…… Good morning Vietnam – It’s X’mas. Up at 5.30 am to do the DMZ tour …. boy, was it a mistake!!!!!!
The Demilitarized Zone(DMZ) is an area 5 km on either side of the Ben Hai River in Central Vietnam. It is actually a demarcation zone from 1954 to 1975 between South Vietnam & North Vietnam. When Vietnam was engulfed in the American War (as they call it), central Vietnam was the scene of the heaviest fighting around the DMZ. Here the North Vietnamese sought to infiltrate the south along the Ho Chi Minh Trail while American forces and the South Vietnamese allies tried their best to disrupt supplies. Thousands of lives were lost in bloody battles for strategic hills & valleys.
Since the DMZ is 2 1/2 hours from Hue where we were based then, we decided to do a bus tour. Armed with high expectations, we booked ourselves a full day tour: 6 am to 5pm … so many places of interest to go, so many things to do,……ummmm that is if only we had the time to do so … (Note the allocated times given by our tour operators for the sights visited)
Khe Sanh – a military base high up in hill country (20 min)
Rock Pile, which was essentially a hill flattened to accommodate the landing of helicopters (5 min photostop)
Ho Chi Minh trail – the North Vietnamese tried to infiltrate the South along this trail (see from bus only)
Dakrong Bridge across the Ben Hai river (10 min photostop)
Vinh Moc Tunnels which was a honeycomb of tunnels, rooms, meeting points. Larger than the Cu Chi tunnels, near Ho Chi Minh City, these were civilian tunnels. The location of these Tunnels are phenomenal…. some parts exit into the most beautiful coastline of beach and pine trees where you can hang out & soak in the surroundings!!!! – (a ‘generous’ 45 mins)
Now check this out. “Full Day Tour : 6 am to 5pm.” That’s 11 hours. It doesn’t take a maths genius to figure this out, the sights hardly took up 2 hours (i.e. 20% of the tour). So, technically most of the day or a major part of the tour was spent picking people up from hotels, traveling in the bus, making 3 obligatory stops at the same restaurant which serves less than mediocre food, dropping people off at their hotels etc at the end of the day…
How exciting!! Hmmmph! If they had cut down on those stupid restaurant stops, centralise the pick up points, we would’ve saved valuable time for sightseeing no?
There’s more. The bus driver seemed bent on a vicious vendetta to punish the very passengers responsible for getting him up early on a wet & cold X’mas morning. How?! You might ask. Simple. Switch off the air conditioning half the time. Make sure the windows of the bus are fixed panels of glass that cannot be opened or shut. Picture 24 souls breathing into the same confined space. Green house effect! Ouila – you’ve got yourself a busload of sleepy, oxygen deprived passengers who, in between comatose states, have to execute ‘car wash’ movements with their hands to clean the misty windows for a peep outside . Mission accomplished.
The tour guide was really no better coz she was a burnt out middle aged woman in the business for 13 years. Her narrative was fractured. Her historical facts unclear. Her voice monotonous. Her lack of enthusiasm was infectious. So now add grumpy & bored to describe the already sleepy, oxygen deprived load of passengers!
X’mas 2007 is turning out to be a memorable day indeed, for the wrong reasons!
If its any consolation, we did witness a very interesting cultural event during our obligatory stop for lunch at the restaurant they chose! Purely incidental. A wedding lunch to be exact. What boggles me is the scene after the lunch! The place looked like a bomb hit it, seriously. Bones strewn all over the floor, bottles of beer scattered all over, all well placed to engage you in an obstacle course challenge … tissues, food bits, spilt liquids, you name it was thrown all over ….. Hmmmm….. perhaps there was an inter table competition – “Who can throw more debris on the floor???” Maybe it was prosperity thing…the more you throw the more luck you have?! Beats me… When we stopped by that very restaurant for the 3rd time (sigh…) that afternoon on the way back to drop the guide off & to pick up a waitress hitching a ride), we saw the cleaning crew engaged in the task of hosing & scrubbing down the dining area literally, with plastic brooms to clean it! Explosive.
And with that scene overhanging in our minds, we took the slow cooker journey back to Hue, with memories for the wrong things….we probably lost some grey cells too as a result of oxygen deprivation ………
Needless to say, the bus driver & tour guide received NO TIPS from anyone. Are you surprised?
P.S. If you want to do the DMZ thing…here’s our two cents worth.
You should try booking a motor cycle tour from Dong Ha, rather than Hue which is nearer. It’s gonna cost you but it sure beats taking a tour bus. This way you can enjoy the journey & the destination combined since the places of interest are scattered. Actually you can split the journey into two parts. First along Highway 1 and later along Highway 9.
When you go along Highway 1 you would be enroute to the Rock Pile, Dakrong Bridge & Ho Chi Minh trail. Here you will be traveling alongside the Ben Hai river & you will be able to see some tribal villages along the road. This is followed by an uphill climb to the Khe Sanh Army Base. This part of the journey commands quite a spectacular view especially after the bridge crossing over the Ben Hai River. Imagine the wind beating against your face as you climb up in your bike amidst these surroundings. Sure beats squinting through a tour bus window eh?
Later when you switch directions to Highway 9 in order to access the Vinh Moc tunnels, you will feel like you’re traveling in the middle of an ocean of paddy fields. No kidding. They are vast! Do allocate a whole afternoon for Vinh Moc – not 45 mins. It’s worth exploring the pine treed grounds nearby the tunnels & check out some of the exits which lead to the beaches outside!
Yup, we think a motorbike tour would do the DMZ more justice! Never mind…next time!!!!!
To be cont’d………..