17.02.2017 - 20.03.2017
Arriving in Hue (spoken like HWAY) from Hanoi was a wonderful reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the capital city. There are still crazy drivers and honking motor bikes everywhere, but it is definitely more tranquil in comparison to Hanoi. Now that we have mastered our role as pedestrians in this motorized world and feel more comfortable wandering the streets, we decided to start exploring the city.
The main attraction in Hue is the Imperial Enclosure, which held the royal families from the Dynasty's that ruled for hundreds of years. Just like Ho Chi Minh's grounds in Hanoi, this citadel complex was massive. We're still astounded at how large these places are and after 5 hours of walking around, we only saw a fraction of what was offered! The outside of the citadel is surrounded by a large moat and a brick/cement wall that is 2m thick, 6m tall and 10km's long. The Flag Tower juts up from the centre of the wall, looming over the grounds with one of the largest Vietnamese flags we've seen. Once we crossed the moat, entered the citadel and passed through the walls, we found the Imperial Enclosure. More protective cement walls were now surrounding us, protecting all things important for the Dynasty's that once ruled.
We then passed through the Ngo Mon Gate, (which faces the Flag Tower) where each royal visitor would pass through to see the King. Once through the gate, you walk right into the Thai Hoa Palace, where the King would sit in his gold plated, elevated throne, waiting for those who entered. No photography was allowed inside, but it was truly ornate. When we finally made it through the Palace, we were greeted with the Enclosure grounds. Everything from temples, palaces and pagoda's, to beautiful and colourful gardens with golden dragon statues, shrines and urns of the deceased Dynasty rulers and the houses where they would reside. It was pretty awe inspiring to see the colours and intricate architecture that unfolded before us. Definitely worth the 5 hour wander!
The day after exploring the Imperial Enclosure, we headed to the DMZ (demilitarized zone). Both of us enjoy learning about war history and unfortunately the Vietnam war was a war that we really were in the dark about. Not knowing a lot about it, we thought this would be a great way to learn about it in an unbiased way. The DMZ was an area on either side of the Ben Hai River that was considered a "no man's land" during the war. From 1954-1975 it was supposed to act as a border between the North and South, however we found out that it eventually would have some of the worst bloodshed in the entire war - Khe Sanh, Hamburger Hill, Lang Vay, etc. and ended up being one of the most militarized zones on the planet. The tour took us to the 17th parallel, the Rock Pile, a section of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the American base of Khe Sanh and the Vinh Moc Tunnels. Although there was a lot of driving involved, this tour has been one of our favourites. We have also included some pictures from the war to give everyone an idea of what it looked like before.
I am not going to lie, if we were not on a tour, we would have driven right by this mountain on our way to the American base. However, its history is quite significant for the Americans. The mountain is 230m tall and was once a US Marine Corps lookout point as well as a base for long range artillery. The top of the mountain was most accessible by helicopter.
The current design of the Dakrong Bridge was built in 1975. Because this river crossing was a major artery for the north Vietnamese, and was considered the beginning of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, it was destroyed and rebuilt multiple times. Note: the Ho Chi Minh Trail is a concept, not a road. The trail was a vast network, spread across hundreds of miles of terrain extending far into the interior of Laos. According to our guide this network was a network of hundreds of kilometers of trails that brought supplies to the North Vietnamese troops, usually on the backs of porters or for the larger loads, strapped to the back of bicycles.
Khe Sanh American Combat Base
This was the site of the most famous seige of the American War where the north Vietnamese attacked the base from the peripheral mountains. The base was never overrun, but it ended up being one of the bloodiest battles entire War. The 75 day seige started on January 21, 1968 and according to our book, 500 American, 10,000 North Vietnamese troops and large numbers of civilians died in and around this base. Our guide told us that it is now well documented that this battle was only a diversion to draw US attention away from major southern Vietnamese cities in preparation for the Tet Offensive (one of the largest military campaigns of the entire war) which began 1 week after this battle began.
The base prior to the attacks
The base after the attacks
Truong Son National Cemetary
Here lies the bodies of 10,000 North Vietnamese Soldiers who died during the War. Each tombstone has the inscription "Martyr".
If you made it this far, thanks for reading. We are on our way over the Hai Van Pass to Danang for some much needed beach time. Till next time.