In Hue we decided to take an organized tour of the DMZ. To be honest, I hardly know anything about the Vietnam War and I’m not very interested in it, but those seemed like good reasons to take the tour. It sounded like a great learning opportunity. (Scary fact: In my 17 years of schooling, I never had a single lesson about the Vietnam War.) And we hate tour groups, but the sites are so far apart, it would have been difficult to go on our own.
The bus picked us up before sunrise and took us to our first stop, the Vinh Moc tunnels. In response to constant American bombing, many villages built elaborate, hidden tunnel systems and carried on with their lives underground. The Vinh Moc tunnels took about a year to build and really are cool to see. They’ve redone the entrances and added electric lights, but besides that, the tunnels are about the same as they were in the 60′s. While not exactly roomy, they are larger than I was expecting. The taller people in our group had a hard time, but I could walk upright in most of the tunnels. Still, it’s hard to imagine living there for years.
After we visited the tunnels, our tour went downhill quickly. The bus broke down, so we spent about an hour waiting around while the driver worked on it. We eventually started off again, though I’m not sure if he ever actually fixed the problem, because whenever the bus stopped, it would die. This led to some interesting driving (even more interesting than normal). We spent hours sitting on the bus between tour sites. Whenever we did stop and get off the bus, it was usually just so the guide could point at some field and say, “This used to be such-and-such base.” There were a few tanks and helicopters at Khe Sanh, but nothing left of the actual base. So overall I would say, unless you’re extremely interested in the war, skip the DMZ tour and just go to the tunnels.
The next day we visited the citadels of Hue, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The complex was built in the early 1800′s when Hue was the capital of Vietnam. Sadly, most of the buildings were destroyed in wars, but it was still fun to look around at what’s left. It was very peaceful and quiet inside the Inner City, a great retreat from the busy modern city right outside the gates. Apparently the Emperor’s Tombs are also very cool, but at that point we didn’t have the time or energy to go look at them. (Our DMZ tour the previous day ended up taking 13 hours.)
That night we took the overnight train to Hanoi. It was our first ride in a train sleeper car, a big milestone in our backpacking careers. I really enjoy traveling by train, which is good, because we’ve got some long train rides ahead of us.