I really should of done this sooner… I mean it’s been over 2 months since I was in Vietnam and to be honest since I didn’t make any notes on paper things are a bit blurry already so this post may be a bit lacking compared to my others!
Well let’s start at the beginning…
I jumped on the bus in Yangshuo to start the long bus/night train journey down to Hanoi and who happened to sit next to me other than two Ozzie girls (Jess & Rach) I met a few nights ago at the big beach party. It was cool to say hi and catch up but not really anything special (I mean you re-bump into fellow travellers all the time so didn’t think much of it) well that was until we go to the train station and ended up being in the same 4 bed cabin… not much chance of that happening!
At silly o’clock in the morning we hit the happy jolly border crossing which is where we met a fellow English girl Izzie and quickly adopted her. She just happened to be heading to the same hostel in Hanoi which was cool and this was the start of our Vietnam family!
The next day we all left for a 2 day 1 night trip out to Halong Bay:
Its world famous for its beauty and its reputation is well deserved! We spent two days in this beautiful bay of islands, sunning, drinking, karaoke (videos to come), jumping off the boat (the creation of George – see below), kayaking, enjoying good food and just relaxing. It was AWESOME.
Here’s where we met Julia & Andrew who we met up again later in the month.
On our long night bus to Hue we got collared by a Vietnamese guy at a service station, he was trying to get us off the bus to go do a tour of the DMZ. Now all of us had been traveling for a while and its always a bit dodgy when this happens, that plus the fact it was 7am and we had been on this bus for over half a day/night we really weren’t interested.
What sold it was the fact he had a ‘guest book’ full of comments shouting “GET OFF THE BUS, IT’S AWESOME!” and while flicking through that we were checking out the area in lonely planet and talking to the guy. It seems this small town we were in was right next to the Southern border of the DMZ and very close to the old tunnel systems of the Northern army’s used during the Vietnam/American war.
Actually thinking back what sold it was “you can have a shower before we go and we will drop you off at your hostel in Hue once we are finished”
We had showers, breakfast and then jumped into a small jeep with our new friend the tour guide and his boss the driver. The first place he took us was one of the many (72 maybe?) military burial sites in this province:
Hmmm before I explain the graves I suppose I should summarise what was told to us:
- Southern Army (who lost) were the side backed by the Americans, they were well equipped, paid a wage, had dog tags for ID, and if they died in battle were generally taken home, given a burial and their family was compensated.
- Northern Army (who won) were the ‘guerrillas’, poorly equipped, not paid, believed that they should die for their country. These guys were left where they fell & normally their only form of ID was written on paper in their jacket pocket.
Back to the graves… given what I said above you can guess that the majority of these graves belong to the guys from the Northern Army. There are large quantities of graves that have limited information (part of a name, DoB, regiment) or nothing at all and in a situation where many bodies were found together they couldn’t possibly separate them so they have been moved into a couple mass graves.
Due to the lack (well… expense) of DNA testing in Vietnam many families are left not knowing where their family members are buried and some even turn to Psychics to identify a grave for them. I don’t know what you think but I think it’s a load of bollox but perhaps it allows some closure?
Well after that somewhat depressing scene we cross the road to see something cool!
We headed up the road towards the bridge that was the only crossing over the river boarder during the pre-ceasefire & the following years of war. Both sides had epic mega speakers which shouted propaganda at each other; it really was a game of “Mines bigger/louder than yours!”
A small museum with some information on the war and the effects it’s had on the country since. This is something that has been highlighted for years – the unhappiness of agent orange & un-exploded shells/mines/grenades maiming children. Of course it’s not a pleasant sight but one can’t help to think that it’s a bit bias on certain things.
Now on to what we were all waiting for… going down into the tunnels north of the DMZ. These tunnels are 12, 15, 21 (probably wrong, can’t remember off the top of my head any more) metres underground and the complex is pretty damn big! 12 was used for storage and passing things to the surface, 15 used for living (upto 90 families) and 21 used for when the bombs were dropping.
Apart from the size of the place (I was scraping shoulders and had a bad back after 30min down there) there isn’t that much to say. Whole families lived down here for up to 6 years and some children would have never been on the surface until they were 5+ years old.
And that was it. It was a brilliant day and well worth getting off the bus in the morning. We then put in a mini bus and started the few hour journey to Hue… wow I was in so much pain in that tiny tiny bus.