We journey through rural agricultural land bordered to the west with mountains that are circles by intense thunder storms all day. Rivers filter down from these mountains and run into the sea the whole way along the journey with large iron bridges allowing traffic and trains to cross. These rivers are littered with people washing buffalo, dredging for sand for building supplies and provide irrigation for the many rice paddies. They also flood during the September to December wet seasons making the land very fertile here.
After a few hours and about half way through our journey we stopped off at the Vinh Moc Tunnels right on the coast. This is a network of 20km of underground tunnels built to shelter people from the intense bombing of Son Trung and Son Ha communities in Vinh Linh county of Wuang Tri Province in heart of the DMZ. These tunnels were initially dug to move all the village 10 meters underground. However, before long the Americans had designed bombs that burrowed down ten meters and the tunnels needed to be made deeper. A second level of tunnels were built at 15 meters then a third level at 30 meters. The process of digging the tunnels started in 1966 and carried on until 1972.
The tunnels are low and narrow about 1.6 - 1.9 meters high and 0.9 - to 1.3 meters wide. They are dug into clay soil that dried out as air was filtered through making the structures incredibly stable hence still in tact today. Only the entry and exit areas are reinforced with wood panelling. The complex grew to include wells, bathrooms, meeting rooms, kitchens, individual family rooms as well as a maternity unit. Around sixty families resided in the tunnels and as many as 17 children (including one of the local workers at the Farmstay) were born inside the network. The tunnels were successful and no families lost their lives.
Walking around the sight you can see numerous craters left from bombing here. The sea defence wall also has huge scars from impacts from bombs too. Walking through the tunnels is extremely claustrophobia and the intense heat and humidity make it quite uncomfortable. Lanterns light the way every so often but you can barely see where you are going. The family rooms or alcoves are tiny, two people could hardly crouch in so it's hard to imagine how whole families made this their base for so many years. It's a real maze once you are inside too and must have been terrifying for its inhabiters who are scared of the dark due to their beliefs. The network is amazing to see and the effort to build this network by hand is phenomenal. I read along the way that 6000 cubic meters of earth were moved out of these tunnels!
The next stop shortly further south we reached the Ben Hai River which was used in the war as a crossing for the Vietnamese to get food supplies and ammunition to the people on the south. A memorial now sits here as well as a small informative museum. There are lots of artefacts including lots of exploded bombs and a large display of photography from the region during the war showing people in the tunnels as Vinh Moc as well as near the museum.
After our stops in the DMZ we carried on for another hour before we passed the walled imperial city and across the perfume river into the modern part of the city where we were to stay for the night. We checked into our hotel and went straight out - stopping briefly for more spring rolls - and went to explore the renowned imperial city of Hue.
The city was constructed during the 1800's built in sections over many years. The city is referred to as the intellectual, cultural and spiritual capital of Vietnam. Palaces, pagodas, tombs and temples all lie in this walled citadel. Today sadly due to the area being quite poor a lot of the buildings have now been heavily neglected and lay almost to ruin in places. However, you could see huge efforts to now maintain these buildings though in some places newer modern materials have been used which is a shame. Never the less the buildings that are there are amazing the architecture and colours are just beautiful. We wandered until sunset through the whole area through royal theatres and temples, vast gardens, palaces and ceremonial halls.
This area being close to the DMZ also suffered from intense bombing with large gaps and holes in walls everywhere to remind you. After we left the citadel we moved onto another war museum but unfortunately this had closed early due to a large football match that was taking place in the park opposite. I did however manage to get a couple of pictures from outside.
Today we are moving onto Hoi An another of Vietnams three world heritage sites. We will be getting a driver to take us the 200 or so kilometres there via the famous Hai Van pass stopping off at some of the beautiful beaches in the national park that lines this coast line before arriving in Hoi An this evening.