel
Getting out of Hue couldn't happen soon enough, but even that was wrought with frustration. Protracted -but friendly bargaining and an immense amount of (Bozick) stubbornness finally got us a fair shake on a local taxi to Dong Ha. This is a small town right on the fringe of the former Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that divided north and south between the time of the French exodus and the ultimate northern victory. The DMZ was no more than a thin strip of land along the 17th Parallel that stretched from the coast to the Laos border along the Ben Hai River. To call it the Demilitarized Zone is a bit of a misnomer -during the war this stretch was the scene of some of the largest troop numbers, heaviest bombing, and fiercest fighting.
We opted for a motorbike tour -a fateful decision. About 15 minutes into our tour, we got stuck in a downpour. (At least we had our rain ponchos.) Many times I had commented to Ann that we wouldn't get a complete VietNam experience without getting drenched by monsoon-like rains. I'm not sure she agreed with me. -And certainly not to see former war sites and crawl around in muddy tunnels -all on motorbikes -and with no comfy hotel to return to. (This is where all the travel-lorn may let go of some jealously. Ann is definitely holding onto the Adventure Wife World Title that was so fervently won on our honeymoon in Belize!)
Fortunately (if there can be any fortune in this tale), we hired experienced drivers, one of whom also served as our guide. Though he was no older than me, his father and uncles had fought in the war and he certainly knew his history. The DMZ actually turned out to be topographically better off than I had expected, considering the number of bombs and amount of defoliant that was dropped on the area. Much of the counrty side was pock-marked with bomb craters, but the vegetation is well into recovery mode.
We went into another tunnel complex, but this one very different from the tunnels of Cu Chi. The Vinh Moc Tunnels were much shorter in length (only about 2.5 km) and larger in size -and with good reason. These tunnels were used primarily for living quarters and storage depots, as opposed to the Cu Chi Tunnels which were defensive, fighting bunkers. But I'm a sucker for tunnels (and caves) and had a blast exploring the different levels. By the time we came out the rain had stopped, and we dried out with the wind through our hair (oops -I mean helmets!) on the way back to Dong Ha.