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Visiting the DMZ

For most people, the attraction of Quang Tri is the DMZ. However, there’s not much of the battlefields camps and firebases, most are unmarked, and there are still problems with unexploded ordnance.

the Quang Tri Citadel
the Quang Tri Citadel

If you travel with Sao La Tours, you’ll always have an expert guide who knows the area like the back of his or her hand, and particularly anywhere that might pose a safety risk.

If you’re interested in particular sites and locations, we’ll tailor-make your tour to your requirements.

If you’re a returning veteran, or a friend or family member of someone who was in Vietnam during the war, we’ll try to track down the exact places, and if possible, local people who were present and remember what happened. We’re good at tracking down clues to identifying specific places.

If you’re looking for a general overview of the DMZ, we’d usually include the main sites, the bridges, the Vinh Moc and the Truong Son National Cemetery.

Possible sites could be La Vang Church, the Quang Tri Citadel, the Ai Tu Base and Airfield, Camp Carroll, The Rockpile, the Khe Sanh Marine Combat Base, Lang Vay Special Forces Camp, Con Thien Firebase, the McNamara Line, the Dak Rong Bridge, and the Doc Mieu Base.

the Dak Rong Bridge
the Dak Rong Bridge

The Ben Hai River and the Hien Luong bridge would also feature. The river runs about 100km its source to the sea, but was catapulted onto the international stage when the 1954 Geneva Convention designated it as the demarcation line between the communist North Vietnam and the South (not the ‘17th Parallel’ often mentioned in guide books).

Hien Luong was a steel bridge built by French sappers in 1950: previously, the only means of crossing the river was by boat. When Vietnam was partitioned, the northern half was painted red, and the southern yellow. The bridge was bombed to destruction by the US in 1970 – a pyrrhic victory as nearly all the troops, supplies and weapons used the heavily disguised Ho Chi Minh Trail, not the exposed coastal route.

There’s no point in visiting the Ho Chi Minh Trail, as there’s nothing to see – the whole point was that it should be as invisible as possible. However, much of the route is being reincarnated as the Truong Son Road, a new highway in the west linking the two major cities designed to alleviate the pressure on Highway 1.

The Truong Son National Cemetery
The Truong Son National Cemetery

The Truong Son National Cemetery is another possible element. It’s built on several low lying hills in Truong Son village, a memorial to the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese soldiers who died keeping the Ho Chi Minh Trail open. The history of the trail beggars the imagination – the cemetery commemorates the thousands of men and women who kept the link open throughout the war – engineers, gunners, medical personnel, and a small army of young volunteers, some little more than children, who worked ceaselessly each night to fill in the craters caused by incessant bombing during the day.

The only place to the north of the Ben Hai River that we visit is Vinh Moc. In June 1965, after heavy bombardments, the people of Vinh Moc village began digging shelters beneath their houses to link them to the neighbours thus creating a web of tunnels. Everything was carefully planned to provide access to underground public facilities, such as meeting rooms, a school, and a clinic where seventeen babies were born.

Less sophisticated (but more authentic) than the more famous Cu Chi tunnels near Saigon, and built for different purposes, the Vinh Moc passages and chambers are a poignant example of the ingenuity of the ordinary Vietnamese people in coping with life in the epicentre of one of the world’s most brutal conflicts.

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