I had to pick between a tour through several caves or the DMZ tour with the highlight (for me) being the Vin Moch tunnels.
Like Halong bay, our Vietnamese tour guide was a bit hard to understand. You just have to make the best of it and really pay attention!
The first stop after a 2 hr bus ride to get into the area was a tall mountain. It was once the location where supplies and radios were dropped by the U.S. Military. It worked well as a spot for radio frequency and they rotated out every 2 weeks. I think that's what she (our guide) said. Now this mountain bares 2 Vietnamese flags.
We continued on passing poor villages with very small homes and large families living inside them. More was said about the lives of these people but I couldn't understand the guide. Something about where they came from and their education. We pulled over to get off and take photos but I wasn't comfortable getting off. I thought the area was beautiful and there was something precious about the tiny homes. It just seemed strange to be pulling over in a tour bus to photograph them. What do those people think and how do they feel about our presence? So I took one photo from on the bus and waved at the little kids who came outside when we arrived.
We made a stop at the beginning of the Ho Chi Minh trail which is now a road and the trail starts on a rivers edge, where the bridge we drove across ended. The bridge didn't exist during the war, anyone who wanted to cross that river had to swim across.
The trail is the boarder line between the north and south of Vietnam.
We crossed a checking station and at that point we were only 25K from Laos and 35k from the DMZ.
The bus drove us through the area (Khe Sanh) that was flattened during the Tet offensive.
Stopping at a U.S. military base that I believe was the longest air strip we had in the country. The base was really cool! A very unexpected stop.
The dugouts where really cool to explore and seemed pretty true to form and untouched. I walked down into them and it soon became a maze trying to find my way out of there.
Inside the small museum,
I learned that we (the U.S.) had orders not to touch Laos or Cambodia so Vietnam troops would set up in those countries. They'd come into Vietnam and then run back to their safe zone where we weren't allowed to touch them. There was a photo in the museum on the base of an armed solider on an elephant.
I asked Dee what that was about and she explained it to me. I made a good choice to book this tour with James and Dee. You learn a lot more when you are in the presence of a history buff.
The area near the Vin Moch tunnels was known as "No mans land" because it was used for the war so no one was able to farm or live on it.
The Ben Hai river crosses through this area and it's at the 17th parallel dividing the north and south
There was a guy at the start of the caves who greeted us. He happily and quietly pointed us into the welcoming center. He guided a few of us to a series of life in the cave photographs and pointed to 2 in particular. One was several babies in baskets and the one below was a boy. He was that boy and I'm guessing he was born in the caves and clearly something is effecting his health. Agent orange? I'm not sure but his teeth were a mess, he couldn't talk, he had a hard time hearing and drooled a little bit. Bless his sweet soul though, what a great spirit he held. And... Then... Like all Vietnamese people do around tourists, he asked for money by holding out his hand. He also pointed to his ears which James gathered that he was wanting to buy hearing aids so he tipped him.
The tunnels that are left still in tact are 3 levels high. There were kitchens, family spaces and more inside these dark tunnels and 17 babies were born here.
Every village had their own tunnel system. Since the war and modern day construction and plantations many of the old tunnels have collapsed.
The Vin Moch system has been widened for tourists and is lit up unlike it used to be. I've heard that the tunnels in Saigon (HMC) are smaller than the ones in the DMZ zone. After going through the tunnels in the DMZ, I'd say I'm alright to skip the ones in Saigon. They are wider than before, sure but there are still some snug areas. The light that's been installed in areas is greatly appreciated as well but I still had to turn the flashlight on my phone on at times. It's also really fascinating how it looks like concrete inside but if you touch it, it's red clay and all the tunnels were hand dug. They went deeper with the digging when the U.S. started bringing in bombs that would drill down a certain depth.
James knows a guy who served here and had to crawl into the dark tunnels head first with only a knife and a pistol. He didn't enjoy that and who would!? No one wants to go head first into a dark area especially when you're in a war!
This was the nicest day I had experienced in Vietnam so far! The sun was out in full force and it was 82 degrees! The tunnels were situated on the coast line which was an added bonus with ocean views!
No more hazy sky's! Let's keep this sunshine going as I head to HoiAn in the morning for at least 3 nights.
It's Christmas Eve!
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone at home! I miss you all! This is the first holiday season I've spent Way from home and it seems very strange to me.
Be safe and enjoy your time with loved ones. Spread the joy and do something nice for others. Love you all!