Quang Tri

Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) From 1954 until the defeat of the Americans in 1975, Ben Hai river marked the division of Vietnam. 5km either side of the river was declared a DMZ – a stark contrast to what really took place in this region.

In fact, the surrounding region experienced some of the heaviest fighting during the Vietnam War. Some areas, such as Vinh Moc were termed Free Fire Zones, allowing a virtual free for all without fear of future repercussions and everything was designated a target. As a result of this heavy fighting, there is still heaps live ordnance lying around. There have been some casualties as unexploded bombs blow up when farmers are working on their lands nearby or children run up in a play. Khe Sanh, in particular, was immortalized during and after the conflict. Now when you catch the train or bus from anywhere South of Dong Hoi to the DMZ, bomb damage and craters are still evident in paddies, beside the railway tracks and beside the roads and bridges.

As you get closer to Dong Ha you will notice huge eucalyptus groves, themselves a legacy of the war. These areas were completely devastated either by relentless shelling or defoliation during the war and were eventually replanted with eucalyptus trees, chosen for their durability and speedy maturity.

Dong Hoi – Phong Nha

Dong Hoi is the closest town from where you can visit the impressive Phong Nha Cave. Although there is little else to see in the area, there are some nice beaches that can be visited on the other side of the river.

The main attraction of Dong Hoi is a trip to the Phong Nha Cave. This spectacular cave was used by the Northern Vietnamese as a field hospital during the war and it has the scars to prove it. The front face is pockmarked from attempts to lob bombs into the entrance by US helicopters, in the hope of collapsing the entrance. Fortunately their attempts were all unsuccessful as the cave makes for a fascinating visit.

Phong Nha cave is explored mainly by boat, though there are a couple of raised areas where your guide will walk you around and explain the various points of interest. The cave was not officially surveyed until 1990, however, the cave walls show evidence of it being a popular place to visit for quite some time.

The tour consists of a boat trip to the cave entrance taking around 45 minutes, then an hour drifting through the cave guided by a couple of gas lanterns. It is an eerie feeling as all you can hear is the gas lanterns hissing away, and the water dripping as you slowly drift from chamber to chamber.

The cave is over 7km long but the tour only visits the first 800m or so. There have been some enterprising travelers who have managed to bargain a few more hundred meters for the guide, and it is apparently well worth the expense.

See also
Hanoi & surroundings | Halong & Catba island The Northeast | Sapa & the Northwest| DMZ | Hue | Hoian – Danang Coastline and Central Highlands | Saigon & the Mekong Delta setstats 1

Dong Ha
At first glance Dong Ha, the chief town of Quang Tri Province, appears to be little more than another drab roadside town, and during the rainy season it could almost be mistaken for the most miserable place on earth. However, once you get off the main road and go wandering it is quite enchanting, and you can return very quickly to the attractive life of rural Vietnam. Dong ha is the most central town to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the tunnels of Vinh Moc, and because of this, during the Vietnam War the UIS built many military bases around the town.

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