Hue, the DMZ, & the Train in Vietnam (Day 21, 22 & 23)

Day 21

I made it off the train and to my hostel fine. I just jumped on the back of a motor bike and the driver took me to the place for 50,000 dong ($2.60 US). I’m really liking this motor bike transportation.  To crazy for those who are not very brave, because there are always numerous times you think you are going to die. I like it because I don’t have to sit in traffic with a normal taxi losing money.

When I got to the place, I checked in and then rented a bicycle down the street. She wanted 50,000 dong, but I talked her down to 20,000 dong ( $.95 US) for the day. I need to work on my negotiating skills. I’m to much of a pushover.

After getting the bike, I headed to the Imperial City. It is similar to the Forbidden City in Beijing, China but not as impressive. It is going through a phase of reconstruction that is still taking place after damage from the Vietnam War. The Battle of Hue was pretty significant and though the U.S. avoided bombing many areas of the city because of the historic and religious reasons, the Tet offense caused many buildings to become damaged. There are still marks on the walls from bullet holes.

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After the Imperial City, I stopped by a War Museum next door. It had a number of U.S. tanks and artillery that had been damaged or acquired during the war. It is interesting to read descriptions of different items on display that refer to the U.S. as the “U.S. Imperialists” or the South Vietnamese as the “Puppet Regime”. Always good to see a deferent perspective, whether you agree with it or not.

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I didn’t feel like biking around anywhere else, so I stopped at the DMZ Bar and had a few beers and a basket of french fries. This pretty much concluded my day. I’ll be getting up to head to the DMZ for a half day tomorrow.

Day 22

I got up early for a 6:30 pick-up to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that once separated North and South Vietnam. This is on the 17th Parallel and is 10 km wide, 5 km split the North and 5m for the South. The length of it is a little over 100 km, running from Laos to the South China Sea, with the Ben Hai River being the geographic divide. For those who don’t know, the North was a Communist government, while the South was a Democratic government.

I was originally only planning to do a half day because I had to catch a train to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). But, I found I would have no problem doing the full day and I would make it back for my train. This was a relief for me. I honestly didn’t want to miss out on anything. The first stop was “The Rockpile”. This was an observation post and artillery base from 1966-68. It was only accessible by helicopter and because of its altitude, the U.S. could send artillery rounds about 40 km. The top was a lot flatter then, from what the tour guide said and the Vietnam flag now flies at the top today as a statement of victory.

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We then headed over to see the Dakrong Bridge. This bridge is now in place of where a secret bamboo bridge of the Ho Chi Minh Trail once was. The bamboo bridge was under the water, so to avoid detection by U.S. B-52 bombers. This was a really quick stop, and just up the road we stopped at a minority village. The kids in the village all rushed to us and seeing how these people were living was pretty sad. The guide talked about how the government helps these people because in a Communist country everyone is equal. But, I’m pretty sure they are not treated equally from a Vietnamese person. Just taking us to this “minority village” clarifies that in my mind.

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After the “minority village”, we then went to the Khe Sanh Combat base. There was a small museum there that described how the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Viet Cong (VC) attacked this base in full force to draw more U.S. troops there to help, and then attack the less defended South during Tet, the Chinese New Year. As with any museum in Vietnam, it is full of propaganda language. I was the only American on the tour, with a number of Canadians and we were having a good laugh at times. One photo showed, ” U.S. Marines shutting themselves in bunkers for fear of their own shadows.”

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When we were done wandering around for a bit we went for lunch before heading to the Tunnels of Vinh Moc. This was a really cool tunnel system that had three levels and took 18 months to make all by hand. This area was bombed nearly 24 hrs a day because the villagers were thought to be supplying the North. The tunnels had kitchen, living, meeting, bathing, and health care areas. Nearly 60 families lived here to shelter themselves from the bombing. 17 babies were even born here. I thought is was a pretty amazing set-up. I can’t believe these people lived down here for  nearly 6 years.

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On the way back to Hue and through the old DMZ, here we crossed the Hien Luong Bridge over the Ben Hai River, which was the center of the DMZ. We made it back to town with plenty of time to spare. I was able to buy a few things and get some dinner before getting on the train, which ended up being an hour late anyways.

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Day 23

On the train, I found this one did not have a plug for each bed. I was forced to use the battery power on my devices. The worse thing about this train ride were the people I was on the train with in my car. There was an old lady in the top bunk across from me that had to get up at 4:30 in the morning, was yapping with a few other old ladies, and having no consideration for the people trying to sleep. Secondly, the kid of the couple in my room was a winey little piss-ant. All night winning and kicking all over. You can’t tell me that that mother doesn’t baby the hell out of him, giving him the rule of the house. The mother was just as bad. It’s 6:30 in the morning and she is playing Vietnamese music on the highest level on her smartphone and her husband was talking loud on his phone. When they were all trying to sleep a little later, I decided to FaceTime a couple friends back home without using my headphones or talking quietly, just to annoy them. Was going to watch some TV shows on my computer without the headphones too, but I am just to considerate by nature, it’s hard for me to be rude very long.

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So, this train ride was about 20 hrs long. I met some cool people at different points and survived the idiots in my room. In the morning, all of us foreign travelers were in the hallway area bitching about our Vietnamese roommates and how rude they were with very loud voices while they all were trying to take an after breakfast nap. It was good fun to dish out their own medicine.

In Ho Chi Minh City, I went out to dinner with an Italian guy and French girl. I even tried grilled alligator. The meat is tough, but tastes like chicken. That’s it for today! Tomorrow I will go on a Mekong Delta Tour.

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