The Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone cut the country in half along the 17th parallel. It was later moved to the Ben Hai River as you can’t see a degree of latitude in real life.
Here is a video crossing the river from what used to be North Vietnam into South Vietnam:I visited the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas in 2006 and there are some interesting parallels. Both had tunnels, for example. But the Vietnamese tunnels were for safe living and the Korean ones were for moving troops to the other side undetected.
Another huge difference is that the Korean DMZ is still very much active, whereas the Vietnamese one is now purely a tourist attraction.
As I mentioned, the Vietnamese tunnels were for living. The U.S. never sent troops into North Vietnam. Instead, it bombed it voraciously.
The people living just north of the DMZ were bombed heavily and had to come up with a solution to live safely. They dug massive tunnes.
The tunnels were more like underground cities. They were mainly lived in at night, when bombing raids were most likely. If a bombing raid was imminant, people banged on pots and pans and headed down into the tunnels.
The space for families was just 2 square meters/20 square feet. There was one bathroom for the hundreds of people who lived down there.
There were three levels of tunnels, some as deep as about 20m/60 ft. There were ventilation holes on the surface as well as ventilation holes that led out toward the sea.
The tunnels were between 1.6-1.9m tall, or 5ft-3in to 6ft-2in. But I’m only 1.7m/5ft-7in and I had to duck most of the way. But for most Vietnamese people there was no problem with the height. Our tour guide kept joking that the tunnels were designed for her, not us.
The entrances were well hidden with shrubbery so you’d have to know what to look for to find them.
It was all pretty surreal. Of course, it was sad to see the lengths these people had to go through to protect themselves from the relentless bombing. There were also landmines laid along the DMZ, but that didn’t seem to be as much of an issue for the local people.
Here is a video entering the tunnels:
Very close to the DMZ is a huge Vietnamese cemetery and monument. Similarly sad, almost all of the graves were marked “unknown soldier.” There are also graves for body parts, where a whole body was not identifiable and only fragments were found.
There is a museum very close to the DMZ (and only a few miles from the Laotian border) on the south’s side. It used to be the Khe Sanh American military base and now it’s a war museum.
There are lots of remnants from the war – planes, tanks, plane wreckage, and a runway.
About Adam Pervez
In mid-2011 I left my cushy corporate job and took the plunge into a life incorporating my passions of traveling, writing, volunteering, learning, educating, and telling stories. I study what happiness means to others, offer what I can from my engineering/MBA background as a volunteer, and try to leave each place better than how I found it. Read more.