After a long drive from Laos we find ourselves in the city of Hue. Keen to learn about the history of Vietnam and find out more about the war we organise a tour of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ). It is a long and interesting but equally sad day. We start the morning at the tunnels that hid families and soldiers during the war. Nestled in the most beautiful setting, directly overlooking the beach, this intricate tunnel system was built to protect and hide the Vietnamese civilians during the war. It even boasts a working maternity ward where 18 children were born. Deep and claustrophobic I cannot imagine what it must have been like to be trapped here night and day with bombs landing overhead.
Exploring the tunnels
From the tunnels we make the long drive, right back to the Laos border where we visit a fallen American base. Photos of terrified and fleeing American soldiers adorn the walls. The realities of this war are difficult to stomach but the worst is yet to come…
Planes and propaganda at the fallen airbase
After one short day in Hue we make our way across the country to the old colonial town of Hoi An (not to be confused with Han Noi). Lou and I spend our first afternoon here exploring the market and the old town whilst many of the others make their way to Vietnam’s famous tailors in search of a bargain, tailor made suit. We rush home as the afternoon rain hits. Our first evening is spent making new friends and sampling the cheap Vietnamese spirits. Unfortunately due to said sampling the next day is spent doing little more than eating and lazing around.
Afternoon rains and the river in Hoi An
On our final day in Hoi An, after five months of mountains and grassy plains we finally make it to the beach. With soft white sand between our feet and an aquamarine sea stretched out in front of us we settle in for the day.
We leave Hoi An relaxed and slightly sun burnt ready for another few days at the beach. Thankfully that is exactly where we are headed. We arrive at the coast late at night but eagerly anticipating the next couple of days. Our home for this time is a rustic resort known as Jungle Beach run by an equally rustic Canadian who shows us to our bamboo huts in nothing but a sarong and an over grown beer belly. The door to the bathroom consists of nothing more than a curtain, it’s a good job we’ve grown very comfortable with each other over the past five months. Whilst basic this place has a certain charm and we are soon settled in, already unwilling to leave.
There is nothing for us to do here except sleep on the beach, swim in the sea and turn up for meals on time. We are fed to bursting every morning, noon and night. After which there is nothing to do but go for a late night swim with the glowing plankton – magical.
Drinks and fire on the beach
All too soon we are dragged from Jungle Beach kicking and screaming and dumped rather unceremoniously in Ho Chi Min City (formerly known as Saigon), Vietnam’s bustling second city. Pavements are lined with scooters and motorcycles making it impossible to walk anywhere but the road. We are back in the land of crazy roads and even crazier drivers. Zebra crossings no longer illicit a response and crossing the road means taking your life in your hands. For Yvonne returning is a traumatic experience – the last time she was here she was hit by a rogue motorcyclist, breaking her jaw.
Whilst here we take the opportunity to wander around the Vietnam War Memorial Museum. We are warned by those who have been before that it is a harrowing experience but this does not prepare us for what is to come. Traumatised by images and stories of the atrocities committed by the American soldiers we leave the museum in a melancholy mood. We are aware we have borne witness to a subjective account of the war but fought on Vietnam soil with chemical weapons – the effects of which are still felt throughout Vietnam – it is hard to see this was a fair fight.
Thankfully two days later we escape Ho Chi Min unscathed and a little more somber than we entered. Tomorrow we cross the border into Cambodia, I fear our mood will not be improving anytime soon.