Vietnam Day Fifteen

Today we were up bright and early. We were getting picked up at about 7am for our tour to the area around the DMZ. This included the Khe sahn, Demilitarized Zone on the border between north and south, and the Vin Toh tunnels in the north.
Due to the exaggerated drinking the night before I was pretty destroyed and hungover. As a result i did not have any breakfast, just some apple juice and water. Before we knew it it was 7am and our tour van had arrived at the front. We made our way to the cafe where we booked to pickup our guide.
His name was Anh Van, a 2nd Lieutenant from the US Marines Scout Recon Division. A Vietnamese national that was recruited in the south by the US to help the US forces around Vietnam and assist with intelligence. He even worked with the CIA to provide intel on enemy strategies and positions. Needless to say, he was very passionate and a wealth of knowledge.
Our first stop was Khe Sahn, to make the trip even more special I wore my Jimmy Barnes tour T-Shirt from the gig at the Doncaster Hotel. (That ones for you Jason)
The road ws very busy and full of pot holes from the heavy rain and poor condition of the roads. This was not helping my hangover at all! On the way we pulled over to see a VC grave site. There are hundreds of these all over Vietnam. Just a small obelisk in the center with some info in Vietnamese. (cant recall what it meant)
Mr Van pointed to the ground and talked about the ground shrub that grows all over Vietnam. It’s a very usefull bush as when the leaves are touched they close up. They reopen after about 10mins. This was used to determine if enemies have passed thru a certain area, if the leaves are closed then they are close by, if the leaves are open then either they are well and truly gone, or no one has passed thru.
We got back into the bus and made our way towards Khe Sahn. We passed a turn off that would take you up to Camp Carrol. This was named after the officer in charge of the base during the Vietnam War. The reason for this was that General Carrol was killed whilst making his coffee outside the bunker. Mr Van said ‘Gen. Carrol was killed by Coffee, strong coffee blew the mother fuckers head right off’ We laughed and asked what do you mean? He replied that Gen Carrol was out brewing his morning coffee when the artillery warning alarm went off. He ignored the alarm and wanted to continue to brew his coffee. Everyone else in the base headed for the bunkers and Gen Carroll stayed out. The shell hit right next to Gen Carroll and killed him. ‘Death by Coffee’ Mr Van said. If he had been inside the bunker, he would of survived. Due to the heavy sandbags and being dug into the ground, these bunkers could survive almost anything.
We continued on and drove past a mountain called ‘The Rockpile’ The US forces cleared the land with Agent Orange (AO) or Napalm Bombs. Doing this enabled them to set up a radio base at the top of the mountan. The only way for them to get all the gear, weapons and artillery to the peak was via Chopper. This mountain was a great vantage point for the US as it was nearly impossible to climb and had views over toward the boarder of Laos. With radar set up they could pickup incoming artillery fire from Laos and warn the bases in the area. These shells had a range of 45km’s and took 3-4mins to reach its target. With the use of ‘The Rockpile’ and the time it took for the sheels to travel meant that the bases could take cover. If only Gen Carrol had of paid attention!
We finally arrived at Khe Sahn and we say Doug and Dave from the previous night at the Why Not Cafe. Doug said he was thinking about my tshirt and was hoping to bump into us on the DMZ tour so he could see it. well Doug, i guess you did get to see it!
We looked to the sky and saw that the weather was closing in. So we quickly scurried back to the bus and grabbed our umbrellas. We walked straight to the building in the middle, avoiding the locals trying to sell dog tags and medals from the war. I’m sorry mate, but I’m not going to buy something that belonged to a soldier killed in the war. We got inside just as the rain really began to pelt down. Mr Van’s wealth of knowlege made it so much more captivating. He pointed out a picture of US soldiers with a VC Prisoner. He said ‘This picture fucking bullshit, you can see trees in back ground, at Khe Sahn there were no trees. The US had cleard the entire area to make the base’ Then we continued around and saw more fake or re-enacted photos. This changed the way we looked at every photo from the war. He talked about gear and weapons, some of the artillery shells etc. General war stuff that you can see in any museum.
We walked outside and the weather had really closed it. In the words of Ollie Wilson from Family Guy ‘ITS RAINING SIDEWAYS!!!’ Mum decided to stay in the shelter away from the weather as the rest of us walked around and checked out the Choppers and Guns and Planes etc. Then at the back of the area, hidden by overgrown fence line, was the Air Strip. This Air Strip was about 3km long and was used by C130’s to quickly land, drop off or pickup supplies and wounded and quickly take off. If the C130 was to stay at the airstirp too long, then it could get hit by artillery.
Theres a photo, a real photo, of a C130 taking off at Khe Sahn and in front of it is an explosion from artillery fired from the boarder in Laos. The weather was getting worse so we decided to call it quits and ran back to the bus. The crazy weather also made our trip back past The Rockpile even more slower.
Our next stop was for lunch in a town, the name of wich escapes me, at some small little cafe. Probably a family friend of the tour operator. The menu was pretty bad, and after the events of the previous evening i decided just to get spring rolls. ‘Meat’ Spring Rolls. They were epically bad, but i needed food so i powered thru and ate as much as i could.
We got back into the bus and headed for the DMZ area. This is the area between North and South Vietnam, right on the river that seperates the two. The US and Allied forces never crossed the boarder to attack, all they did was defend. Both sides had massive speakers set up on the banks of the river to blast propaganda at one another. Especially during the night to try and keep the other side awake. When I say that the US never attacked the north, I mean by foot or tank. They did however bomb the shit out of the place.
We continued on and reached our next destination, the Vin Toh Tunnels. This is the massive tunnel system that was built under the order of Ho Chi Minh. They spread for about 2km’s of tunnels all networked to the coast, to the north near china and towards the south to supply VC forces. The tunnels were used for living in and suppling weapons and supplies deliverd from the north and the coast. Even if the area was bombed the tunnels survived, it was a very clever way of surviving. We went to a small museum area that showed the tunnel network on a map and the tools used to dig them. Just rudimentary baskets and hand tools. It took them about 2 years to build them. Inside the museum was a local that was disabled due to his father being affected by AO. It was really sad to see the effects this chemical has on people, and the way it is still affecting people today. He tapped Brendan on the arm and pointed to a picture of a child on the wall. The picture was him, he was born in the tunnels. The guy only looked to be in his 30’s due to his height and build. However he was actually 45-50. It was quite sad really, however i’m kind of glad to have seen it. He helped us with our umbrellas and was very kind and in good spirit so I gave him a small donation.
Next we went into one section of the tunnels and it was hard to believe that so many thousands of people called this place home. In an area smaller than most toilets they would have 10-15 people living there. We walked thru the tunnels and mum was starting to get a bit costraphobic, so we took a quick exit to the coast line for some air. It was good to see this tho, as it showed how close to the beach you actually were. We headed back in and quickly made our way back out.
There wasn’t much left to do on the tour, we had already been going for almost 5hours. It was time to head back to Hue. The trip itself back took about 3 hours. The light began to fade and the weather closed in again, this made the trip back rather dangerous but exciting. When night fell all we could see were the headlights of oncoming traffic strewn accross the entire highway. The typical Vietnamese hwy, overtake when you can even if there is oncoming traffic. Just beep your horn and flash your lights and you should be fine.
I dozed off for a bit and then before we knew it we arrived back to Hue. We drove back to the cafe where the tour started and thanked our guide Ahn Van for a great day. He truly was a passionate person, it definately was worth the expense.
We got back to the hotel and went to our rooms. We were so tired we just got room service and crashed early. After 7-8hrs of travelling in a bus and walking in the rain (even tho it was worth every minute) was rather exhausting.

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